Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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In Search of the Novel: Teachers & Lesson Plans

Donna Denizé

Donna Denizé has taught English at St. Albans School in Washington, DC, since 1987. She is an oft-published poet and a contributor to scholarly books and journals, including Shakespeare Set Free (The Folger Library). Ms. Denizé has also contributed to projects with the NCTE, the NEH, Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, and the Smithsonian Institution. She has received numerous grants and awards, among them the Distinguished Teacher Award (The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars). She has an M.A. from Howard University in Renaissance Drama and has completed the Ph.D. course work. Ms. Denizé serves as chair of the Faculty Diversity Committee at St. Albans and is the faculty advisor of the school's literary magazine.

Lesson Plan for Great Expectations


To allow students to become active learners and even teachers as they read
and understand Great Expectations.


(Ninth grade, six weeks)

  1. Lecture: Definition by the teacher of the genre, the four elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, and theme), and many literary terms that will allow students an opportunity to speak about the book.
  2. Reading assignments: About 25 pages a night.
  3. First 28 or 29 chapters: Reading quizzes on the nightly assignments (objective, non-interpretive questions) Also, notes on the rise of the novel; Dickens’s contribution to the genre; his symbolist method; and the social and political changes and criticisms that the novel presents to readers.
  4. From Chapter 29, once the love story has begun, students take over teaching. In groups of two or three, students are assigned two consecutive chapters each. The aim is to encourage students to take ownership of their learning and to develop cooperative and respectful skills. Students have a week to prepare to teach their assigned chapters according to a required format. The format requires a handout, which should raise themes, include questions for discussion or essays, and propose motifs and major concerns raised in the assigned chapters regarding the elements of fiction. The format also includes guidelines for evaluation—both the content and the form. Creativity is encouraged, as is ownership of the novel and of the moral, social, and philosophical issues raised by the text.
  5. Students have a full class period to teach their chapters. They are in charge, deciding on such matters as quizzes to give and so on, all under teacher guidance.
  6. Students must reflect thoughtfully on their teaching and then write a five-paragraph essay evaluating that experience, which is evaluated by the teacher. The essay should reveal that learning is an active process, one in which the “teachers” make discoveries.

Assignment to Students (Handout)

Great Expectations Assignment and Guidelines for Oral Reports/Teaching the Class:

  1. You must have a handout that includes the information itemized below; you may arrange this information in the format that best suits your chapters and your teaching style. You will be evaluated not only on your knowledge of the novel, but also on the effectiveness of your teaching methods and style, so be creative and try to engage your audience fully in the subject matter through lively discussion.
  2. This information will appear on the formal Great Expectations test, as well as the final exam, so it behooves you to do a thorough job as teacher. In effect, you should become a master of your chapters, and the class should be a thoughtful, inquisitive audience.
  3. You need to present a provocative analysis that looks carefully at the individual elements listed in the guidelines below.
  4. You may decide to place some challenging questions at the end of your handout, questions or problems that you had when analyzing the chapters.
  5. You may give a quiz, but it must be fair and thoughtful. Remember that you will have to grade it, so you will want to make the questions clear.
  6. Do not give biographical information about the author in your report or the handout.

Guidelines for Handouts

(Listed in no particular order)

  1. Major issues raised in the chapters: For example, identity, class, race, family relations, church, social problems, education (formal and informal), and ethical choices and dilemmas.
  2. Elements of fiction: Write a plot summary of your chapters. Identify conflicts (internal/external) and discuss possible resolutions. Identify the setting(s) for events in your chapters and how the setting(s) affect the conflicts you’ve identified. Identify characters’ major recognitions that occur in the chapters.
  3. Dialogue: How is dialogue used (i.e., to reveal character or social problems)? What does the dialogue reveal to you about British culture, fears, and/or contradictions?
  4. Literary devices: irony (verbal, situational, dramatic), imagery, metaphor, symbols, simile, catalogs, personification, parallel sentence structure, puns, satire, tone, etc.
  5. When appropriate, give evidence of capitalism in your chapters and explain.
  6. Type out key passages from your chapters for the class’s consideration.
  7. Identify any motifs and discuss what the motifs suggest.
  8. State the theme or themes of your chapters. Suggest topics for three papers.
  9. Identify questions or issues for discussion raised by the chapters, as well as current events and/or movies that are related to issues in the novel.
  10. Identify any historical allusions that appear in your chapters.
  11. What moral virtues appear in your chapters, and who or what demonstrates these virtues? What vices appear in your chapters, and who or what demonstrates these vices?


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