THE GRAPES OF WRATH2018-09-02T07:11:35+00:00

Teaching The Grapes of Wrath
Across the Curriculum
– A Common Core Unit

Nexus: The Grapes of Wrath

Writers and consultants in this volume include preeminent Steinbeck scholar Robert DeMott, editor of Working Days, The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath and author of Steinbeck’s Typewriter: Essays on His Art. DeMott also wrote the introduction to The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Classics Series)and serves on the Steinbeck Review editorial board.

Susan Shillinglaw, former director of the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State Univ., co-author of A Journey into Steinbeck’s California, and editor of Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent.

Anne Loftis, author of Witnesses to the Struggle: Imaging the 1930s California Labor Movement.

Lorraine Brown, former director of the Research Center for Federal Theatre at George Mason Univ. and co-author of Free Adult, Uncensored, the Living History of the Federal Theatre Project.

Francis V. O’Connor, preeminent mural scholar, author of The WPA Era: Urban Views and Visions and editor of The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs and Art for the Millions: Essays from the 1930’s by Artists and Administrators of the WPA Federal Art Project.

Marlene Park, co-author of New Deal for Art: The Government Art Projects of the 1930s and Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, and former art history professor at CUNY.

Kenneth Bindas, author of All of this Music Belongs to the Nation: The WPA’s Federal Music Project…and Modernity and the Great Depression. History Chair at Kent State Univ.

Paul Ferguson, writer for Jazz Player, Case Western Reserve Univ. Jazz Division Head, and former trombonist for the new Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras.

“The exercises in this exhilarating volume focus on observation skills; theme, variation, and repetition in the novel; period music, and art. Its 11 chapters reveal the social production of art in action by showing the interpenetration of all the arts—painting, music, film, journalism, theater, and novels—to produce social change. A sure-fire hit with students.” — THE COLLEGE BOARD

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Lessons in Life – Steinbeck, Growing Up into Greatness

steinbeck

The chapter “The Man Behind the Wrath” teaches students how Steinbeck evolved from awkward adolescent to Nobel Prize-winning activist author and the backstory of his masterpiece.

Grapes of Wrath Symbolism and Steinbeck’s themes

In the NEXUS chapter “Harvesting Steinbeck’s Symbols,” students track the turtle and other migrating symbols in The Grapes of Wrath

TEXT SAMPLE:

Chapter 3 of The Grapes of Wrath is a road map, and the turtle – the main “character” in the chapter – is our tour guide. He shows us the thematic route the novel will take. In a sense, the Joads travel the same road the turtle does, the path of change or evolution (sped  up by man’s mistreatment of the land).” [NEXUS, The Grapes of Wrath and the American Dream, p.7]

The back legs went to work, straining like elephant legs, and the shell tipped to an angle so that the front legs could not reach the level cement plain. But higher and higher the hind legs boosted it, until at last the center of balance was reached, the front tipped down, the front legs scratched at the pavement, and it was up.

“Nothing can stop the turtle. Like the Joads, he encounters and overcomes obstacle after obstacle. A female driver nearly hits him…” [NEXUS, The Grapes of Wrath and the American Dream, p.7]

This chapter also connects Casy and the turtle; both ride the crest of evolution in the novel. Like the turtle, Casy, the teacher and lapsed preacher, sows the seeds of the future when he discovers common ground between spiritual, economic and political changes in America.

Figurative Language in The Grapes of Wrath.

This chapter includes activities and stimulating questions that, in conjunction with the chapter text, help students to analyze pivotal passages in Steinbeck’s masterpiece, interpret his metaphors, and connect the power politics in The Grapes of Wrath to power politics today.

This chapter aligns with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1, RL.2, RL.4, RL.5, and RL.6 (for 9-10 and 11-12) as well as Anchor standards CCRA.R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.5, and R.8.

Learning the Art of Seeing from Steinbeck: The 3Rs + “O” (Observation)

In the chapter “Steinbeck in Focus – The Art of Seeing ,” NEXUS provides Lessons in Looking to sharpen students’ observation skills and simultaneously help them read The Grapes of Wrath more closely and make logical inferences from the text.

TEXT SAMPLE:

“Are your observation skills 20/20? Actually our powers of observation are not usually tested directly, and most schools don’t offer courses that teach students how to see, how to observe. Good observers usually train themselves – like the truck driver in chapter 2 of The Grapes of Wrath.”

I train my mind all the time….Suppose I pass a guy on the road. I look at him, an’ after I’m past I try to remember ever thing about him, kind a clothes an’ shoes an’ hat, an’ how he walked an’ maybe how tall an’ what weight an’ any scars. I do it pretty good. I can jus’ make a whole picture in my head. [NEXUS, The Grapes of Wrath and the American Dream, p.10]

This chapter, its companion chapter “The Science of Seeing, ” and the NEXUS Supplement “Word Portraits” include activities and exercises designed to sharpen students’ observation skills and help them to appreciate descriptive writing and include it in their own work:

  • The “Literature” section of the NEXUS Grapes of Wrath Guidelines recommends observation activities in which students analyze “word portraits” (descriptions that rely on keen observation of natural phenomena) in The Grapes of Wrath and then write their own character sketches to exercise their observation skills and improve their descriptive writing skills.
  • The NEXUS Supplement “Word Portraits” uses a passage from Of Mice and Man as a model to instruct students to closely observe telling actions that help define character and to teach them to use descriptive rather than generic verbs – verbs that convey not only action but the mood that prompts the action (walked vs. trudged, for example).
  • See the chapter “The Science of Seeing” below, which examines Steinbeck’s work with marine biologist Ed Ricketts and teaches students methods for honing their observation skills in the field of science.

This chapter and it’s supplement align with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1, RL.3, RL.4, RL.5, and RL.6 (for 9-10 and 11-12), as well as Anchor standards CCRA.R.1, R.4, R.6, and R.8.

Teaching the Dust Bowl Crisis in an Interdisciplinary Unit

In the dramatic chapter “When the Land Blew Away – The Dust Bowl Crisis,” we invite students to listen to a selection of Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl songs, watch and respond to the Pare Lorentz documentary The Plow that Broke the Plains, and research “Harvest Gypsies,” the series of articles Steinbeck wrote for The San Francisco News . Then, in an essay or project presentation, we ask them to compare and contrast these perspectives of the crisis.

This chapter aligns with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7, and RL.8 (for 9-10 and 11-12); History standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.1, RH.4, RH.6 and RH.9 (for 9-10 and 11-12) as well as Anchor standards CCRA.R.7 and R.9.

Before The Grapes of Wrath – Lessons in Activist Art and Government Art in the 1930s

Teaching Connections between The Grapes of Wrath and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times

“A twitch at the controls could swerve the cat; but the driver’s hands could not twitch because the monster that built tractors, the monster that sent the tractor out, had somehow got into the driver’s hands, into his brain and muscle…”  – The Grapes of Wrath

What does Chaplin’s hilarious masterpiece Modern Times have in common with the gritty realism of The Grapes of Wrath? Among other things: Strikes, Red Scare phobias, Machine-age dehumanization, the Great Depression, and the “buck up” attitude that kept millions of resilient Americans from sinking in the Depression’s mire. This delightful chapter helps students see the bright side of the Great Depression and The Grapes of Wrath – American resilience – and the dark side through an alternative lens.

Aligned with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2, and RL.8 (for 9-10 and 11-12); and Anchor standards CCRA.R.7 and R.9.

Uncle Sam in the Limelight & Living Newspapers

TEXT SAMPLE:

Living Newspapers were multimedia productions, with projections on scrims (see-through screens that images can be projected on from behind or in front), open staging, aural and visual images, pantomime, dance, news reels, music and a variety of stage levels. Living Newspapers assaulted all the audience’s senses.”

“The Living Newspaper became the most controversial part of the Federal Theatre Project, and FTP director Hallie Flanagan didn’t start out by soft-peddling it. The first Living Newspaper, Ethiopia, tackled the controversial Ethiopian War. But it never made it to the stage. The State Department demanded the show be canceled before opening night. They feared it might upset Fascist Italy and trigger…” [NEXUS, The Grapes of Wrath and the American Dream, p.23]

Aligned with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2, and RL.8 (for 9-10 and 11-12); and Anchor standards CCRA.R.7 and R.9.

In the chapter “Steinbeck, the Group Theatre and People’s Teachers” students learn that the historic Group Theatre (Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Francis Farmer, John Garfield, Stella Adler, Sidney Lumet, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and others) and many 30’s “people’s theaters” shared Steinbeck’s belief in the “human family” and, like the author of The Grapes of Wrath, wrote, directed and acted under the assumption that art can and should provoke social change.

New Deal Art – for the people, by the people

This interactive chapter teaches students to interpret WPA art that reads like visual poetry or visual narrative. Like The Grapes of Wrath, some of the art reflects themes of injustice, marginalization and stigmatization of outsiders and the poor.

Aligned with CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1 (for 9-10 and 11-12); Anchor standards CCRA.R.7 and R.9, and National Core Art Standards, Program 8, Anchor Standards 7, 8 and 11 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

People’s Theater and Steinbeck and the Stage

In the chapter “Steinbeck, the Group Theatre and People’s Teachers” students learn that the historic Group Theatre (Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Francis Farmer, John Garfield, Stella Adler, Sidney Lumet, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and others) and many 30’s “people’s theaters” shared Steinbeck’s belief in the “human family” and, like the author of The Grapes of Wrath, wrote, directed and acted under the assumption that art can and should provoke social change.

Exploring the Great Depression and New Deal America

The chapter “The ABCs of the New Deal” teaches students the ins and outs of FDR ‘s efforts to lift America out of the Great Depression with a variety of innovative programs.

Instructional Connections to Steinbeck in Science, Music, and More

NEXUS SUPPLEMENTS can be accessed under the LESSON PLANS menu. Both the FREE supplements and the FOR-A-FEE supplements include lesson plans. NOTE: NEXUS supplements and magazines are protected by U.S. Copyright and cannot be photocopied or downloaded.

A Lesson in Observation – Science

“The Science of Seeing,” the companion chapter to “The Art of Seeing,” teaches students how Steinbeck applied his high-caliber observation skills to marine biology. In Sea of Cortez, the book Steinbeck co-wrote with marine biologist Edward Ricketts (shown at left studying a stingray), students learn that Steinbeck’s vivid descriptions of natural life in The Grapes of Wrath are analogous to his carefully observed descriptions of sea life in Sea of Cortez (a book that is often referenced by marine biologists studying the Sea of Cortez today). This chapter, which teaches students that strong observation skills are essential in many disciplines, includes two science experiments – “Observing without Seeing,” and “Is Black Really Black?” – in which students exercise and hone their observation skills.

TEXT SAMPLE

“Careful observation doesn’t necessarily mean looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary (though sometimes it does). More often it is seeing the ordinary for what it really is. And that’s not easy to do. Details are easily overlooked when they’re familiar. Familiarity tends to numb our perceptions. In science we can’t afford to miss details…” [The Grapes of Wrath and the American Dream, pp. 28-29]

Teaching Period Music with The Grapes of Wrath

The chapter “The Depression’s Upbeat, Swing,” teaches students to identify theme and variation patterns in the Swing Music of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and others, and they learn to write their own swing compositions using the most popular tune-pattern of the Swing Era. (For more on theme and variation see The Grapes of Wrath Supplement “Repetition in Literature and Music,” which examines Steinbeck’s use of repetition and theme and variation in the global chapters of The Grapes of Wrath (in which Steinbeck adopts a biblical style) and compares it to examples of repetition/theme and variation in Ecclesiastes (King James Bible), Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (nearly nine minutes of variations of the famous opening 4-note motif), and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” For more on theme and variation in music see “Jelly ‘n Jazz” in The Harlem Renaissance volume of NEXUS and “Sounds and Rounds of the Renaissance” in the Romeo and Juliet and the Renaissance volume.]

Teaching Guidelines and Supplements for The Grapes of Wrath

Repetition in The Grapes of Wrath, Music and Other Literature
Word Portraits in Steinbeck and Learning to Write Your Own Character Sketches
America Transformed – The WPA and the Arts

The History of Art in the New Deal Era

Grapes of Wrath Characters – see Lesson Plans in the NEXUS menu

Grapes of Wrath Lesson Plans – see Lesson Plans in the NEXUS menu.

GUIDELINES: The NEXUS guidelines suggest interdisciplinary activities and student-friendly ancillary readings.