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The Golden Compass: Language Arts Lessons & Activities

The Golden Compass

Reading Symbols

Featuring The Golden Compass, this lesson and its accompanying activities on symbolism help students understand the relevance of literary themes in their lives. While connected to the book and film, this lesson can be taught independently.

By studying provided examples, as well as studying their own personal choices, students come to understand that a symbol is a representation of a bigger idea or "truth."

Reproducible 1: Symbol Skills (PDF)
Reproducible 2: Symbols in Your World (PDF)


  1. Reproducible 1: Symbol Skills
  2. Reproducible 2: Symbols in Your World


  1. Discuss with students their definitions of the word symbol, and then distribute Reproducible 1: "Symbol Skills" (PDF). Ask students to review the definition of symbol on the handout, and then read through the descriptions of symbols in The Golden Compass provided in the reproducible. Discuss the questions as a class or in small groups. (Reproducible answers may vary.)

  2. Invite students to explore symbols and icons in their own lives, and brainstorm a list of personal images. Challenge students to think of symbols at school, at home, and in the media, even in music and on TV.

  3. Distribute Reproducible 2: "Symbols in Your World" (PDF). Students might use the library or the Internet to research the history and connotations of their chosen symbols.

  4. Assign the essay at the bottom of the reproducible.

Lesson Extension: Use Reproducible 2: "Symbols in Your World" (PDF) to help students understand symbols in other literary works, such as the ball of yarn in To Kill a Mockingbird or the crimson "A" in The Scarlet Letter.

"Make a Difference in Your World" Extension: Some of the dæmon characters in The Golden Compass are animals that, in the real world, are endangered species. For example, the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) is found only in the mountains of central Asia and the Himalayas, and it is estimated that there are only about 4,510—7,350 snow leopards remaining in existence. The golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), native to Brazil, has been reclassified as endangered from “critically endangered,” yet its survival continues to be threatened due to pressures on its native habitat. Have students research facts about endangered animals in the real world, on such sites as Challenge them to incorporate their findings into an essay or a story that broadens an understanding of that animal and its survival.

Connections to NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts:

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

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