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Judging Nick: Teaching "The Great Gatsby"

Lesson Question:

How can students use the Visual Thesaurus to evaluate Nick's objectivity as a narrator in The Great Gatsby?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students use the Visual Thesaurus to examine how an analysis of word choice can provide insight into Nick's role as a narrator in The Great Gatsby. Students first consider how word choice can reveal a judgmental or objective perspective. Then, they study entries in the Visual Thesaurus to analyze Nick's word choice and to consider what they reveal about his objectivity. Students use their analysis to formulate an opinion of Nick as a narrator.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:


  • discuss what it means to be judgmental or objective and examine how these perspectives can be evident in one's use of language
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to define fourteen vocabulary words used by Nick in his narration and to analyze these words in context
  • evaluate whether or not Nick's word choice indicates a judgmental or objective perspective
  • use their analysis to draw conclusions about Nick as a narrator


  • electronic whiteboard
  • computers or iPads with Internet access
  • "Judging Nick: The Great Gatsby" chart [click here to download]


Introducing the question: Is Nick "inclined to reserve all judgments"?
  • After students have completed reading The Great Gatsby, display the following excerpt from the beginning of the novel on the whiteboard and have a student read it aloud:
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," [my father] told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments..."

  • Ask the class, "What do you think Nick means by judgments?" Invite a few students to share their answers. Next, display the Visual Thesaurus entry for judgment on the whiteboard, and have the class identify a synonym (such as opinion) that reflects Nick's intended meaning.
  • Ask students if they agree that Nick is "inclined to reserve all judgments." Allow a few minutes for a guided class discussion about this question.
    • During the discussion, encourage students to use the words judgment and judgmental; also introduce and encourage students to use the word objective ("not affected by personal opinion or bias").
  • Explain that in this lesson, students will examine Nick's word choice to further investigate whether Nick is a judgmental or objective narrator


Distinguishing between objective and judgmental word choice:
  • Display the following three sentences on the whiteboard:
    • My little brother ate a lot of macaroni.
    • The pipsqueak pigged out on macaroni.
    • The little darling relished the macaroni.
  • Call on a few students to identify some of the similarities and differences among the sentences. Guide students to recognize that even though all three sentences have the same basic meaning, they differ in that one conveys an objective perspective, while the other two convey a judgment:
    • Sentence 1 conveys an objective perspective, using neutral word choices such as little brother and ate.
    • Sentence 2 conveys a negative judgment by using the words pipsqueak and pigged out.
    • Sentence 3 conveys a positive judgment by using the words little darling and relished.
  • Emphasize that word choice can provide useful clues for determining whether a statement is objective or judgmental, as shown in these examples.

Evaluating Nick's word choice

  • Assign students to work either independently or in groups. Each individual or group will need access to the Visual Thesaurus.
    • Note: Group work is recommended, as the goal of this activity is not to have students arrive at a single "correct" answer, but rather to promote careful consideration of the concepts of objectivity and judgment. Working together will provide students with the opportunity to discuss and refine their opinions.
    • Distribute the "Judging Nick: The Great Gatsby" chart. Explain that the chart contains quotes from Nick's narration in the novel, and each quote contains one or more vocabulary words.
    • Review the chart directions with the class. For each quote, students should:
    • Identify who is described in the quote.
    • Use the Visual Thesaurus to provide a brief definition or synonym for each vocabulary word as it used in the quote.
    • For each vocabulary word, decide whether Nick's word choice conveys an objective perspective or a judgment.
    • For words that convey a judgment, state whether the judgment is positive or negative.

Inform students that, in some cases, there may be more than one appropriate answer. If students are working in groups, help promote discussion and debate by instructing all members of a group to try to come to a consensus on each answer.


Sharing responses and drawing conclusions
  • When students have completed the chart, review their responses in a class discussion. Encourage students with different opinions to share and defend their answers.
  • Discuss as a class the following questions:
    • Does Nick judge other people, and if so, do his judgments tend to be positive or negative?
    • Can we as readers trust what Nick tells us?
    • How does your analysis of Nick's word choice influence your opinion of Nick as a narrator?

Extending the Lesson:

Have students choose a short passage of Nick's narration and then identify it as reflecting an objective or judgmental perspective. Then challenge students to rewrite the passage to reflect the opposite perspective. Students can share their rewritten scenes with their classmates and compare the original to the revised versions, considering how specific revisions of word choice can alter the reader's perceptions of the narrator Nick.


Completed charts should be assessed for (1) correct character identification (2) appropriate definitions or synonyms and (3) appropriate labeling of Nick's word choices as objective, judgmental (negative), or judgmental (positive). Students should be able to defend their answers in class discussion.  

Educational Standards:

Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy:
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

  • Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grades 6-12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
  • Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
  • Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
  • Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.

  • Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
  • Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
  • Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Standards:
Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Level IV (Grades 9-12)

  • Uses context to understand figurative, idiomatic, and technical meanings of terms
  • Extends general and specialized reading vocabulary (e.g., interprets the meaning of codes, symbols, abbreviations, and acronyms; uses Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon roots and affixes to infer meaning; understands subject-area terminology; understands word relationships, such as analogies or synonyms and antonyms; uses cognates; understands allusions to mythology and other literature; understands connotative and denotative meanings)


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