The classic novella by John Steinbeck “Of Mice and Men “is extremely popular in English classrooms in North America. Set in California in the 1930s during the Great Depression, the novella explores the life of farmworkers looking for work during this difficult economic period. Exploring the main themes of loneliness and the dream of a better future, the novel highlights the relationship between the main characters, the two farm hands George and Lenny.
This short novel is fairly suitable for international students in your school who are English language learners. The fact that it is not too long is advantageous and the plot is fairly straightforward. Although there will be some new vocabulary, the level of English used by Steinbeck is not extremely complicated and it is definitely accessible for ESL high school students.
Here are some ideas for lesson activities which may be useful as your class reads the novel.
One of the main themes of the novel is the dreams of the individual characters who are all struggling to survive in the aftermath of the Great Depression.
George and Lennie the main characters have a dream to own land of their own with a little farm and rabbits. The reader is introduced to this dream very early on in the novel when they are sitting near the riverbed.
2.Class discussion questions.
- Why are dreams important?
- What is the American Dream?
- What dreams do you have for your future?
3.Paired Speaking Activity
In pairs, take turns sharing with another student your dreams for your future and how you plan to make your dreams come true.
4.Optional writing Activity
Write a two paragraph description of your dream. Students can then create a classroom display where they display all their written dreams for the future.
The Setting of the Novel.
Students can research various aspects of the geographical and historical setting of the novel before they start reading. Understanding the background helps students understand the contact of the text, and marks it easier to understand the plot as they go along. Information about the author is also helpful. They can create a word or google document to write down or add their research.
1.The author John Steinbeck
Research the life of Steinbeck and his work and write 5 to 10 bullet points explaining what you have discovered. Find a picture of him and his home which is now currently a museum.
2.Soledad and Salinas, California
Find a map of California that shows Soledad and also Salinas, ideally from the time period of the 1930s. Salinas was the home of Steinbeck and is not far from Soledad where the novel was set.
3. The 1930s Period
- Research and make notes on the Great Depression period in the 1930s, what happened and how it affected American society.
- Research and make notes on the Dust Bowl event in the 1930s and how it affected ordinary workers especially in the agricultural areas.
- What was life like for farm workers in California during this time? Write a short paragraph explaining their living and working conditions
- Lifestyle- Find images that show what life was like in the US in the 1930s. For example, look for images of cars and houses and farms of the period Find images of the typical fashion for women and men and also what a typical farm worker in California would wear during this time.
New Vocabulary Words.
•bindle: a bedroll and/or pack of personal belongings.
•gray backs: lice- a small insect that makes you itch
•buck: a man
•bucker: those who move or load heavy objects (sacks of grain, for example)
skinner: a driver of a draft (team of animals)
•mules: shoes or slippers
•floozy: cheap, immoral woman
Understanding the Character Activities
- As students read the novel, they can keep a character log for each of the characters in the novel to keep track of the plot and the development of each character. In the character log they should write done developments for each character, notes on their personality and their relationship with the other characters You can find a useful template here. or here.
- What are the dreams of the different characters in the novel? Complete the chart with information about the dream of each character.
Explain their dream
3.Character Web Poster Activity.
- Using poster paper the students can work in groups to create a character web.
- The aim of a character web is to show the relationship between the characters in a visual way. Students can create their own design for this, but they must include information about each character and then use arrows or a similar shape to connect them.
- They can write on the arrow for example how each character feels about the other character or use a different design.
- When completed students can present their character web to the class.
- Have the students dramatize the main scenes from the novel and present to the class.
- Interview one of the characters at the end of the novel, for example, George or Curly.
- Imagine you are George. Write a journal entry to show your feelings after the death of Lenny.
- Students call also listen to the audiobook version either in class or for homework.