Designing Museum Exhibits for The Grapes of Wrath: A Multigenre Project

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Five weeks
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As students read The Grapes of Wrath, many important issues from the depression era surface. This unit asks students to focus on one issue as it applies to the novel. Working alone or with a partner, students create artifacts in a variety of genres for a museum exhibit that will demonstrate important facts about the research topic and its significance to viewers. The unit begins with a brief overview of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl before students conduct research using an online tool. They then explore an online, interactive museum to gather ideas for their own exhibits. After reading the novel, they create exhibits using artifacts that represent issues from the novel and then display them for the class.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

When students read and write as they conduct research, they frequently compose in more than one genre. The types and kinds of reading and writing intertwine and blend together. Their work becomes multigenre. Tom Romano describes how multigenre texts work: "Multigenre allows us to ‘meld fact, interpretation, and imagination,' into a series of self-contained pieces called crots that appear in forms that include poetry, prose, drama, and exposition" (Writing with Passion 109). Multigenre can also increase engagement and interest among students. Grierson et al. write: "When thoughtfully used, multigenre writing offers teachers a meaningful way to explore literature and incorporate the principles of good writing, including the uses of alternative genres." (59) The authors agree that they "have not found another model that creates such enthusiasm and energy for writing among their students." (59)

In this lesson, students meld together fiction, nonfiction, and art through their research on the depression era and The Grapes of Wrath. Student interest in the historical novel is raised by using a multigenre approach.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Copies of The Grapes of Wrath




  • The number of sessions that this lesson plan requires depends upon the amount of time necessary for students to read the novel. As a general average, assign the novel in chunks of 25–30 pages each. At this pace, the novel will take approximately 3 weeks to cover. With the additional time required for introduction, students’ research, and their presentations, this lesson will take 4–5 weeks.

  • Collect multiple copies of The Grapes of Wrath. If desired, check your local library for a copy of the book on tape or CD to use during read-aloud sessions, especially to introduce the intercalary chapters.

  • Students should have had exposure to a variety of genres before beginning this lesson. Whether through reading or writing, students should have had enough experience to identify and sort texts based on their genre.

  • Choose a museum exhibit to use as an example for the class project. This lesson uses The Promise of Freedom, from the National Museum of American History’s online exhibit, Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education, but any exhibit can be used. You might use another collection from the Separate Is Not Equal exhibit or another museum exhibit altogether.

  • Decide how students will complete the Museum Exhibit projects—individually, with a partner, or in small groups. Explain the option you have chosen when you introduce the project to the class.

  • Make copies of student handouts: Multigenre Museum Exhibits for The Grapes of Wrath, Genre List, Museum Exhibit Planning sheet, and Museum Exhibit Rubric.

  • Test the Great Depression and Dust Bowl Web Exploration on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period.

  • conduct research on the Depression era, using primary and secondary print and Internet sources.

  • synthesize information from multiple sources by identifying the complexities and inconsistencies in the information.

  • integrate quotations and citations into a written text while maintaining the flow of ideas.

  • compose texts in multiple genres that convey material found in their research.

  • deliver expository (informational) notes on their research.

Before Reading the Novel (two sessions)

Session One

  1. Use the National Steinbeck Center and National Public Radio's Present at the Creation: The Grapes of Wrath Websites to gain background information for introducing the novel.

  2. Provide a brief overview of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, defining the historical events.

  3. Display the Great Depression and Dust Bowl Web Exploration interactive or point students to the related Web page, and ask them to explore the resources and respond to the questions. Students can work independently or in small groups. If desired, divide students into four groups, and have each group work on a different area.

  4. Allow most of the session for students’ research. If necessary, students can continue their research as homework or you can extend the prereading activities to include another session.

  5. Circulate among students as they work, offering feedback, support, and suggestions.

  6. Once students’ research is complete, ask class members to share observations from their exploration. Students might share images that stood out, new facts that they learned, or information that surprised them.

  7. Based on their exploration, ask students to predict themes and issues that may appear in The Grapes of Wrath. Record their responses on the board or on chart paper. Save the list for future sessions.

  8. At the end of the session or for homework, ask students to write in their journals about their research. Use the following questions to frame their writing: “What surprises did you encounter in your research? What people, events, or issues related to the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl would you like to know more about?”

Session Two

  1. Begin discussion of the novel by returning to the journal writing that students completed at the end of the previous session. Ask students to share their responses.

  2. As students read or list people, events, or issues related to the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl, note the items on the board or on chart paper. You'll return to these topics during future sessions, so choose a location where the list can be saved.

  3. If students are unfamiliar with the term, provide a definition for genre for the class. You may wish to visit these descriptions of various genres for more information as well.

  4. Ask students to describe the genres that they read during their research in the previous session. As students share examples, list the genres on the board or on chart paper, in a location can be saved for reference during future sessions.

  5. Pass out the Genre List and compare the items listed on the sheet to those that students have brainstormed. Make additions and revisions to the Genre List as necessary.

  6. Pass out the Multigenre Museum Exhibits for The Grapes of Wrath and the Museum Exhibit Rubric, and explain the project, including whether students will work individually, with a partner, or in small groups.

  7. Review the list of topics from the beginning of the session, and add topics included on the Multigenre Museum Exhibits for The Grapes of Wrath.

  8. To provide an example of artifacts from several genres, visit The Promise of Freedom, from the National Museum of American History’s online exhibit, Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education. Note that this example focuses on a different topic in order to avoid duplicating any of the artifacts that students might use for their projects. Any exhibit can be used as an example.

  9. Work through the artifacts in The Promise of Freedom, identifying the genre of each of the historical pieces. Refer to the online genre list to identify the purpose of each text as well (e.g., persuasive, informative).

  10. Discuss the information that a curator’s note would include for one or more of the artifacts in The Promise of Freedom collection. The pieces in the collection have short identifying notes, but not the complete notes that would normally accompany a collection piece. Talk about the importance of identifying sources as part of your discussion.

  11. Share the Citation Machine or KY Virtual Library, and explain how students can use one of the sites to document their sources as they create their exhibits. Alternatively, you can point students to details on documentation in their texts or to the Research and Documenting Sources page from the Purdue OWL.

  12. Pass out copies of the Museum Exhibit Planning Sheet, and ask students to complete the form and turn it in for feedback (if time is short, students can submit the planning sheet in a later session).

  13. Allow remaining time for students to choose a topic and begin brainstorming possible artifacts based on the research conducted in the previous session.

  14. Collect the Museum Exhibit Planning Sheet, and provide feedback on students’ plans before the next class session.

  15. Ask students to begin reading the novel for homework as well. If possible, have them read at least chapters 1–4.

While Reading the Novel (varying number of sessions)

Introductory Session

  1. Pass back students’ exhibit planning sheets, and give any general feedback or comments on the project. Answer any questions that students have about the project.

  2. Discuss any immediate reactions that students have to their homework reading.

  3. Ask students to define the literary term foreshadowing, based on their previous experience; or provide a definition of the term: “The literary technique of hinting or providing clues that suggest events that occur later in a piece of literature.”

  4. Based on their reading, ask students to identify any symbols or situations in the novel that may foreshadow later events. Ask students to predict how the foreshadowing will parallel situations that occur later in the novel.

  5. If students do not bring it up naturally, ask them how chapters one and three relate to the rest of the book, focusing on how they may foreshadow later events in the novel.

  6. Identify these chapters (one and three) as intercalary chapters, and introduce this narrative structure. Steinbeck alternates intercalary chapters, which present the “big picture” of what was happening in America at the time when the novel is set, with narrative chapters that focus mainly on the struggles of the main characters, the Joad family.

  7. To help students understand this structure and read the rest of the novel, read Chapter Three aloud (or use an audiobook to read the passage to the class).

  8. As they listen, ask students to take notes on the chapter, focusing on details that may foreshadow later events.

  9. Ask students to discuss the struggles of a turtle to cross the road, described in the reading. The turtle’s struggles in this chapter parallel the challenges of the Joad family at the beginning of the novel.

  10. Ask students to suggest reading strategies that they can use as they explore the intercalary chapters. Focus their discussion on ways that these general chapters in the novel compare to and inform the specific chapters about the Joad family.

  11. As they read, if desired, ask students to note the topic of each chapter. Students can use these notes as a reference for later discussion as well as for resources for their museum exhibit projects. Alternatively, you can share an outline of the intercalary chapters with the class.

  12. If additional class time remains, students can gather as groups, based on research topics, and share ideas and plans for their museum exhibits.

  13. Assign reading for students to complete before the next session.

Subsequent Sessions

  1. Continue to work through the novel, taking as many sessions as necessary to cover the text.

  2. Pay particular attention to the intercalary chapters, asking students to discuss how the chapters foreshadow and parallel events that occur in the chapters about the Joads.

  3. Draw connections between events in the chapters about the Joads and the research topics that students are exploring. For instance, in Chapter 22, the Joads arrive at Weedpatch Camp. Introduce the students to the historical aspects of the real camp which Steinbeck based his camp upon.

  4. As appropriate, ask students to share research they have completed for their museum exhibits that connects to the sections of the novel that have been read during the class session.

  5. For specific discussion questions, use the Teacher’s Guide from the Penguin Group and The Great Books Foundation.

  6. Allow time through the reading of the novel for students to complete Internet and library research on their museum artifacts as well as to create their artifacts and accompanying curator’s notes in class. Direct students to some of the Websites available in the Resources section for their research.

After Reading the Novel (four to five sessions)

Research and Composing Sessions

  1. Allow three to four sessions for students to complete research and assemble their exhibits. These sessions should be relatively unstructured, with students working independently or with peers as needed.

  2. Explain the plans for the final presentation session, indicating how students will display their artifacts and how the class will view the exhibits.

  3. Ask students to return to their Museum Exhibit Planning Sheet to ensure that they have taken their original ideas into account as they have created their artifacts.

  4. If desired, complete a minilesson on the curator’s notes, using an example from a museum guide. The online notes for Kermit the Frog, from the National Museum of American History, provide a suitable example. Remind students of the requirement for documentation in these notes.

  5. Point students’ attention to the Museum Exhibit Rubric, and emphasize the requirements of the activity. If time allows, students can share their exhibits with peers, who can provide feedback based on the criteria included in the rubric.

  6. Circulate through the classroom as students work, providing feedback and support as appropriate.

Final Session

  1. Give students five to ten minutes to setup their exhibits and notes for others to see.

  2. Arrange students in pairs or small groups to move through the classroom museum.

  3. Indicate how students should move from exhibit to exhibit, in order to arrange traffic patterns. The method you choose will depend upon your classroom space and the number of exhibits.

  4. Once everyone has had a chance to view all the artifacts in the exhibits, gather the class and ask students to talk about historical facts and details that stood out in the exhibits as well as connections between the exhibits and the novel.

  5. Collect the exhibits at the end of the class, and provide students with formal feedback, using the Museum Exhibit Rubric.


  • To extend genre discussion through the reading of the novel, tap the ideas outlined in the English Journal article “Blending Multiple Genres in Theme Baskets,” which includes booklists that can be used for The Grapes of Wrath.

  • Take students’ museum exhibits online by asking them to create a Website for their artifacts. Students can use The Promise of Freedom page as a model.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Monitor student interaction and progress during group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the project.

  • Use the Museum Exhibit Rubric to assess specific exhibits.