Teaching The Grapes of Wrath
Across the Curriculum
– A Common Core Lesson Plans
Across the Curriculum
– A Common Core Lesson Plans
Nexus: The Grapes of Wrath and the American Dream
“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
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.
Lessons in Life – Steinbeck’s History and the Backstory of The Grapes of Wrath
he lesson “The Man Behind the Wrath” teaches students how Steinbeck evolved from awkward adolescent to Nobel Prize-winning activist author and tracks the backstory and evolution of The Grapes of Wrath.
“Steinbeck observed the horrendous living conditions of the migrants…during the floods of 1937-38….He went to the flooded area to report on the tragedy, hoping his news articles would pressure local authorities to help. In a letter to his wife Carol, he said, ‘I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy [blankety-blanks] who are responsible for this, but I can best do it through newspapers.'”
This lesson satisfies CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Lesson on The Grapes of Wrath Symbolism and Steinbeck’s themes
n the NEXUS lesson “Harvesting Steinbeck’s Symbols,” students track the turtle and other migrating symbols in The Grapes of Wrath
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 lesson 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 disturbances in America.
Figurative Language in The Grapes of Wrath.
The lesson includes activities and stimulating questions that, in conjunction with the 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.
Lesson 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)
he lesson “Steinbeck in Focus – The Art of Seeing ” teaches students to exercise their observation skills while helping them to read The Grapes of Wrath more closely and to make logical inferences from the text.
“Are your observation skills 20/20? Actually our powers of observation are not usually tested directly, and most schools don’t offer courses or even lessons 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]
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:his lesson, its companion chapter “The Science of Seeing, ” and the NEXUS Supplement “
- 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 lesson and the supplemental lesson 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
n the dramatic lesson “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 students to compare and contrast these perspectives of the crisis.
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
hat does Chaplin’s hilarious masterpiece Modern Times have in common with the gritty realism of The Grapes of Wrath? In this lessons students will compare and contrast 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 in The Grapes of Wrath and the film Modern Times. This delightful lesson 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.
Uncle Sam in the Limelight & Living Newspapers Lessons
“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]
In the “Steinbeck, the Group Theatre and People’s Teachers” lesson 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 Lesson – for the people, by the people
his interactive lesson 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.
People’s Theater and Steinbeck and the Stage
n the “Steinbeck, the Group Theatre and People’s Teachers” lesson 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
he 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
A Lesson in Observation – Science
HE SCIENCE OF SEEING, the companion lesson 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.
This lesson meets Common Core Science Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.3. Follow precisely a complex multi-step procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.
“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
he 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.]
NEXUS SUPPLEMENTS can be accessed under the SUPPLEMENTS menu. NOTE: NEXUS supplements and magazines are protected by U.S. Copyright and cannot be photocopied or downloaded.
GUIDELINES: The NEXUS guidelines suggest interdisciplinary activities and student-friendly ancillary readings.