From Words to Pictures

Adapting the Text
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
Art, Reading Comprehension
Individual, Artistic, Small Group


  • Students will improve their reading comprehension, particularly when reading descriptive passages.
  • Students will practice their art composition skills.


Steinbeck’s writings are known for their vivid descriptions. In this activity, students adapt a short passage from Travels with Charley into a visual form. This can be done in traditional artistic forms, or can be done with a computer.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Arts supplies
  • Copies of Travels with Charley
  • If allowing students to work in assigned groups, have the groups prepared prior to class.
  • This activity requires at least one class period. The teacher should determine how much time to spend on this activity and adjust it accordingly.
  • ~Consider having students work on or finish this activity at home.
  • If using the warm-up activity listed below in the “Procedures” section, have a basket or box of items prepared (see below for more details).

Estimated Time

1 class period (minimum).


Warm-up activity. (Consider assigning this activity as a homework assignment the day before.)

  • Have students choose blindly from a box of objects. The objects can be of any type (common, unique, part of a whole, etc.)
  • Give students 5-7 minutes to write a description of the object, without using the object’s name.
  • ~The goal is to create a written description that makes it clear exactly which object is being described.
  • ~At the end of the given time, collect all the items and display them on a table in front of the class.
  • ~~Have a few student volunteers read their descriptions.
  • ~~See if classmates can determine which object is being described.
  • ~Discuss what kinds of figurative and descriptive language students used (or could have used).
  • Have each student (or small group) choose a descriptive passage from Travels with Charley.
  • ~Students should copy down the descriptive passage on a separate piece of paper. (This will be attached to the back of the final product.)
  • ~Have students draw, sketch, paint, etc., the scene.
  • ~~The aim is to interpret the scene, but to also create a visual rendition of the passage so that classmates can determine which passage is being drawn.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

Art Gallery

  • Display student creations. Allow time for the class to mill around the art gallery.
  • Consider allowing students to write comments (on a separate sheet of paper, not on the art work).
  • Consider having students write what passage they think is being described (page and paragraph number will do; again, provide a separate sheet of paper)

Individual Presentation

  • Have students/groups present their artwork.
  • Consider having the rest of the class guess which passage was chosen as the inspiration.
  • Discuss what figurative and descriptive language was used in the artwork. What particular words and phrases were used to create the visual representation? Which words and phrases were not used?


  • Students should come away from this activity with a greater understanding and appreciation for the descriptive and figurative language used in Travels with Charley.


  • This activity can be repeated multiple times throughout the book.


  • When assessing student art, take into consideration individual student progress in the particular artistic style used.
  • Depending on what skills students have learned and mastered from Art class, assess how well students utilized different artistic elements (vanishing perspective, shading, etc.).

California State Content Standards Met

  • Visual Arts: Content Standards 6-12
  • ~Artistic Perception: 1
  • ~Creative Expression: 2
  • ~Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • Language Standards
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 5

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