Analyzing the Text
Pre-Reading Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History, Performing Arts
Small Group, Individual, Entire Class, Ongoing, Writing, Discussion, Critical Analysis


  • Students will understand what a symbol is.
  • Students will understand, identify, and apply symbolic (through discussion/writing) elements in Travels with Charley.
  • Students will identify symbolic elements in the world around them.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between literal and figurative concepts (through writing and on quizzes).


Steinbeck’s books are rich with symbolism, and Travels with Charley is no exception. It is important that students are able to distinguish between literal and figurative concepts.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Copies of Travels with Charley
  • An American flag
  • Students’ notebooks

Estimated Time

This is an ongoing activity, but the initial introduction/activity (pre-reading) should take one class period.


Depending on the sophistication level of the class, introduce symbolism (as this is an important part of all of Steinbeck’s books [including Travels with Charley]).

  • Ask students what a “symbol” is. Have a student write responses on the board.
  • A great way to introduce the concept of symbolism is to show students the American flag. On its literal surface, it is nothing but red, white, and blue cloth, with stars.
  • Ask students what this flag represents (for example, they may come up with freedom, liberty, the fifty states, democracy, revolution, individual rights, peace, and so on.) Again, have a student write these concepts on the board.
  • Ask students to provide other examples of symbols that occur in daily life. If the class is having trouble, suggest that automobiles may be symbols, and ask the class what a person’s automobile may represent (perceived status, wealth, taste, and so on). This should also be assigned as writing homework. (See Writing Prompts for more details.) Encourage students to include daily-life symbols (in addition to those in Travels with Charley) as part of each literature discussion.
  • As this will also be an ongoing activity, students need to track symbols found in Travels with Charley in their notebooks. Discussion of symbols should be part of each class discussion, and students should initiate the discussion. During the course of the book, the following symbols should be discussed (students will be encouraged to come up with many others):
  • ~Sterile, plastic environments (especially diners): a symbol of commercialism and urbanization
  • ~Rocinante: a reference to Don Quixote and his travels.
  • ~Redwood trees: a symbol of majesty, grace, and peace. The epitome of how Steinbeck feels about natural environments.
  • ~Urban areas (“civilization”): symbolizing what Steinbeck feels is wrong with the modern world – the destruction of nature.
  • ~Food: can symbolize whether changes are positive or negative.
  • ~Monsieur Ci Git: the educated, enlightened people of the South.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • After finishing Travels with Charley, students (in small groups) can perform a skit based on symbolism in the book.


  • Students will have a competent grasp of symbolism and be able to apply their knowledge of such.


  • Teachers can monitor students’ skits for adherence to objectives.


  • Regularly test students (open book) on symbolism. For example, provide the symbols identified during class discussions and ask students to provide what those symbols represent. Students will also be expected to provide specific examples from the book.

California State Content Standards Met

  • Performing Arts: Theatre Content Standards 6-12
  • ~Artistic Perception: 1
  • ~Creative Expression: 2
  • ~Historical and Cultural Context: 3
  • ~Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5

Common Core State Standards Met

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

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