Teaching Guide: Exploring The Grapes of Wrath

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Before reading the novel, use the photographs and the interview in this set to learn about the Dust Bowl migration. What challenges did the migrants face? What strategies did they use to overcome these challenges? How did other people treat them as they migrated?

  2. Several of the photographs in this set are by the famous Farm Security Administration photographer Dorothea Lange, who documented the struggles of the Dust Bowl migrants. Lange’s work was also an inspiration for John Steinbeck. Using Lange’s photographs and her oral history in this set, compare and contrast Lange’s and Steinbeck’s portrayals of the migrant experience.

  3. Using the response pamphlet, consider the impact that the publication and popularity of The Grapes of Wrath had on the public image of California. Which particular aspects of the novel does this brochure challenge?

  4. The handbill is an important symbol in the novel. Using the handbill advertising jobs for cotton pickers and the Santa Fe Railroad advertisement as evidence, explain how the symbolic value of the handbill changes as the Joads get closer to California.

  5. How did Art King’s experience of work, discrimination, and border crossing, described in his interview, compare with the Joads’? Which similar obstacles did they face?

Classroom activities

Divide students into groups and ask each to design a handbill that would have attracted migrants to a particular agricultural industry in California. What kinds of language and images might corporate farmers have used to make California and their jobs appealing?

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