I recently had a former student share a FB memory of our Great Gatsby classroom party. This picture was from circa 2012, so this was a true throwback! I know that classroom parties can be somewhat controversial in the education world, but in my opinion, a little party never killed nobody!
It warmed my teacher’s heart to find out years later that our Gatsby party was cool enough for her to take pictures and post them on social media. My Gatsby parties are never extravagant or take a lot of time to prep, but nevertheless, they are memory makers! If you too want to create a special day to celebrate The Jazz Age in ELA class, read on for Gatsby classroom party ideas.
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Gatsby Party Ideas for the ELA Classroom
- You will add an element of surprise which can hook students for the entire novel
- You will get more bang for your buck by using the Gatsby decorations for 2-4 weeks
- You can use props like fake money as points for review games for The Great Gatsby
- You can use decorations to show the diversity of The Jazz Age
- You can use decorations to help analyze the text
For example, in my Gatsby Unit plan, I have students track the color symbolism throughout the book to better analyze it at the end. They can do this in their Art and Analysis booklet, or you can create a whole class display like the one pictured above.
Not only do I have my students keep up with the colors individually with their Great Gatsby Color Analysis Book, but I also want to them to create large-scale forms of tracking within groups. A great way to do this is to have groups or whole classes create literary bar graphs. I’ve done this with so many things from tracking rhetorical devices in Animal Farm to Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in the Julius Caesar speeches. All you need to create a literary bar graph of any kind is some form of uniform sizing (I use sticky notes), labels for what is being tracked, and evidence from students (which go on the sticky notes).
THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE: GATSBY CLASSROOM DECOR
In our book Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning, we have an entire section dedicated to the element of surprise. Science calls the sparks that help us remember information or events as “flashbulb memories.” Think of ways you can transform your classroom into a flashbulb memory maker for The Great Gatsby. Here are some ideas:
- Play Harlem Renaissance music as students walk through the door
- Project a lux 1920s ambiance video
- Display diverse Jazz Age posters
- Add a few 1920s decorations
Gatsby Classroom Party Decoration ideas
One of my friends got invited to a fancy 1920s wedding, and after seeing the pictures, I sent her a text and asked, “Hey what is your friend doing with her leftover wedding decorations?” The next week I had a box of feathers, hats, and long gloves delivered to my classroom. You can see how I used them for my “Books are Magic” classroom theme here, but obviously they would be perfect for a Gatsby classroom party as well! The point is, always ask for FREE Gatsby decorations before buying.
Side Note: My Gatsby party dress is from Rent the Runway. I absolutely LOVE their monthly membership, and it’s perfect for school events like this (think Gatsby party, prom, graduation, etc.). You can try this service 40% off using my referral link here: Try Rent the Runway
Gatsby Backdrop Ideas:
- A $4 roll of black and gold or white and gold wrapping paper from Walmart or Target makes a great backdrop! That’s what I use in the photos above.
- If you want something bigger that you can reuse year after year, this Gatsby backdrop from Amazon looks great!
Gatsby Table Décor Ideas:
- Think of symbolic things you can add such as these little daisies
- Pick up some dollar store gold table cloths or reusable gold table runners
- For something extra, add some big ostrich feathers as centerpieces
The ELEMENT OF CURIOSITY: GATSBY CLASSROOM DECOR
The second element of Keeping the Wonder is curiosity. One really fun and easy thing you can do to spark students’ curiosity is to replace one of the light bulbs in a classroom lamp with a green one. I picked my green light bulb up cheaply at Walmart, but you can order one here if they don’t have them in stock. The key is to not point out the change or make it a big deal. Just naturally let students wonder what the green light is for and eventually what it might symbolize for Gatsby.
For other ways to spark curiosity throughout your Gatsby unit, check out this post: Meaningful & Fun Activities for Teaching The Great Gatsby
ELEMENT OF FREEDOM : Teaching The Great Gatsby
In our book Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning, I tell an embarrassing and vulnerable story about a request from one of my Black students. I won’t get into it here, but it forever changed the way I look at everything from ELA assignments to classroom décor.
Excuses are like saxophones, there’s one on every corner in 1920s Harlem. Teachers (myself included) will spend 3-4 weeks teaching The Great Gatsby then a whole day throwing a party at the end which is the bees knees and all, but you can create a much richer and diverse text set by pairing the Harlem Renaissance with The Great Gatsby then celebrate the whole of the Jazz Age at the end.
I recently updated my Great Gatsby Unit Plan so that it directly pairs with The Harlem Renaissance and here are some ways to make your Gatsby party more inclusive as well.
- Do a Harlem Renaissance poetry slam
- Read a Golden Shovel Poem then have students take a line from Gatsby to recreate
- Watch a Harlem Renaissance fashion show
element of inspiration for gATSBY cLASSROOM pARTY
I hope this post has inspired your Great Gatsby Classroom party already, but since the last element of wonder is inspiration, I’ll leave you with a round up of more Gatsby party ideas!
The last part of this post is years old. However, there are still some golden nuggets that are useful, and many of the images have been pinned thousands of times over the years. So, I’m going to leave this here even though I’ve changed my approach to teaching The Great Gatsby since then.
You can use your decorations to promote critical thinking and provide opportunities for meaningful games-
*Promote critical thinking- In part, the theme of The Great Gatsby is the disillusionment with the American Dream and defeat of social mobility. By immersing students into the Roaring Twenties, through decorations and simulations, they will gain a better understanding of this concept. There are multiple ways to do this, but here are some ideas to get you started:
– Design your room into three sections–East Egg, West Egg, and The Valley of Ashes. By chance based on where students’ seats already are, some students will “live” in the old money “white palaces of fashionable East Egg glitter[ing]along the water” (decorate with white, gold, and glitter). Others will live in new or upcoming money “West Egg, the well, the less fashionable of the two” (decorate with green for money and blue for the hope of growth). And the rest will live in the little to no money Valley of Ashes which is “a certain desolate area of land…a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” (decorate with gray and black to indicate “where dreams go to die”).
*Provide opportunities for games- Not only do your lucky students get to sit in the most glamorous area of your room, but they also get double the play money than West Eggers and triple the amount than those in the Valley of Ashes (who don’t get any).
Explain to your students that this is their lot in life, but since it’s the 1920s anything is possible, anything at all! Therefore, as you read the novel, give all students chances to win fake money through review games and Socratic Seminar insights.
This play money can be used as a way to keep up with winning teams and incentives for review games, but if you really want to make an impactful cross-curricular lesson, let students play the stock market game with their fake money. By implementing the stock market game, students will find that circumstance (their lot in life) and luck played a role in who made it big and kept it big in the 1920s. It’s best to work with your economics teacher for this idea, but here is a resource that explains the 1920’s stock market game pretty well.
By the end of the novel, allow students to reflect on how many people ended up in East Egg (those with the most money) and how this simulation relates to the themes in The Great Gatsby.
You can still wow students on their party day- Just because students have seen your decorations for 3+weeks doesn’t mean that they can’t still be wowed on their Gatsby Party day! By this time, you’ve probably already spent your budget on decorations, so let the students do all of the work! Back in the day when learning styles were all the rage (isn’t it funny how education trends work?), I had the most successful Gatsby party ever by assigning students jobs based on their learning style! This worked well because students had a choice, and it prevented the awkwardness of students who can’t afford to bring in food or drinks. For example, I had musical-minded students create a playlist for the party, kinesthetic-minded students taught 1920’s dances, artistic-minded students created backdrops, etc.
Though learning styles have been debunked, I still believe in their effectiveness with certain projects! Therefore, I still like to offer lots of different job choices for our party. This gives students ownership and completely transforms a room on party day!
I hope that this post helps you throw a fun and meaningful memory-making Gatsby classroom party! If you would like a Gatsby Party freebie, sign up here: More Gatsby classroom party ideas!