Passport to Literacy

Adapting the Text
Cumulative Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History, Math, Science, Art
Small Group, Large Group, Individual, Cross Curricular, Research, Writing


Students will apply knowledge from multiple subjects to demonstrate mastery of the themes in Of Mice and Men.


Passport to Literacy is a cross-curricular project developed at Merryhill School in Milpitas, California, where each grade level chose a work of literature and did a variety of projects related to that novel. The Merryhill middle school students took on John Steinbeck’s classic book, The Red Pony.

The theme of the project was to examine life on a farm in the 1930s and today. The students broke up into several teams, and each worked on a different aspect of the project. The sixth-grade class composed and illustrated original poems based on farm/ranch life in The Red Pony. The seventh-grade students (under the direction of the math teacher) researched prices of everyday farm items, wages, and land prices. They then calculated and graphed the rate of change in those values over the last seven decades. The eighth-grade class combined science and entrepreneurship to create business proposals for upgrading a farm to become more eco-friendly and energy efficient.

The heart of the project, however, was created by a writing team of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Together they wrote a biography on the life and works of John Steinbeck as well as an original short story, “The Party,” which stands as a continuation (in present day—Jody is now an old man) of The Red Pony. The project, displayed on large room dividers, was open to students, teachers, parents, and friends, on a very special night.

The Merryhill students worked extremely hard on this project and their work impressed a Steinbeck scholar (who attended the event) at the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University. The project was on display for several months at the San José State University/Martin Luther King Jr. Library.

This valuable project can be adapted to any of Steinbeck’s novels. Under ideal conditions, the teachers of the different subjects involved will participate in leading this project. However, an individual teacher could facilitate (part or all) of this project without collaboration from other colleagues.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Ideally, this project requires a great deal of collaboration with other teachers. Teachers should meet prior to beginning Passport to create a roadmap for how the project will progress.
  • Students need to have completed reading Of Mice and Men.
  • Art materials
  • Internet access for research

Estimated Time

5 days


  • If Passport is to be led by only one teacher:
  • ~Determine which subjects/activities will be used.
  • ~Divide students into small groups and assign subjects/activities.
  • Suggested subjects/activities:


(Language Arts, History, Art)

Poetry topics for Of Mice and Men are endless and can include:

  • The ongoing relationship between George and Lennie, which can reflect George’s frustration with Lennie, Lennie’s admiration of George, or their true friendship for each other.
  • The adversarial relationship between George/Lennie and Curley, the boss’s son.
  • The naïve relationship between Curley’s wife and Lennie.
  • The influence of Slim on George and others.
  • The death of Lennie’s puppy.
  • Lennie’s simple philosophy of life.
  • Candy and his dog.
  • Candy’s contribution to the “American Dream” of owning land in the 1930s.
  • A celebration of Lennie’s strength.
  • The role of nature in the novel.
  • A celebration of Steinbeck’s rich, figurative, yet simple, language.
  • Animal imagery in the novel.
  • About Steinbeck himself.
  • The description of the ranch.
  • The incident in Weed.
  • Lennie’s obsession with rabbits.
  • Carlson’s irritation with Candy’s dog and the subsequent killing of the dog.
  • Motifs in the novel.
  • The American Dream itself.
  • Foreshadowing.
  • Symbols (for example, the solitaire game)
  • The ranch boss being suspicious of George and Lennie.
  • Racist attitudes.
  • The subtle humor in the novel.
  • Themes: loneliness, alienation, friendship, love, hope, etc.
  • Parallels between the death of Candy’s dog and Lennie’s death.
  • How the “dream” sets up the epic fight between Lennie and Curley.
  • The role of Crooks.
  • Censorship of the novel.
  • The role of Curley’s wife.
  • The “magical realism” scenes with Lennie and the big rabbit/Aunt Clara.
  • Lennie’s death.

Price Comparisons: 1930s and Now

(Math, History)

Examples for research include:

  • Basic food products, including eggs, milk, bread, meat and the like.
  • Clothing.
  • Land and home prices (after all, the purchase of ranch land for $600 was the dream of Lennie, George, and later Candy).
  • Wages for various types of jobs.
  • Specific costs of various equipment needed to run a self-sustaining ranch (as Lennie said, to “live off the fatta the lan’”).
  • The prices of trucks and other transportation.
  • Prices of furniture and other items necessary to furnishing a home.
  • Cost of basic utilities.


(Language Arts, Science, Business, Math, History)

Possible activities include:

  • Creating a fictitious company that wants to modernize the ranch.
  • Choose a service to provide such as green technologies.
  • Create a company name, logo, slogan, mission statement, etc.
  • Create professional business letters and brochures introducing their product.
  • Research facts and statistics in order to create graphs and illustrations of the product/service.
  • Ideas for running the “dream ranch,” supposing that George and Candy go ahead with their plans to buy the house and land.

Steinbeck Biography

(Language Arts, History)

Extension of the Novel

(Language Arts, History, and Law/Civics)

Suggestions could include some or all of the following:

  • Continue the novel by showing what George did after the death of Lennie. Consider their friendship, George’s character, George’s relationship with Candy and Slim, what Curley did, etc.
  • Consider how Crooks and Carlson were affected by Lennie’s death.
  • Perhaps even introduce a new character—for example, Curley’s wife’s mother or Aunt Clara.
  • Explore George’s legal options—to kill Lennie, call the police, fight off Curley’s “mob,” run from the law, eventually bring Lennie to trial, etc.
  • George and Candy (they basically have enough money) purchase their dream ranch.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Passport to Literacy can be an enormous, yet rewarding, undertaking for students and teachers alike. Consider scheduling some sort of event to celebrate the completion of the project.  Invite parents, other teachers, members of the community, etc. for a viewing of the project.


  • The main purpose of this project is for students to apply knowledge and skills from a variety of subjects. Students should come away with an experience that core subjects, skills, and knowledge overlap and can be applied in many situations.
  • Students should come away from this project with a deeper connection to the novel.
  • Students should have fun with this project.


  • Assess student writing based on the conventions of the specific activity in which they are engaged.
  • How well did the students collaborate and cooperate with the group?
  • Was the information researched and presented accurate?

California State Content Standards Met

  • History and Social Science Content Standards 11
  • ~Students analyze the major political, social, economic, technological, and cultural developments of the 1920s: 7
  • ~Students analyze the different explanations for the Great Depression and how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government: 3

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

Related Lesson Plans for this Work