The Grapes of Wrath Unit Plan

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching Steinbeck's ~'The Grapes of Wrath~' can be exciting, but also daunting. This lesson offers a sample unit plan to help you make the most out of the book with your literature students.

Why a Unit Plan Matters

Are you getting ready to teach John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath to your literature students? You are in for a real treat. One of the great classic works of American literature, The Grapes of Wrath has many complex plot lines and deals with compelling themes such as the way people treat each other, what it means to maintain dignity amid hardship, why family is important, and what happens when people are selfish and/or selfless in the way they live their lives and relate to others.

Although The Grapes of Wrath is compelling and important in many ways, there are also many challenges inherent to teaching it. For one thing, it is a very long book, and you have to plan carefully if you want to complete it quickly enough to maintain students' interest but without rushing. Many students are overwhelmed by the length, and others might find Steinbeck's novel dense and old-fashioned.

One of the best things you can do to make the teaching of The Grapes of Wrath more enjoyable is to start with a strong unit plan. The unit plan offered here is meant to help you teach the novel in an organized, engaging way over the course of five weeks. You can modify this plan to meet the needs of your students and the timing of your curriculum, but it offers a starting point so that you can focus on making individual lessons engaging.

Grapes of Wrath Unit Plan

Week One

  • During the first week, do some pre-reading activities with your students. This might involve engaging your students in conversations about how poverty can affect the way people treat each other. You also might have your students come up with theories about why people are sometimes cruel to each other. Students who are unfamiliar with the American South will also benefit from geography activities that orient them.
  • Then, read chapters 1-6 of the novel. Some of the reading should be done in class, while some can be assigned as homework. Keep students engaged by having them visualize the setting and create a web of characters they encounter showing how they are connected with each other.

Week Two

  • By the second week of the text, students will be a bit more used to Steinbeck's language and better able to read on their own. This week, have students read chapters 7-14. Try to have them read about half of the text in class and half as homework. Make sure to leave time for plenty of discussions to monitor comprehension.
  • Students will encounter the Joad family in this chapter. Ask them to create Venn Diagrams showing the similarities and differences between the narrator, whose voice is already familiar to them, and the Joads. They can start thinking about what Steinbeck is trying to represent via the Joads.

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