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Lesson Plan The Great Gatsby: Primary Sources from the Roaring Twenties

Teachers

In order to appreciate historical fiction, students need to understand the factual context and recognize how popular culture reflects the values, mores, and events of the time period. Since a newspaper records significant events and attitudes representative of a period, students create their own newspapers using primary source materials from the Library of Congress online collections.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • locate, analyze, and evaluate primary source images and text from Library of Congress online collections; and
  • synthesize fictional events and primary source materials as they create parallel stories for a newspaper project.

Lesson Preparation

Materials

Resources

Lesson Procedure

Part I Using Primary Sources to Interpret Life during the 1920s

History books tell the story of previous generations, but to really understand what people valued in the past, it is helpful to examine the objects that they left behind. These documents, advertisements, photographs, films, posters, and recordings tell a more vivid and personal story than paragraphs in a textbook. These objects, the remnants of every day life, offer rich insights into the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the people who produced them.

Students examine images of artifacts from the 1920s - the setting for Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Through careful observation, they construct an idea about life in the United States during the "Jazz Age."

  1. Have students select a partner.
  2. Assign each set of partners one or more artifacts from the list below.
  3. Partners analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  4. Students or teachers may wish to print the artifacts in order to get a closer look.

Artifacts

Part II Primary Sources from the 1920s and The Great Gatsby

Students explore Library of Congress online collections to locate primary sources that illustrate some ideas/events/details in The Great Gatsby.

Searching for primary source materials related to The Great Gatsby

  1. Keywords:
    • News - prohibition, women's suffrage, World War I, military, election, politics, trials
    • Sports - golf, golf women, polo, world series New York, yachting
    • Advertising - advertisement home, advertisement cleaning, advertisement appliances, advertisement music, advertisement film, advertisement photography, advertisement fashion, advertisement cars
    • Lifestyles - fashion, education, parties, cars, automobiles, vacations, home decorations, telephone, bar, dance club, photography, clothing
    • Entertainment - film, music jazz, dance jazz, restaurants, dining, movies, radio, yachting, musicians, records, phonograph, dance clubs
    • Editorials - editorials
    • Obituaries - obituaries, death
    • Business - stock market, Wall Street, financial investment, business, manufacturing
  2. Have students conduct a "keyword" search by typing a term in the box at the top of the page.
  3. To locate primary sources, students may use the suggested keywords or try some of their own. Remind students that they are searching for primary sources which reflect ideas, events, or details featured in The Great Gatsby.
  4. As students view each item, be sure that they note the time period. They are looking for items from around 1910-28.
  5. Have students keep a list of the items, including URL and caption, so they can locate them again.
  6. Once each team has located at least one primary source for each of the categories, they should analyze them using the Primary Source Analysis tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  7. Additional questions to connect the items to The Great Gatsby might include:

    Based on the evidence of this object or document, what were some of attitudes, values, and beliefs of Americans during the twenties?

    What event/idea/detail from The Great Gatsby does this object or document parallel? (include specific detail/quote and page number from the novel.)

Part III Creating a Literary Newspaper

Students use their familiarity with the Library of Congress online collections, prior knowledge of life during the 1920s, and the events of The Great Gatsby to create an eight-page literary newspaper of historically accurate events from the 1920s and parallel fictional stories based on The Great Gatsby.

Each team locates one or more primary source documents/objects from each of the following areas (documents/objects from Part II may be used): Review Newspaper Directions with students, adapting as appropriate.

To help students understand the types of articles found in different sections of the newspaper, you may want to pass out copies of local newspapers to use as examples.

Lesson Evaluation

Assess students' searching and primary source analysis as well as the newspaper product according to criteria specified or developed with the class.

Credits

Margie Rohrbach and Janie Koszoru

Students

Newspaper Directions

Your newspaper should be eight pages long - one page for each of the sections listed below.

You may assemble your newspaper using a computer program or you may create a mock up by cutting and pasting the typed articles and images to your newspaper pages.

Before you begin, examine the contemporary newspaper provided to evaluate the content and story types for each of the pages.

Required Sections

  1. News (front page)
    • Write at least one news story featuring a major historical event based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized news story based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found on the front page of a newspaper including the "flag" (newspaper name) date, headlines, pictures and captions, etc. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.) Use images from the Library of Congress online collections.
  2. Editorials
    • Write at least one editorial featuring a major historical controversy based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized editorial based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • You should include several "letters to the editor" which concern both historical events as well as fictionalized events in The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found the editorial page of a newspaper including the "masthead" (newspaper name and the names of editors) date, headlines, political cartoons, etc. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.)
  3. Lifestyles
    • Write at least one lifestyle story featuring a major historical event based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized lifestyle story based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found on the lifestyle page of a newspaper as well as headlines, pictures and captions, etc. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.) Use images from the Library of Congress online collections.
  4. Advertising
    • Select historical advertisements from your search of the Library of Congress online collections and create your own fictionalized advertisements based on events described in The Great Gatsby. Include a "classified" or "personals" section on your advertisement page.
  5. Entertainment
    • Write at least one entertainment story featuring a major historical event based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized entertainment story based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found on the entertainment page of a newspaper as well as headlines, pictures and captions, etc. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.) Use images from the Library of Congress online collections.
  6. Obituaries
    • Write at least one full-length obituary featuring a prominent figure from the 1920s and based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized obituary based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found on the obituary page of a newspaper including the abbreviated death notices. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.) Use images of "the deceased" from the Library of Congress online collections.
  7. Sports
    • Write at least one sports story featuring a major historical event based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized sports story based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found on the sports page of a newspaper as well as headlines, pictures and captions, etc. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.) Use images from the Library of Congress online collections.
  8. Business
    • Write at least one business story featuring a major historical event based on a document/object that you located from your search of the Library of Congress online collections. If the document does not contain enough information, you may need to complete additional research.
    • Write at least one fictionalized business story based on details from The Great Gatsby.
    • Include all of the parts found on the business page of a newspaper including headlines, pictures and captions, etc. (Examine a current newspaper for examples.) Use images from the Library of Congress online collections.
  9. Documentation
    • Cite any items used.
    • Compile a bibliography of all of the sources that your team used to prepare your Literary Newspaper. See citing primary sources for examples of citation styles.
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