Prereading: Of Mice & Men & Place
by Cora Ducolon, Pentucket Regional High School, West Newbury, Massachusetts, 2007
I confess that I have spent very little time emphasizing place when teaching Of Mice and Men. I am trying to correct this with this lesson. My first objective is to get students to think about how place affects each of them and their classmates. My next objective is for them to write about place. From there, I want them to think about Steinbeck’s use of place, both as an art form and as an important component of the story. Lastly, I want them to see photos of the area that Steinbeck describes in the first few pages of the novel in order to compare their imagined version of the area to the actual area that Steinbeck used as a basis. I am going to use this as an introductory activity to the book.
Find or take a photo of a spot in your hometown that you feel is essential to understanding your town. These can be of nature or of a building/shop/house. You can either email me the photo or bring one in to scan. You also need to write a one paragraph description of this spot and its essentialness to understanding your town.
Students will read their descriptions and show their photos via power point. We will look at them in order by town (Groveland, Merrimac, West Newbury). Each student will introduce their photo by reading their paragraph. After we look at each town’s collection of photos, the students from the other towns will discuss how they see the town based on the photos. Hopefully, this will lead to a dialogic discussion since students will know far more about these towns than I. When finished, we will discuss why they picked the spot and what it was like to write about/describe place. Lastly, we will talk about how place affects their lives.
Read aloud the description of place found on the first two pages in Of Mice and Men. What feelings/points does Steinbeck want to convey with these descriptions? Why did he choose these spots for this story? How important was place to Steinbeck versus your value of place?
I will show them a series of slides from the Salinas Valley, particularly the river and Soledad. I will then ask them: What is it like to see the photos in connection with the description that I just read from Steinbeck? How does one write about/recreate place when it is so visual?
Draw other locations in Of Mice and Men: the inside of the bunkhouse, Crooks’ room, the imaginary ranch, the safe spot in the woods that is found in the beginning and opening of the book. Then we could discuss not only the language of space, but also the significance of these spaces. In addition, they could compare inside space versus outside space, and claustrophobic space.
I read aloud the first two page description of place while students with their eyes closed attempt to draw the scene. The goal would be for them to really listen to the passage and to pay attention to the details.
Students choose from a collection of photos on several websites (Library of Congress, our NEH collection, migrant workers) and find five photos that correspond to five selections from Of Mice and Men. Photos are then hung around the room with quotes.
Thanks to Biz Hughes and Louise Lavigne for their suggestions on this lesson.