Most Important Speech

The Answer is Probably Ma
Cumulative Activity
Grades 9–12
Language Arts, Speech, Debate
Small Group, Entire Class, Discussion


Students will choose what they believe is the most important speech in the novel and gather evidence to defend their choice.


Throughout The Grapes of Wrath there are influential, even iconic soliloquies and pieces of dialogue delivered by different characters. In those moments, Steinbeck is telling the reader about the character, but perhaps more importantly he is often using the characters to speak his own mind about the broader issues he sees with migration and the Great Depression.

In this exercise, students will revisit the big moments in the novel where a character (or characters) delivers a meaningful, revealing, or important set of thoughts and ideas. Students will then be challenged to choose which is the most important.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Notebook
  • Optional: an online document for collaboration
  • Most Important Speech Organizer (optional)

Estimated Time

  • Ongoing: 15-20 minutes per class session used
  • Cumulative: 1-2 class periods



  • Consider having students use the Most Important Speech Organizer
  • ~This can be handed out early in the novel and can be used to help students take notes throughout their reading
  • ~This can also be in the form of an online version of the document for student collaboration (and/or for teachers to continually check student progress on this topic).
  • Choose a passage for discussion based on the reading assignment from the previous class session.
  • Pair Share
  • ~In small groups or with a partner, have students share their interpretation of the passage.
  • ~~Students should discuss more than who the speaker was. The aim is to analyze the text for deeper meaning. Consider:
  • ~~~Plot
  • ~~~Theme or themes
  • ~~~Characters and character development
  • ~~~A larger message Steinbeck is attempting to convey
  • Class discussion
  • ~Discuss what meanings and interpretations students have
  • ~~Record these in notes for use as in a cumulative exercise or review.


  • Consider dividing students into pairs or small groups.
  • ~Review notes and organizers
  • ~Choose: what was the most important speech of the entire novel?
  • ~~Defend this choice with passages from the novel, historical context, current events, etc.
  • ~~Allow students to piece together 2 or more speeches, such as the multiple times Casy talks about sin.


  • Debate or 4 Corners Debate
  • Essay defending their choice
  • Student/group presentations

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up


  • As an ongoing exercise, students will be preparing themselves for a cumulative exercise, quiz, or exam.
  • As a cumulative exercise, students will examine the themes and broader issues tackled by The Grapes of Wrath and place influential passages into a broader context.


  • Monitor student notes and organizers.
  • Use these discussions and notes for a cumulative essay or exercise.

Post Activity

  • The Modern Rewrite
  • Have students (or groups/pairs) rewrite their most important speech to fit a modern issue.


  • Consider other novels and stories by John Steinbeck; is there a more important speech or passage in one of those works?


  • Assessment should be based on the depth and accuracy of evidence gathered by students as well as the logic of their arguments.
  • Understanding of the broader themes and issues should be evident.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7, 9
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1,2,3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7,8
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 2
  • ~Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2, 3, 4
  • ~Presentation and Knowledge of Ideas: 4
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Knowledge of Language: 3
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4, 6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8, 9
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 2
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5

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