The Fambly

The Answer is Probably Ma
Ongoing Activity
Grades 9–12
Language Arts, Sociology, History
Small Group, Entire Class, Discussion


  • Students will understand the changing roles and pressures put on families in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Students will determine who the family leader is and why (and when, this role can change).


“Use’ ta be the fambly was fust. It ain’t so now. It’s anybody. Worse off we get, the more we got to do” (445).\

The Grapes of Wrath is not just a story about the Joad family, it is a story of all families, especially those fleeing the destitution of the Dust Bowl. Through the Joads we see families leave their homes, travel along the highway, camp on the roadside, unite with other families for the evening, break camp and disperse the next day as the whole process begins again. Each day there are struggles to survive, to move forward, and to stay together.

Family dynamics change throughout the novel. By examining how the Joads and other families react to the changing conditions around them and within them students will strike at the heart of Steinbeck’s major themes.

Relevant Sections

  • Note: This is not an exhaustive list.
  • Families gather to assess: chapter 1 (3-4)
  • Joad family meeting: chapter 10 (99-108)
  • Joads meet the Wilsons: chapter 13 (134-149)
  • Ma’s revolt: chapter 16 (168-170)
  • General chapter 17 (193-200)
  • Noah leaves the family: chapter 18 (208-209)
  • Sairy Wilson ill, Wilsons and Joads part ways: chapter 18 (218-219)
  • Floyd talks to Tom and Al: chapter 20 (260-261)
  • Connie leaves the family: chapter 20 (272-273)
  • Life in Weedpatch: chapter 22 (285-324)
  • Leaving Weedpatch: chapter 26 (350-356)
  • Hooper Ranch, after Tom kills a man: chapter 26 (388-394)
  • Ma says goodbye to Tom: chapter 28 (415-420)
  • Baby is lost, Ma & Mrs. Wainwright: chapter 30 (445-446)
  • Leaving the boxcar: chapter 30 (450-452)
  • Breaking, compare chapters 1 and 29 (3-4, 434-435)

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Notebook
  • Poster board or large butcher paper
  • The Fambly Organizer (optional)

Estimated Time

  • On-going lesson: 10-15 minutes per discussion
  • Cumulative: 1-2 class sessions



  • As a discussion, this topic can be covered in many chapters (not only the ones listed above).
  • Points of discussion:
  • ~Who is the leader of the family? How do you know?
  • ~What outside pressures are being exerted on the family?
  • ~What internal pressures are being exerted on the family?
  • ~Who is keeping the family together? How? Why?
  • ~Is leadership changing? How? Why?
  • ~Is the family changing? How? Why?
  • ~How does this compare with family leadership and structure historically for the time period?
  • Consider providing an advanced organizer for students to use while reading the novel.
  • Consider creating a chart or a list to post in the classroom; update this chart or list as the family changes and leadership adjusts.


Day 1
  • Students work individually or in small groups to decide who the family leader is.
  • ~This can change throughout the novel.
  • ~“Leader” can be defined any way that students choose.
  • ~Students gather evidence from different parts of the book to support their claim.
  • ~Notes should include what pressures the family is facing both internally and externally.
  • This should be completed as homework.
Day 2
  • Allow groups time to prepare/confer.
  • Groups present their findings to the class, make their arguments as to who the family leader is.
  • Assign the same task, but break it into sections of the novel
  • ~Before leaving Oklahoma
  • ~On the road to California
  • ~In Weedpatch
  • ~At the Hooper Ranch
  • ~In the boxcar

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up


  • Family as a unit and family as larger part of the humanity is a recurring theme throughout the novel. Students will come away a deeper understanding not only of The Grapes of Wrath, but also of Steinbeck in general. The idea of family and leadership is present in many of his works.


  • Assign this topic as a longer, individual writing prompt.
  • Return to this topic when relevant throughout reading the novel.


  • Compare family leadership in The Grapes of Wrath to family leadership in The Red Pony.
  • Compare family and leadership to the relationship between Lenny and George in Of Mice and Men.


  • Assess how strongly students support their claims through citing the text.

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

Related Lesson Plans for this Work