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Lesson Plan - "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck

11th grade

Unterrichtsentwurf 2010 16 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke


Table of Contents

1. General Overview

2. Main Objectives

3. Unit Plan
3.1 Introducing Remarks
3.2 Necessary Equipment
3.3 Concise Lesson Description
3.3.1 Lesson1
3.3.2 Lesson 2/3
3.3.3 Lesson4
3.3.4 Lesson 5/6
3.3.5 Lesson7
3.3.6 Lesson 8/9
3.4 Expectations

4. Detailed Example Lesson
4.1 Learner Description
4.2 Subject Matter
4.3 The Learners’ Prerequisites
4.4 Didactical Decisions
4.5 Methodical Decisions
4.6 Detailed Plan for one lesson
4.6.1 Time
4.6.2 Phase Order
4.6.3 Minimal and Optimal Goals
4.7 Projected Competencies
4.8 Appendix

5. Personal Evaluation

6. Bibliography

1. General Overview

The Hessian Curriculum1 demands that the English lesson in the Oberstufe has to improve the pupils’ language skills as well as enlarge their knowledge about English literature and different cultures. Correspondingly, the pupils should gain experiences with a variety of texts and different media. By this, they develop critical media literacy which is an essential prerequisite for working independently. Ideally, these main objectives should be combined in every teaching unit.

The novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published in 1939. It reports the story of the farmer family Joad which has, like hundred thousands of other families, to leave their home Oklahoma to start a new life in California. By this, Steinbeck exemplifies the fate of migrant workers in the USA during the 1930’s. The novel should be motivating for the pupils as it constitutes an authentic documentation of the social circumstances during the time of the Great Depression.2 Furthermore, the dramatic story of the family Joad is gripping and arouses empathy. The novel, moreover, refers to central topics, like work ethnic and inequality, which can be connected to the current problems of globalization.

In The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck makes use of the migrants’ authentic language. That is why the reading might be a challenge for the pupils. Besides, Steinbeck’s literary techniques are note-worthy. He, for instance, adds so-called intercalary chapters, which evaluate the plot and provide further information on the historical context.

Moreover, the controversy3 of the novel led to various reactions of artists and film adaptations. So the novel is an appropriate starting point for the comparison of different media, like for instance songs, photographs and film adaptations. Correspondingly, this teaching unit aims at combining knowledge about literature and history with the development of language awareness and media competence.

2. Main Objectives

As mentioned above, the unit aims to reach different objectives. In general, the pupils are encouraged to work independently during the whole unit. In order to achieve this aim, the lessons are student-centred and action-oriented by integrating a variety of different methods. Depending on the method which is used, different affective objectives can be met. The pupils learn, for instance, to work in a team. The following objectives, however, concentrate on the cognitive and psycho-motorical skills of the pupils. By the end of the unit, the pupils will…

- be familiar with the plot development, the conception of characters, use of symbolism and central themes of The Grapes of Wrath.
- be informed about the author John Steinbeck and know about the historical, social and political background of the 1930’s (Great Depression) in the U.S.
- have increased their reading competences (skimming) and get used to the colloquial language which is used in the novel.
- be able to analyse, evaluate and create different sorts of media, such as advertisements, and by this develop critical media literacy.

3. Unit Plan

The Grapes of Wrath is a rather complex novel because its structure and the high number of characters and settings. That is the reason why the unit has to be well-structured and should concentrate on the most relevant topics.

3.1 Introducing Remarks

The Hessian Curriculum suggests that the novel should be read in grade 111 by a basic or advanced course.4 The novel is listed under the obligatory topic “The Challenge of Individualism: USA/Them and Us” (Q1/1 and 3). This teaching unit is created for an advanced course and it will cover a time of about five weeks with five lessons a week. The pupils had the task to read the novel beforehand in order to have an overview of the plot5. In order to make it possible that the pupils experience Steinbeck’s novel as a whole, the teaching unit is not divided according the different chapters but according thematic aspects (Viland 4). Correspondingly, the teaching unit consists of the following three main parts.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

3.2 Necessary Equipment

- primary text of The Grapes of Wrath (e.g. Penguin edition which contains a general introduction to the author)
- secondary sources (e.g. an article by Steinbeck; song texts; a poem by Karen Hesse, sample handbills, songs with lyrics by Bruce Springsteen)
- film version by John Ford (1940)
- blackboard and chalk
- internet access (in the classroom or in the computer lab)
- tv with dvd-player/laptop with projector
- posters and pens
- index cards and magnets
- cd-player
- optional: a (project-) website6 where the results can be published and where further discussion can take place

3.3 Concise Lesson Description

The following extract provides an overview of the second part of the unit. This part concentrates on different media which are directly connected to The Grapes of Wrath.

3.3.1 Lesson 1

The main objective of this lesson is to get to know the author John Steinbeck and to research information about his journey with migrant families.7 As an impulse, the pupils read an article by John Steinbeck where he describes the misery he has experienced during his journey.8 In a short brainstorming, the pupils share their impressions on the style of the article compared to the novel. Then the pupils are divided into groups of three and they get the task to think about questions they would like to ask Steinbeck about his novel and his research journey. After looking for answers in the introduction to the novel and in the internet9, the groups enact a short interview with Steinbeck, one student is Steinbeck and the other two are interviewers, in front of the class.

For homework the pupils are asked to read the article “The Migrant Experience” by Robin A. Fanslow which is available on the internet10.

3.3.2 Lesson 2/3

During these lessons, the pupils explore the historical background of the novel which is essential to understand the novel’s content. With the help of a guided fantasy, the pupils take over the perspective of a farmer family which has to leave their home. They articulate their impressions and emotions during a freewriting activity and some volunteers are asked to present their result. Then the teacher writes an impulse question (Why did the tenant farmers have to leave their home?) on the board. In order to answer this question every pupil gets three empty index cards. Now it is their task to write one idea with 3-5 keywords on each card. These ideas should be based on their knowledge of the novel’s plot and on the article they read for homework. With the help of the method Think! Pair! Share! the pupils decide on the three most important reasons/index cards. Afterwards, every group shortly presents their results on the board and it is discussed in class how these different ideas/reasons can be clustered logically. During the second lesson every group will concentrate on one of the main reasons and will do a further research on the topic in the internet. Each group will present a short news broadcast of the 1930’s where they present the main facts of their topic.

3.3.3 Lesson 4

The fourth lesson deals with advertisements. The so-called handbills were distributed among the tenant farmers in Oklahoma in order to promote the working conditions in California. As a first impulse, the pupils read relevant text passages of the novel where the persuasive effects of the handbills and the reaction of the Joads are described.11 The pupils collect ideas how the handbills might have looked like in a short brainstorming before they look at a sample handbill which is displayed in the internet.12 In a teacher-class dialog the arguments, language and the persuasive effect of the sample handbill are analysed. In the following phase, the pupils form groups in order to create an own handbill to entice tenant farmers to work in California.13 The results of this activity are presented in a poster conference where the pupils decide on the most effective handbills.

3.3.4 Lesson 5/6

In the course of these two lessons the pupils get in contact with four different media which represent both reactions on Steinbeck’s novel and on the fate of the tenant farmers during the 1930’s. So the pupils are divided into four groups. The first group gets a poem by Karen Hesse14 ; the second group gets two photographs by Dorothea Lange15 ; the third group has to analyse a historical newspaper article written by Charles L. Todd16 and the fourth group is going to deal with the song “The Ghost of Tom Joad”17 by Bruce Springsteen.


1 Lehrplan Englisch, Gymnasialer Bildungsgang: Jahrgangsstufen 10G bis 12G, Hessisches Kultusministerium 2010 (Entwurf).

2 John Steinbeck has accompanied migrant families on their way to California.

3 At first, the novel was abolished in California, later it won the Pulitzer Prize (1940).

4 Lehrplan Englisch, Gymnasialer Bildungsgang: Jahrgangsstufen 10G bis 12G, Hessisches Kultusministerium 2010, S. 55-57.

5 skimming without concentrating on details

6 Websites including a blog can easily designed under or

7 compare chapter 1.

8 John Steinbeck. “Death in the dust”,, 2 February 2002.

9 At this point, the teacher should recommend some appropriate websites as a starting point for the research, e.g.

10 <>

11 for instance p. 94 (Penguin edition)

12 <>.

13 The website <> offers some hints for this task.

14 taken from her verse novel Out of the Dust (1997).

15 In the 1930s, Dorothea Lange took photos from migrants in California and she became famous for her photograph of the “Migrant Mother” (1936). Source:

16 „The Okies Search for a Lost Frontier”, published in New York Times Magazine, in August 27, 1939, <>.

17 released in 1995, lyrics:


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
558 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Philipps-Universität Marburg – Anglistik
The Grapes of Wrath; the grapes of wrath lesson plan; Steinbeck Unterrichtentwurf; Literaturdidaktik; Englisch Literatur Oberstufe;



Titel: Lesson Plan - "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck