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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Grapes of Wrath

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Everyone loves grapes. Grape jelly. Grape juice. Grape flavored Jolly Ranchers.

Not everyone loves The Grapes of Wrath.

In this guide you will find

  • resources to connect the novel to the greater historical context of the Great Depression (without experiencing a great depression yourself).
  • reading quizzes to be sure students know this book isn't about that time Lucy got into a fight in a grape vat on I Love Lucy.
  • pop culture connections to Springsteen, South Park, the Simpsons, and other thing that don't begin with "s."

And so much more.

Use our teaching guide, and after class relax with some Grapes of Joy (a.k.a. wine).

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: This assignment encourages students to think critically about Steinbeck’s most enduring character, Tom Joad, by analyzing how contemporary musicians have revived and reinterpreted this mythic figure. Students will consider what Tom Joad has come to represent, how artists protest injustice and oppression, and how different artists can alter the meaning of a character to make different statements. Finally, students will recreate Tom Joad once again, putting their own interpretation on the character.

Teachers should plan on one class for viewing videos and discussion, and a second class for presenting student projects.

Step 1: Teachers show students Bruce Springsteen’s music video for his song “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” followed by the video of Rage Against the Machine’s remake of the same song.

Step 2: Teachers hand out lyrics to the song.

Step 3: Teachers lead students in a discussion about how these contemporary musicians have reinterpreted the character of Tom Joad, the themes, and protest agendas of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. See the student instructions below for a list of questions to consider include.

Step 4: Teachers introduce take-home assignment. Students invent their own reinterpretation of the ghost of Tom Joad. They may create their own song, music video, short story, poem, film, cartoon, or short play featuring Tom Joad – or a modern version of him. (Perhaps students would prefer to create a female Thomasina? Or a Latino Tomás? Perhaps students might take the “ghost” suggestion literally, and create a spooky story imagining what this ghost might say or do if he were around today.)

Step 5: Teachers may also instruct students to write a short essay explaining and analyzing their own interpretation of Tom Joad, including quotations from the novel. Students should have a few days to a week to complete the assignment.

Step 6: Students present their reinterpretations of Tom Joad in class, explaining why they chose to portray Tom in the way they did, and how they have retained or altered the themes of the novel.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8, 3.11, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 1.14, 2.2, 2.4; 11th & 12th grade Reading 2.2, 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.8; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.8, 1.14, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Tom Joad has become a legendary American icon. In this activity you’ll watch two music videos to see how contemporary artists have been influenced by Steinbeck’s hero, and how they have reawakened his “ghost” for the present-day. Then you’ll have a chance to create your own version of Tom Joad, addressing what you think is important and lasting about him.

Step 1: Watch Bruce Springsteen’s music video for his song “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” followed by the video of Rage Against the Machine’s remake of the same song. 

Step 2: Read the lyrics to the song.

Step 3: With your teacher and classmates, participate in a discussion about how these musicians have reinterpreted the character of Tom Joad, the themes, and protest agendas of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Some of many questions to consider include:

  1. How does Springsteen’s song echo the themes of Steinbeck’s novel?
  2. What has Tom Joad come to represent, according to the lyrics of this song?
  3. Has the meaning of Tom Joad been changed or adapted to present-day concerns?
  4. What social problems – according to this song – have persisted since the days of Steinbeck’s novel? Have things gotten better?
  5. How do the images in each of these videos speak to the themes and motifs of the novel? How do they alter or adapt the themes and images of the novel for the present-day? How do race and nationality figure into the meaning of these two videos? How do the images of the two videos differ from each other and from Steinbeck’s novel?
  6. How has Rage Against the Machine transformed the meaning of Springsteen’s song – besides just making it “harder”?
  7. Are these videos making a statement or a protest? If so, what are they saying? What are they protesting? What words, images, sounds, etc., signal their agendas?

Step 4: Now it’s your turn to wake up Tom Joad's ghost by inventing your own reinterpretation of him. You can create your own song, music video, short story, poem, film, cartoon, or short play featuring Tom Joad – or a modern version of him. Maybe you would prefer to create a female Thomasina? Or a Latino Tomás? Or maybe you want to take the “ghost” suggestion literally, and create a spooky story imagining what this ghost might say or do if he were haunting America today. Feel free to get creative and re-make Tom in whatever manner you would like. But keep it relevant: you’ll have to explain how you’ve revisited and reinterpreted the themes of Grapes of Wrath in your reimagining of old Tommy boy.

Step 5: Write a short essay explaining and analyzing your own interpretation of Tom Joad, including quotations from the novel. Be sure to answer the following questions:

  1. Why did you choose to portray Tom Joad in this way?
  2. What themes and aspects of The Grapes of Wrath did you retain?
  3. What did you change?

Step 6: Present your reinterpretation of Tom Joad in class, explaining why you chose to portray him in the way you did, and how you have retained or altered the themes of the novel.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE GRAPES OF WRATH?

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Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Photos    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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