Migration, Migrants, and Mobile Living

Connecting with History
Pre-Reading Activity
Grades 9–12
Language Arts, Creative Writing
Small Group, Entire Class, Research, Discussion, Writing, Cumulative


  • Students will learn the struggles of farmers and farm laborers in current times.
  • Students will research and analyze how the lives of migrants were uprooted and upended.


The Joads and families like them were a part of the land. Their lives and livelihood were intimately connected to the land which they had lived on and farmed for decades. The weather and the soil betrayed them, but that was part of the life of farmers. To be thrown off the land by banks, absentee landowners, big agriculture, and growers associations was a betrayal they were not prepared for. Their lives were upended and their homes became their vehicles and the road.

In writing The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck hoped to bring attention to the plight of migrant workers during the Great Depression. In The Harvest Gypsies, he even offered his own ideas for solutions to the problem. In this activity, students will examine the lives of migrant workers today and learn what kinds of solutions have been attempted, what has been successful, and what, if anything, has changed since the Great Depression.

Relevant Sections

  • Chapters 9, 10, 12, & 17

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Internet access for research
  • Consider this as an ongoing research project that is done while reading the novel

Estimated Time

  • Ongoing: 30-45 minutes of research per session (homework)
  • Cumulative: 1 class period for debate; 1-2 weeks for research and writing


This activity can be done as an ongoing project which students research, write, and discuss while reading the novel. It can also be assigned as a cumulative project once the novel has been read.


  • Journal: How does Steinbeck describe the new home life of families like the Joads?
  • ~Re-read/review chapter 9, chapter 10 (99-104), chapter 12, and chapter 17
  • ~How have the lives of the people changed?
  • ~Pair-share your thoughts


  • Consider assigning this research component as homework prior to this activity (at an earlier class session)
  • Research the lives of migrant farm workers today
  • ~Consider allowing students to research through any time period between the Great Depression and today.
  • ~News media is an acceptable source, but students must realize and address the bias inherent in some sources.
  • ~~Note: This could be too broad of a time period. Consider the amount of time available for this activity and the research and writing levels of your students.
  • ~What are the challenges faced by migrant workers today?
  • ~~Examples: continually following the harvest across the state, poor facilities on site, wages, working conditions, questions of immigration status, racism, etc.
  • ~What resources are available for them?
  • ~~Examples: unions, sanctuary cities, aid organizations, charities, legal protections, etc.
  • ~Compare your findings to what you have read in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • ~~What has improved?
  • ~~What has gotten worse?
  • ~~What has not changed at all?
  • ~~What is new?
  • ~What public policies and/or laws do you think should be put into place to address the problems faced by people in these situations?
  • Research other types of migration, migrant work, homelessness, or alternative housing life (such as living in a recreational vehicle in urban areas).
  • ~Compare your findings to what you have read in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • ~~What has improved?
  • ~~What has gotten worse?
  • ~~What has not changed at all?
  • ~~What is new?
  • ~What public policies and/or laws do you think should be put into place to address the problems faced by people in these situations?

Option: Essay

  • Assign an essay in which students write the findings of their research.
  • ~The aim of the assignment is to understand migrant life (migrant labor, migration, homelessness, etc.) in today’s world and to have a deeper understanding of that life in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • ~The essay should drive toward the student’s ideas of how to fix/address the problems faced by people in these situations.

Option: Debate

  • Debate options:
  • ~Are the lives of migrant workers (and other groups researched) better today or worse?
  • ~What are the best policies/plans to remedy or address the problems faced by people in these situations?

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up


  • Students will come away from this activity with an understanding that migrant labor is still an essential part of the economy of the United States and that migrant workers face challenges that many people in the country do not.
  • Students should form their own opinions and ideas on how to improve the problems inherent in this topic, and to base those ideas not on simply what is being said in the media.

Post Activity


  • Read The Harvest Gypsies and use it as a resource in the above activity.
  • Read The Harvest Gypsies, particularly chapter 7.
  • What do you think about Steinbeck’s solutions and his predictions?
  • Were any of Steinbeck’s suggestions ever tried? If so, what were the results?


  • The main focus of this activity is for students to generate a thesis based on their research.
  • Assess student writing and debating on the strength of their supporting research, the accuracy of their sources, as well as their organization.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • History and Social Science Content Standards 11
  • ~Students analyze the different explanations for the Great Depression and how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government: 3
  • History-Social Science Content Standards 6-8
  • ~Research, Evidence, and Point of View: 1, 4
  • ~Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
  • Writing Standard 6-12
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 8, 9
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2, 3
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 1

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