Top of page

Lesson Plan The Grapes of Wrath: Scrapbooks and Artifacts

Students use ethnographic research to enhance their reading and understanding of The Grapes of Wrath.

The ability to identify and locate specific cultural artifacts in a piece of literature helps students to understand the symbolic connotations of those elements. Specific objects and activities have stories of their own which support the larger, more global themes of a piece of literature. Ethnographic research helps students to see the connection between the social, cultural and literary contexts of literature.


Students will be able to:

  • Create museum exhibits of literary symbols.
  • Show how cultural artifacts act as literary symbols.
  • Use the ethnographic research process as tool for literary analysis.

Time Required

Three weeks

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Lesson One: Ethnography

  1. In order to have students better understand ethnography, share the following text defining an ethnographic field collection from the American Folklife Center .

    An ethnographic field collection is a multi-format, unpublished group of materials gathered and organized by an anthropologist, folklorist, ethnomusicologist, or other cultural researcher to document human life and traditions. It is a unique created work brought together through the intentions and activities of the collector. An ethnographic field collection may bring together materials from a wide range of formats, including sound recordings, drawings, photographs, fieldnotes, and correspondence. Although each item in an ethnographic field collection may have individual value, it gains added significance when viewed in the context of the other materials gathered by the collector in interaction with the people and activities being documented. The concept of unity imposed by the collector on a group of materials is central to understanding what constitutes such a collection.

    In the words of the Folklife Center's reference librarian, Gerald E. Parsons:

    "Ethnographic collections of even the most informal sort come into being through a different process [than accumulations of personal papers]. The fieldworker takes a photograph of a musical instrument, makes a sound recording of it being played, and jots down notes on the recollections of a virtuoso player because the fieldworker has determined that photographs, sound recordings, and written text must be yoked together to fully represent the performance. Even if there is no intent to publish the documentation, there is, in every ethnographic collection, a conscious weaving together of different representational media to achieve a rounded statement. There is, in short, something that looks like authorship even though there may be no publication." (Memo to the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees, Jan. 7, 1991)

    Presentations of ethnographic collections using hypermedia make it possible for researchers to examine the various materials together.

  2. Show sample pages from The Forgotten People.

Lesson Two: Photo Analysis

  1. Have students analyze selected Farm Service Administration photos, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  2. Allow students to view additional photographs from the collection, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Students select three additional photographs from the collection, completing a Primary Source Analysis Tool for each photograph.

Lesson Three: Oral History

  1. Have each student select a character from The Grapes of Wrath to use as a focus for an interview.
  2. Read the model questions from the Fieldwork Data Collection Survey (PDF, 46 KB). Students should use this form when conducting their interviews with their chosen characters from the novel.
  3. Students need to imagine how their chosen characters would respond to each of the interview questions. Some of the answers will come from the book and others will be hypothetical based on the character's motivation.
  4. Remind students that authors generate characters through:
    • physical description;
    • thoughts;
    • actions;
    • dialogue;
    • reactions to other characters; and
    • other characters' reactions.
  5. Have students write a brief transcript of the interview. The transcript should include references to physical objects and other elements of local color which can be seen as symbols for larger ideas in The Grapes of Wrath.

Lesson Four: Material Artifacts and Textual Support

  1. Students search the Digital Collections for artifact illustrations from the following categories relating to their character from The Grapes of Wrath. Include ten artifacts from at least five categories. Begin the search at: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.
    1. Maps
    2. Transportation
    3. Food
    4. Clothing
    5. Housing
    6. Furnishings
    7. Tools
    8. Work
    9. Recreation
    10. Music
  2. Have students write a museum-like caption for each artifact. Each caption should explain the fictional context and literary significance of the artifact.
  3. Finally, have students choose passages of text from The Grapes of Wrath to accompany each of the artifacts. Each of the text passages should be cited using the preferred format.

Lesson Five: Museum Exhibition

As a culminating activity, students create a museum exhibition that shows a meaningful juxtaposition of artifacts, interview, and text that supports a theme. The exhibit should focus on a particular theme or issue uncovered in the character interview.

Possible formats for the exhibit include collage, PowerPoint, iMovie, multi-genre essay, journal, photo-essay, or scrapbook.

Museum exhibitions should include the following elements which show how material artifacts act as literary symbols that support a specific theme from The Grapes of Wrath:

  1. Exhibit narrative of at least ten sentences summarizing the exhibit's contents and theme.
  2. Ten artifacts from the Digital Collections that exemplify items described in the The Grapes of Wrath.
  3. Museum-like caption for each artifact.
  4. Text reference for each artifact.
  5. Bibliographic entry for each artifact. (For information about citing online sources see Citing Electronic Sources.)
  6. Fieldwork Data Collection Survey from interview with character. (PDF, 46 KB)


Students can collect additional artifacts from the following areas listed below. Included are many cultural elements, such as those listed below, which can function as literary symbols.

Oral Tradition and Performance

  1. Spoken Word: tall tales, legends, humorous stories, beliefs, superstitions, personal experience stories, proverbs, riddles, toasts and testimonies, mnemonic devices (rhymes), nursery and game rhymes speech play, ritual insults, jokes, family histories, vocabulary and grammar, dialect and idiomatic speech, sermons 
  2. Song: ballads, children's songs, work songs, blues (urban and country), sea shanties, ethnic songs, play-party and games, songs
  3. Dance: clogging, square dance, round dance, buck dance
  4. Game, Play, and Strategy: tag games, guessing games, seeking games, competitive games (dueling, daring, racing),  game strategy (rules and techniques), acting, pretending

Material Culture

  1. Artifacts: houses, outbuildings, barns, floor plans, roofing materials, masonry, wall and fence constructions, tools and implements
  2. The Cultural Landscape: wall and fence placement, farm planning, farming techniques, rural and urban use of land and space, physical and economic boundaries of regions and neighborhoods
  3. Foodways: food preparation, recipes, gardening, canning and curing processes, traditional meal preparation, religious or symbolic uses for food
  4. Crafts and Trades: boat building, blacksmithing, coal mining, tool making, papercutting, pottery, sailmaking, ropemaking, weaving, straw work, animal trapping
  5. Folk Art: graphic arts, furniture decoration, embroidery, beadwork, wood carving, jewelry making, yard and garden decoration
  6. Folk Medicine: home remedies and cures, midwifery

Family Life

  1. Traditions
  2. Customs
  3. Religious observations
  4. Rites of passage (birth, baptism, marriage, death)

Festivals, Drama and Ritual

  1. Gesture, body movement, and use of space
  2. Seasonal and calendrical events
  3. Saints and nameday celebrations
  4. Feast days
  5. Market days

Cities and Towns

  1. Transportation
  2. Communication
  3. General Maps

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate some or all of the following elements according to the criteria you specify or generate with the class.

  1. Exhibit synopsis summarizing exhibit's contents and theme.
  2. Ten artifacts from the Library of Congress online collections described in The Grapes of Wrath.
  3. Text reference and museum style caption for each artifact.
  4. Bibliographic entry for each artifact.
  5. Data sheet from interview with character.
  6. Presentation.


Linda and David Lackey