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John Steinbeck Literary Tour Guide Assignment

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by Corey Bulman, Mound Westonka High School, Minnestrista, MN, 2009


This assignment has several objectives. The first is to acquaint students with the world of John Steinbeck by introducing them to a number of the author’s short stories. The second objective is foster close textual reading skills.


Much of John Steinbeck’s work takes readers on a literary adventure to California’s central coast and nearby valleys. While his use of setting is key to understanding Steinbeck’s world, a close inspection of his stories also reveals the author’s desire through his descriptions of setting to take his readers on a literary journey into a rich landscape of themes, symbols, and complex characters. This assignment asks students to become the tour guides leading their fellow students on a trip through one of Steinbeck’s short stories. This assignment will utilize the short stories in Steinbeck’s collection, The Long Valley, but could be tailored to use with any of the author’s short stories. The lesson plan will serve as the culminating activity for a short fiction unit.


  1. Students will first read introductions to the following literary tools: theme, characterization, tone, symbolism and setting found in the Prentice Hall class textbook, Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. This portion of the lesson does not require a textbook though; rather, it is meant to create a common language for literary study. This goal could also be achieved by discussing the tools as the Steinbeck stories are being read.
  2. Students will next be introduced to John Steinbeck’s California and the importance of setting within his work. They will view several photographs taken in and around the Salinas Valley in order to enter into this world. They will be asked to complete the following writing prompt and discuss it in small groups:

    Record as many details that you see in each of the photographs. Pay attention to the colors and textures of the landscapes. Once you have compiled your list of observations, speculate about the type of work and life that takes place in the place where each of the photographs is set.

    * Click here for a template for this photography portion of the assignment (MS Word).

    Following the discussion, students will listen to the opening passage of Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men. (This is meant to showcase the author’s creation of setting. This could be accomplished using a number of his passages.) Students will be asked to discuss how Steinbeck’s words about the landscape compare with their initial observations of the photographic images taken in the same geographical locale.
  3. The class will then read Steinbeck’s novella, The Red Pony, included in The Long Valley. As an anticipatory set, students will be asked the following questions:
    1. How does place shape your understanding of a story?
    2. How do the places in your lives impact your life?
    3. How can place/setting impact the mood of a piece of writing?
    4. How does place/setting shape a character’s life?
    5. What works of literature have you read that you remember having an important setting?
    6. How does place/setting interact with other literary elements such as style, symbols and tone to create meaning for readers?
  4. Students will record their observations about the novella’s setting, characters, themes, and symbols as they read this work.

    * Click here for a template for the observation assignment (MS Word).
  5. Students will discuss their observations and findings about the novella’s literary elements during several class periods.
  6. Next, all students will read a number of the short stories in The Long Valley. The students will read “The Chrysanthemums,” “The White Quail,” “Flight,” “The Snake,” “The Raid,” “The Harness,” “The Vigilante,” “Johnny Bear,” and “The Murder.” They will again keep a reading journal charting Steinbeck’s development of characters, setting, themes, and symbols in these stories.
  7. Once the stories have been read, the class will be subdivided into groups of 3-4. They will be assigned one of the stories listed above and asked to reread it looking again at the use the literary elements in the story’s construction. They will keep a second set of observations about this rereading. They will also have to consider the following question:

    What did you notice about the story’s use of literary elements the second time through? What did you see reading it again that you missed the first time?
  8. The students will have several class periods to discuss their observations and begin to prepare a “tour brochure” about their story that will invite “travelers” to experience the story’s world. The tour brochure will contain the following pieces:
    • Setting – Students will include photographs of the setting and textual support that ties to the images.
    • Plot – Students will prepare a map or set of directions for the travelers that will follow the text progression.
    • Characterization – Students will compose and include a “found poem” about one or more of the characters using Steinbeck’s words found within the text.
    • Symbolism – Students will include a photograph or an image that represents one of the story’s symbols. They will be required to include a piece of textual evidence that highlights the symbol’s importance within the text.
    • Theme – Students will have to include a write-up focused upon several thematic “attractions” travelers will see when they read the story.

      * Click here for the full assignment for the tour guide brochure (MS Word).
  9. Finally, students will create a television-style infomercial for their story that will be presented in class or recorded on video and uploaded to the class website. This commercial will entice would-be travelers to visit the both the physical place described in the story, as well as the literary world created by John Steinbeck. The commercial will require students to touch on all of the elements they have developed within the travel brochure.

Word to the Wise

  • This lesson can utilize a number of literary elements, and thus can be tailored to fit individual needs.


Steinbeck, John. The Long Valley. New York: Penguin Group, 1938. Print.