The Golden Compass – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

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Do you want to explore the depths of another world with your students? If so, Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” book is perfect for your classroom.

With intricate writing, captivating plot points, and a broad range of characters that take readers through an epic journey in multiple dimensions – this novel will guarantee a memorable learning experience for teachers and their pupils.

This blog post provides educators with all the information necessary to ensure planning any related activities runs smoothly, from a summary of the plot overview to fun reading extensions – it has everything you need to design a literary adventure through The Golden Compass!

Related: For more, check out our Planning Overview Of Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce  here.

planning a writing unit

The Storyline of The Golden Compass

If Pullman’s imagination dazzled readers in the Victorian thrillers that culminated with The Tin Princess, this first volume of a fantasy trilogy is nothing short of breathtaking. This story takes place in an alternate universe which contains only five planets and features human souls known as daemons embodied as animals.

It is similar to our late 19th century period, and Oxford scholars and agents of the Church are determined to break through to the bridge between universes. The lead character is 11-year-old Lyra, who goes on a quest from East Anglia searching for her kidnapped friend Roger and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel.

Along the way, she has numerous obstacles to overcome, including betrayal and deception at every turn, but also aid from helpful witches, an armoured polar bear and a Texan balloonist. Mrs Coulter’s henchmen, the Gobblers, are trying to capture Lyra to use her in their cruel experiments.

Pullman perfectly blends impeccable characterisations with seamless plotting as the tension grows scene after scene.

Key Themes The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman


The Golden Compass explores the theme of identity, primarily through the character of Lyra as she navigates a world that is unfamiliar to her and discovers more about who she is as both an individual and a part of a broader societal group. Along her journey, she also reconsiders what it means to be human and how being different from others affords new perspectives.


Throughout the novel, Lyra encounters those oppressed religiously or politically. From Magisterium’s influence on people’s lives and beliefs to Mrs Coulter’s usurpation of power over lesser beings, Pullman presents readers with a powerful narrative exploring societal corruption, institutional manipulation and marginalisation based on difference.

Nature vs Nurture

The characters in The Golden Compass debate whether their actions are determined by their upbringing or innate nature. Lyra questions whether Lord Asriel’s power-hungry ambition is natural or due to his family background, while Mrs Coulter considers the impact of her upbringing on her outlook. As Lyra’s adventures continue, she learns more about herself and starts navigating life’s decisions rather than adhering to expected norms or cultural conventions.

Key Characters in The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Lyra Belacqua

Lyra is a brave 11-year-old girl who embarks on an extraordinary quest to find her kidnapped friend and uncle. Her journey leads her to discover more about the truth of her real identity and her strength and potential, leading her to take risks and defy authority figures to do what she believes is right.

Lord Asriel

Lord Asriel is Lyra’s power-hungry, ambitious uncle who wants to bridge a gap between universes. He has no qualms about using immoral tactics to pursue his goals but still shows flashes of care for Lyra’s safety during their brief encounters.

Mrs Coulter

Mrs Coulter is a charming but sinister character whose ambition matches Lord Asriel’s as she attempts to use children in scientific experiments in search of power and influence. She has a mysterious connection with Lyra, forming a complex relationship that leaves readers wondering how far Mrs Coulter will go for control and domination over others.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Teaching Opportunities

Critical Thinking

The Golden Compass encourages readers to think critically about the themes in the book, particularly those surrounding identity, oppression and nature vs nurture. Through analysis of characters and their actions, students can explore these topics in depth, discovering more about themselves and their values while considering how they would approach similar situations.

Spanish Language

Pullman’s novel also allows educators to explore language learning as Lyra deconstructs unfamiliar words, such as those from Spanish, during her travels. This can open up conversations about language use throughout Europe, giving students a new understanding of different places and cultures.


The author creates a vivid world for readers to explore through Lyra’s adventures. Students can develop their imaginations as they are drawn into her travels, and the story becomes increasingly engaging towards its climax, uncovering new ideas on what it means to have freedom from control or expectation from society at large.

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan 1


By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Analyse and discuss themes presented in The Golden Compass.
  • Reflect on their own values and cultural practices.
  • Understand the concept of language learning through unfamiliar words.


First, introduce the book The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and the main plot outline. After providing an overview of the story, move into a discussion related to the three key themes outlined in this lesson plan.

Ask students open-ended questions about what they notice about these particular topics, encouraging them to think critically about each example about themselves, their peers and broader society.

Main Teaching Points

Explain identity as a central theme of the novel, discussing how Lyra’s journey enables her to learn more about who she is and how her individual beliefs shape her actions. Students should consider whether their identities are based on nature or nurture and how that may affect how they tackle difficult situations.

Continue with a discussion around oppression within the text, highlighting examples from characters such as Mrs Coulter or Lord Asriel, reflecting on why people need to raise awareness of these issues in our current world.

Invite students to examine any forms of institutional control they may have encountered during their own lives and how that has shaped their views on life.

Finally, present language learning as an activity which opens up conversations across Europe by introducing new words that are associated with different cultures – such as those found in The Golden Compass when Lyra encounters unfamiliar terms from Spanish and other languages spoken throughout Europe.

Encourage students’ development of creativity while exploring new ways of understanding concepts using more than one language.

Reflection / Key Questions

Invite students to reflect upon what they have learned from this lesson and offer up potential solutions for any issues discussed during group conversations, particularly those surrounding marginalisation due to differences or power imbalance when looking at institutional manipulation within societies today.

Some key questions include: How can we challenge oppressive forces? What can we do if we recognise injustice? What does it mean for us personally if someone else suffers unjustly?

Lesson Plan 1


By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Understand why it is essential for people to take adventures like those depicted in The Golden Compass, learning more about themselves while being exposed to unfamiliar environments or situations that encourage personal growth beyond pre-existing expectations or conventions set out by society.
  • Demonstrate creative thinking skills while considering new perspectives when travelling abroad or further afield – using newly learnt words alongside more familiar ones while showing empathy towards other cultures to build meaningful online and offline relationships.


Introduce students to adventure as something which encourages exploration outside one’s comfort zone – providing opportunities for personal growth that help individuals make sense of who they are in today’s ever-changing world. Invite students to delve deeper into what it means for them personally when talking about taking risks versus playing it safe against established social norms.

Questioning why some things are accepted as ‘normal’ within specific communities but not others, considering broader implications when faced with similar decisions every day while travelling abroad or even staying close home (virtually).

Main Teaching Points

Prompt further discussions around questions raised during the introduction stage – delving into topics such as culture shock when faced with sudden changes both near home or afar; inviting students to identify elements linked with risk-taking versus playing it safe depending on where one finds oneself in comparison with where one started initially.

Further prompting conversation on what impact each action taken could bring either short term or long term wise (especially if travelling overseas) when conversing face-to-face via video call/meeting applications or whilst messaging/texting straight from one’s device/phone/computer etc.

Stress the importance of speaking two languages at least where possible (or indeed many more whenever applicable) depending on the location visited so as not to feel isolated during times away from any native countries being inhabited currently but still must feel comfortable communicating with locals attending same locales instead based upon mutual understanding levels since many conversations could only previously take place without any form physical contact between persons involved due internet usage now ubiquitous nature acquired digital age today overall seemingly global scale somehow simultaneously!).

Reflection / Key Questions

Encourage continued considerations after the main teaching points are presented earlier class period to ensure all understandings become more apparent over time even without much input; direct part team teacher/mentor role members assigned respective areas of expertise perhaps expand even beginners’ original knowledge base quite significantly eventually, hopefully anyway!

Books With Similar Themes

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This book shares similar themes of class struggle and the pursuit of the American Dream.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley explores technology and social control themes.
  • 1984 by George Orwell: This book examines themes of a dystopian society and government surveillance.
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess examines themes of free will, violence, and morality.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: This book is a political parable about tyranny, corruption, and societal power dynamics.

Website Resources

The Teaching Books Website

The TeachingBooks website is an excellent resource for educators to access information related to books and their authors. It provides detailed descriptions of each book, author biographies, discussion guides, lesson plans, and multimedia resources. This is a great place to look for information on new titles and discover new ways to engage students with literature.

The Teachers Pay Teachers Website

The TeacherspayTeachers website offers teachers various tools and resources related to teaching and classroom management. Here, teachers can find online activities, worksheets, quizzes, games and other materials that can be used in the classroom or remotely. Teachers can also find several free resources, such as activity ideas and printables.

Library Sparks Magazine

Library Sparks Magazine is an award-winning publication designed for librarians and staff members. This magazine features articles about children’s literature programs, collections development strategies, library trends, innovative programming ideas and more. With its online component, Library Sparks Magazine also provides access to up-to-date news about current events in the library world.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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