The General Chapters

Reading Comprehension
Ongoing Activity
Grades 9–12
Language Arts
Small Group, Entire Class, Review, Discussion


  • Students will understand the themes of The Grapes of Wrath through examining the general chapters.
  • Assigned after completing the novel, this exercise serves as a review of the major themes and plot points found throughout the book; students will review and gain a more thorough knowledge of the novel.


The Grapes of Wrath is unique in that it blends the main narrative (following the Joad family in the migration to California) with general chapters that speak more broadly of the journey, of the people, and of the realities of migrant life during the Great Depression. Steinbeck described these chapters as a kind of poetry, meant to strike more deeply into the reader.

Studying the intercalary chapters can serve several different purposes to students reading the novel. Most of the chapters foretell in broad terms what the Joads are about to experience in the following chapter (or chapters), preparing the reader for what is to come. If reread after completing the novel, these chapters can serve as a review.

Relevant Sections

General chapters: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Notebook
  • On-going: Students have read a general chapter and its subsequent chapter
  • Review: Students have completed reading the novel and have reread the general chapters
  • The General Chapters Advance Organizer (optional)

Estimated Time

  • As a review: 1-2 class sessions
  • As an on-going lesson: 5-15 minutes
  • ~Can be used as a warmup
  • ~Can be used as a review
  • As Advanced Preparation: 10-15 minutes at the end of class


As a warmup

  • Students pair-share about the chapter
  • ~What themes are found in this general chapter that set up the next main chapter?
  • ~In what ways does this chapter foreshadow what will happen to the Joads?

As advanced preparation

  • At the end of class, allow for 10 minutes to read a general chapter with an eye for what will occur in the following chapter (to be assigned as homework).
  • ~Provide an advanced organizer for students who need more guidance

As a review

  • Once students have completed the entire novel, as a homework assignment have them reread each of the general chapters.
  • ~Create a study guide for the novel
  • ~~Major plot points, themes, and characters
  • In class
  • ~Begin a student led discussion that covers each of the general chapters.
  • ~~Main goals: reviewing the plot and major themes, understanding Steinbeck’s purposes/goals in writing the novel, understand how the story of the Joad family relates to the broader story of migrants and the Great Depression.
  • ~~For more specific discussion topics, refer to the Discussion Topics by Chapter lesson plan.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up


  • Students gain a deeper understanding of the main narrative chapters by looking more closely at the general chapters.
  • This activity can serve as a good discussion starter or a primer for reading the main narrative chapters.
  • Students can use the general chapters as an overview of the main events and themes of the novel.


  • Link this lesson with student created study guides and refer back prior to quizzes and exams.

Post Activity


  • Predicting the next chapter: how accurately did students predict the Joads’ next experiences based on a general chapter.
  • As a review: how many of the main themes and plot points did students find represented in the general chapters?

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