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Creating Dramatic Monologues From The Grapes Of Wrath Creating-Dramatic-Monologues-From-The-Grapes-Of-Wrath-

  • Subject: Literature
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
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  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. the universal nature of Steinbeck''s characters' struggles and some of the complex forces affecting their lives; and
2. the value of primary source material in presenting an authentic picture of an given period in history.


Students' copies of The Grapes of Wrath for reference and any class or personal notes they may have on the novel and its characters
Writing paper, pencils or pens
3" x 5" index cards with one of the following names on each (use as many as needed and repeat some, if you choose): Tom Joad; Ma Joad; Jim Casy; Granma or Granpa Joad; Rosasharn; Connie Rivers; Al Joad; a big California farmer; Muley Graves or any of the farmers who stayed behind and didn't head west; Jim Rawley or any camp manager at a government-run migrant camp.
Downloadedimage of Cotton Pickersannouncement from Voices from the Dust Bowl , photocopied for class use.
Downloadedimageof migrant mother with family in makeshift tent from Dorothea Lange photographs for the Farm Security Administration, photocopied for class use.
Downloadeddocument of Associated Farmers Declaration of Law and Order, photocopied for class
(Optional) Computers with Internet access for optional first-day activity with primary sources from Library of Congress collection, Voices from the Dust Bowl .
Take-Home Worksheet: Literary Illusion (see printable version)


1. (Optional.) If you have Internet access, have students explore Web sites about the Dust Bowl. This exercise could be completed by individual students or by small groups.
  • Have students access the Library of Congress Web site, Voices from the Dust Bowl . Students should pay special attention to "The Migrant Experience" section at
  • Encourage them to browse the collection for 20-30 minutes and select two or three compelling items they feel enhance their understanding of The Grapes of Wrath .
  • Ask them to share their choices and explain why they selected them.
2. The next day, assign students to small groups (three or four, depending on class size) or allow students to choose their own groups. Designate a leader responsible for keeping the group on task and a recorder to note the group members' responses to the day's assignment. Inform them that you will collect this work for evaluation.
3. Distribute packets of the three downloaded primary sources for students to examine. Holding the index cards, fanned out, with characters' names face down, ask one student from each group to select any card.
4. Have groups discuss and record their answers to questions in relation to their character. To reinforce discussion, encourage them to use their novels, notes, personal understanding of the book, and the primary material.
  • What three or four carefully selected adjectives best describe the character's dominant personality traits?
  • What two or three questions would you like to ask this character that would help you to better understand the individual?
  • What two or three objects or symbols do you associate with this character?
5. Explain that during the next class each group will be collaboratively writing a dramatic monologue (suggested length: 25-35 lines) for the character they are analyzing. Take time to review the elements of dramatic monologue if the form is unfamiliar to students:

A dramatic monologue is a type of poem (generally free verse, in a very conversational tone) that is voiced by a single speaker to a quiet listener or to the reader. Although the speaker addresses a specific topic, in the process, the individual unwittingly reveals a great deal about her/himself.

6. Identify criteria for the monologue student groups will be writing. It should
  • meet the definition of a dramatic monologue,
  • accurately and appropriately represent the character in a voice that seems authentic to that individual,
  • reflect a knowledge of the character and his/her role in the novel, and
  • reveal some previously unknown facet of the character's life (i.e., the audience should gain a deeper understanding of the character's psychology).
7. Have student groups draft the topic their character will address in his/her monologue. They might choose to have the character answer one of the questions they posed in procedure step number 4. As they begin discussing their monologue, encourage students to think about the Depression Era images they reviewed. These primary sources should help them understand what life was like for migrant workers. At end of class, collect recorded notes from each group and encourage students to think about the writing for the next class and to come prepared with ideas.
8. The next day, have students immediately get into their character groups, return notes from previous class, instruct them to work on their collaborative writing. Stress the length limit (approximately 30-35 minutes) and other criteria you have set. Realize that the students can only write a draft, but they may produce some very creative work. You will be able to assess their understanding of the characters and the major ideas in the novel.
9. During the remaining time, select one student from each group to read and share each group's product with the class. If time allows, ask for comments.
10. For homework, assign students the Take-Home Worksheet: Literary Illusion. In this activity, students examine the lyrics of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and consider why Steinbeck used this poem as the source for the title of his novel.

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Younger students may not be familiar with The Grapes of Wrath , but the images from this lesson may be used to introduce students to the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Another effective introduction to the plight of the farmers during the Dust Bowl is the Newbery Award winning Out of the Dust , told through the eyes of an adolescent in a series of diary-like poems (good model for dramatic monologue). If using primary sources for the dramatic monologues, choose visuals, such as photos of the migrant workers' children and families and the migrant camps, rather than sources that are chiefly documents. Limit dramatic monologue choices to voices that do not require political background, for example, a child, mother, or father living at a migrant camp, a teacher volunteering at a migrant camp, or a doctor or nurse administering to the migrant workers and their families. Vocabulary words such as synonymous, derisive, vigilante, indigent, and arable can be used if explained clearly.

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Discussion Questions

1. After people read The Grapes of Wrath , many forgot the Joads were only make-believe. Discuss what you think caused the public to view these fictional people as real.
2. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Steinbeck said, ". . . the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love." Debate whether or not the author met his own standards in the writing of The Grapes of Wrath .
3. At first, Ma Joad feels the "fambly" is what life is all about and is all that is important. Trace how her view changes and analyze what statement Steinbeck is making through this change.
4. The Grapes of Wrath is described as among the most loved and the most hated of books. Discuss what elements you think caused it to be highly praised. What elements do you think caused it to be banned and burned in some communities?
5. Some literary criticism maintains The Grapes of Wrath is an allegory, a story where characters, setting, and events have both a literal and symbolic meaning. Explore what the Joads' journey along Route 66 might symbolize. Discuss what different characters like Tom Joad, Ma, Jim Casy, or Granma and Granpa might symbolize.
6. In the first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath , as part of the description of the Dust Bowl, Steinbeck writes, "The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men—to feel whether this time the men would break." Discuss the mood this image evokes. What tone does it set for the novel?

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The monologue lesson can be evaluated with a simple three-part rubric based on the criteria given to the students at the beginning of the activity:
  • Three points: Preliminary group work reviewing online sources and analyzing images), was correctly and thoroughly completed. Writing fits definition of a dramatic monologue and is written in a voice that seems authentic to the character. Writing reflects an understanding of the character and his/her role in the novel.
  • Two points: Preliminary group work (reviewing online sources and analyzing images), was adequately completed. Writing fits some of the definition of a dramatic monologue and is written in a voice that shows some authenticity to the character. Writing reflects some understanding of the character and his/her role in the novel.
  • One point: Preliminary group work (reviewing online sources and analyzing images), was incomplete. Writing does not fit the definition of a dramatic monologue and is not written in a voice that seems to the character. Writing does not reflect an understanding of the character and his/her role in the novel.
Because the lesson entails collaborative preparation and writing, everyone in the group receives the same grade.

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Route 66 ". . . The Road of Flight."
Explain the significance of Route 66 in the great westward migration of farmers during the Depression. Give some background about the historic significance of Route 66, including a description of its spanand how it goes from coast to coast. Give the students a map of the United States that has the states filled in, or ask them to fill in the states. Ask them to use the text of The Grapes of Wrath and a US road map to trace the Joads'' odyssey. Depending upon how much depth you want, ask students to identify what happens at each of the stops and what the symbolism or message of that stop might be.

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
How much was that dime worth that is mentioned in the classic Depression era song? Have students do some research and typical wages were for migrant farmers in the farm fields of the West. (Steinbeck mentions some wages in The Grapes of Wrath .) Have students compile a list of staples that every family's cupboard should hold and then have them do some research to find out how much these items cost during the Depression (select a specific year,such as 1938). Based on this little lesson in home economics, ask them to come to some conclusions about the plight of the migrant farmers. For further extension, have them compare today''s prices with 1938 prices.

Tom Joad, Of Thee I Sing
Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath , containing the hardships and the struggles of the Joads, inspired other artists in their creations. In the world of music, balladeer Woody Guthrie wrote "The Ballad of Tom Joad." The lead song on a Bruce Springsteen album by the same name is "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Have students find the lyrics to these two songs and compare them to the Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath . Finally, have them compare the two songs to each other. How do they portray Tom Joad differently?

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Suggested Readings

Driven from the Land: The Story of the Dust Bowl
Milton Meltzer. Benchmark Books, 2000.
Melzter describes the economic and environmental conditions that led to the Great Depression and the horrific dust storms that drove people from their homes during the 1930s. Documentary photographs and quotes from those most affected bring the period to life.

John Steinbeck
Catherine Reef. Clarion Books, 1996.
This biography interweaves Steinbeck's experiences, excerpts of his writing, and photographs of both his subjects and of him to chronicle his life, and an important time in history.

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SJSU Center for Steinbeck Studies
This web site offers biographical information and photos of Steinbeck and links researcher to other sites and Steinbeck archives. Its goal seems to be to promote Steinbeck studies.

The Internet Public Library -Steinbeck
The IPL site contains links to critical and biographical information about Steinbeck which can be accessed by author's name, book title, or literary time period in America.

American Studies @ the University of Virginia
As a good companion to the novel, this site contains a section on the 1930s presented through the lenses of films, radio programs, print, and other forms of cultural expression. It requires ShockWave, RealPlayer, and Netscape 3.0 or better for optimal use.

Voices from the Dust Bowl
Located in the American Memory collection, this is an excellent multi-media resource for the lives of those portrayed in GRAPES OF WRATH

All links on this comprehensive history site have been previewed for quality academic content. Many US history/Depression Era links contain excellent primary sources.

Surviving the Dust Bowl
This site, rich in primary sources, offers a comprehensive picture of all facets of the Dust Bowl experience.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    arable
Definition: Fit for or used for growing crops.
Context: The great drought of the early 1930's and the windstorms that followed turned formerly arable land into dust.

speaker    derisive
Definition: Expressing or showing contempt or scorn.
Context: The uprooted people of the Dust Bowl were called by the derisive name "Okies."

speaker    harrowing
Definition: To bring trouble, distress, or agitation.
Context: Steinbeck describes the experiences of most of the migrant families as harrowing; there seems to be no end to their struggles and hardships.

speaker    indigent
Definition: Suffering from indigence; impoverished.
Context: The hard working farmers of the Dust Bowl, some of whose families had lived on the same land for generations, became indigent after they lost their homes.

speaker    migrant
Definition: A person who moves regularly to find work, especially harvesting crops.
Context: The life of the migrant farmer is dictated by the cycles of planting and harvesting.

speaker    synonymous
Definition: Alike in meaning or significance.
Context: The novel The Grapes of Wrath is synonymous with the Great Depression.

speaker    veracity
Definition: Devotion to the truth; truthfulness.
Context: Although The Grapes of Wrath is fiction, when it was published, its veracity stirred public opinion.

speaker    vigilante
Definition: A self-appointed doer of justice.
Context: The migrant workers of the Depression were often the victims of violent vigilante groups who resented their presence.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Language Arts
Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
Recognizes the effectiveness of writing techniques in accomplishing an author's purpose.

dentifies and analyzes the philosophical assumptions and basic beliefs underlying an author's work.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Language Arts
Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts.
Understands the effects of complex literary devices and techniques (e.g., tone, irony, mood, figurative language, allusion, diction, dialogue, symbolism, point of view, style) on the overall quality of a work (e.g., tone, irony, mood, figurative language, allusion, diction, dialogue, symbolism, point of view, style)

BenchmarkUnderstands historical and cultural influences on literary works

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Geography
Understands how physical systems affect human systems.
Knows changes in the physical environment that have reduced the capacity of the environment to support human activity (e.g., the drought-plagued Sahel; the depleted rain forests of central Africa; the Great Plains Dust Bowl; the impact of the economic exploitation of Siberia's resources on a fragile sub-Arctic environment).

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Alisa Soderquist, humanities teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.

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