Of Mice and Men - Discussion by Section

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Discipline 

Language Arts, History

Grade Level 

7-12

Type of Activity

Small Group, Individual, Full Class, Ongoing, Teacher-Led Discussion, Student-Led Discussion, Critical Analysis, Writing

Objectives

  • Students will be able to fully understand each section of the novel and provide specific examples to support their own opinions.
  • Students will be able to discuss the novel and with 100% participation.
  • Students will take notes on all class discussions.
  • Students will listen to and comment on the opinions of others (including the teacher).
  • Students will (post-discussion) write short papers on discussion topics. (See Short Writing Prompts.)

Overview

Class discussions are at the heart of any novel, especially Of Mice and Men. The page references here are from the 1993 Penguin edition of Of Mice and Men. In other editions, page numbers may vary slightly.

Discussions should, first and foremost, be interactive. The teacher should not “tell” students what a book means. The best teachers know that any book has a different meaning for each student, and each supported opinion is valid.  The role of the teacher, here, is to facilitate and guide, as necessary, a lively discussion of the previous reading assignment.

  • Generally, teachers should have some specific objectives/guidelines for the discussions—for example, in the opening section, discuss and identify figurative language, characterization methods, use of description, early conflicts, and so on. (Specific details will follow.) Teachers can also provide advance organizers or conversation maps to help students to prepare for discussions.
  • Encourage students to cite page numbers and read brief passages when discussing the novel. Other students will be able to follow along more easily.
  • All students should be taking notes during class discussions in their notebooks. Teachers should, as practical, spend the last five minutes of each literature period checking students’ notebooks.
  • Ideally, students are encouraged to listen to the comments of others and comment upon the comments of their fellow students. This is incredibly valuable in maintaining a lively discussion.
  • Teachers should require daily participation (up to two times daily, depending on the size of the class) and keep a record of participation each day. "Talking slips" or "chips" are one method that can help ensure that each student has participated.
  • Consider using the fishbowl method for group discussions. Fishbowls allow students to observe a conversation being modeled as well as participate. This is a creative, yet structured alternative to a traditional discussion.
  • Consider providing non-traditional roles for group discussions. These roles provide students with a specific focal point during a discussion. Similar to the Jigsaw method for challenging readings, providing specific "frames" or "Lenses" narrows the specific information a student is responsible for and can stimulate thoughtful discussions.
  • Consider allowing students the opportunity to rehearse or prepare their ideas prior to discussion. This can make students feel more comfortable about speaking to the class.
  • Teachers should emphasize that there are no “correct” or “set” answers in literature, and that all supported opinions are valid (unlike a subject such as math, where responses are uniform).  For example, when asked, “Who is the most important character in Of Mice and Men?” there may be several valid responses.
  • Another successful (when teachers think students are ready) device is to have students lead/facilitate discussions. Let the class know that three students will be in front of the class asking questions about the previous reading. The students do not know who will be on the “panel,” so everyone in the class must be prepared with written questions to ask the class. Teachers should have a minimal role here.
  • Also, when students are ready, teachers may lead discussions in organic ways by opening up the discussions in a free-form style about whatever the students wish to discuss about the previous reading. For experienced and sophisticated classes, this is generally a rewarding experience.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Copies of Of Mice and Men.
  • Of Mice and Men notebooks.

Estimated Time

Lively discussions are ongoing throughout the course of the unit.

Procedures

Of Mice and Men is divided into six sections. Activities found in this document can be integrated into teachers’ unit plans as appropriate. Students, as always, will need to take notes during all class discussions.  During class discussions, students will also be expected to provide specific examples from the novel. Consider creating advance organizers or conversation maps based on the discussion topics listed below.

Section 1 (pp. 1-16):

This section introduces not only the setting, but the relationship between Lennie, a mentally-challenged man, and George, his best friend. They are migrant workers on their way to their next ranch job (as barley buckers) in Soledad. They decide to spend the night outside in a clearing before arriving at their new jobs in the morning.

Areas on Which to Focus for a Class Discussion:

  • Focus on how Steinbeck uses description of natural settings to introduce the novel. Ask students to identify passages that are particularly descriptive.
  • For example, “Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving [personification] among the leaves.  The shade climbed up the hills [personification] toward the top. On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured statues [simile]” (2).
  • Also see Literary Terms.
  • Have students identify (citing specific examples) what type of relationship George and Lennie have (parent/child, brothers, best friends, and so on). Also, make sure students understand the source of George’s frustration with Lennie.
  • For example, Steinbeck writes, “Lennie, who had been watching him [George], imitated George exactly.  He pushed himself back, drew up his knees, embraced them, looked over to George to see whether he had it just right. He pulled his hat down a little more over his eyes, the way George’s hat was” (4).
  • Have students identify (citing specific examples) how Steinbeck describes the characters of George and Lennie.
  • For example animal imagery is used to describe Lennie. “Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes…” (3).
  • Have students identify the “dream” and why it is so important to Lennie and George.
  • For example George says to Lennie, “‘O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—’”

   ‘An live off the fatta the lan’, Lennie shouted. ’An have rabbits. Go on, George!’” (14).

Section 2 (pp. 17-37):

In this section, George and Lennie arrive at the ranch and meet Candy the swamper. George is not pleased with the conditions of the bunkhouse. Before they meet the boss of the ranch, George tells Lennie to stay out of the conversation. The boss is not happy that George and Lennie are late and becomes suspicious when George does all the talking. In this section, the characters of Slim, Curley, and Curley’s wife are all introduced.  George is wary of Curley and his wife and instructs Lennie to stay away from both of them.

Areas on Which to Focus for a Class Discussion:

  • Again, focus on how Steinbeck uses description of settings. Ask students to identify passages that are particularly descriptive.
  • For example, “The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls, there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch” (17).
  • Have students identify the methods Steinbeck uses (citing specific examples) to describe the characters of Candy, Curley’s wife, Curley, and Slim.
  • For example, “She [Curley’s wife] had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages” (31).
  • Ask students why the boss seems to be irritated with George. Also, ask students about George’s reaction to the boss’s criticism of George.
  • For example, the boss seems to think George is taking advantage of Lennie. George also thinks he needs to defend Lennie and his lack of intelligence.
  • Ask students why they think Candy will play an important role in the novel.
  • For example, Candy has a lot of experience around the ranch.
  • Have students identify the ways Steinbeck creates an ominous mood in this chapter. Have them provide specific examples.
  • For example, upon George and Lennie’s first meeting Curley, Steinbeck writes, “His [Curley’s] glance was at once calculating and pugnacious. Lennie squirmed under the look and shifted his feet nervously” (25).
  • Ask students how they know Curley immediately dislikes George and Lennie.
  • For example, Curley is immediately defensive. “He glanced coldly at George and then at Lennie. His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists” (25).
  • Have students speculate on the future role of Curley’s wife.  Also, ask students why Steinbeck did not give her a name. This has been speculated widely among literary critics. Responses will certainly vary.
  • Have students identify why Slim is held in such high regard.
  • For example, Slim is highly respected, and his word is taken as law. Steinbeck writes, “There was gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke” (33).

Section 3 (pp. 38-65):

In this section, Slim agrees to provide Lennie with a puppy. George and Slim talk in depth for the first time, and George relates to Slim about the nature of his relationship with Lennie and what happened in Weed (the site of their last job). Carlson, a ranch hand, complains about Candy’s old and sick dog and, with Slim’s blessing, convinces Candy that he will humanely put the dog out of his misery with a single gunshot. Because Candy has a fair sum of money, he joins Lennie and George in the pursuit of their dream to buy their own ranch. After discussing this, Lennie is blissful as Curley enters. Sensing derision, Curley attacks Lennie, punching him repeatedly. Lennie does not fight back but stops Curley’s fist and crushes it in his grasp. Slim convinces Curley to inform everyone that his hand got caught in a machine.

Areas on Which to Focus for a Class Discussion:

  • Again, focus on how Steinbeck uses description of settings. Ask students to identify passages that are particularly descriptive.
  • For example, Steinbeck writes, “Although there was evening brightness showing through the windows of the bunk house, it was dusk. Through the open door came the thuds and occasional clangs of a horseshoe game, and now and then the sound of voices raised in approval or derision” (38).
  • Again, have students identify various forms of figurative language.  See Literary Terms.
  • For example, “Steinbeck writes, “Slim reached up over the card table and turned on the tin-shaded electric light. Instantly, the table was brilliant with light, and the cone of the shade phor] threw its brightness straight downward [personification]…” (38).
  • Have students identify which methods Slim uses to gain George’s confidence to talk about his past relationship with Lennie and what happened in Weed.
  • For example, Slim uses persuasive language and answers questions with questions from George about what Lennie did in Weed:

“‘What’d he do in Weed?’ Slim asked calmly.

‘You wouldn’t tell?...No, ‘course you wouldn’t.’

‘What’d he do in Weed?’ Slim asked again” (41).

  • Ask students why Candy agreed to let Carlson shoot his old and sick dog. Responses will vary, but Slim was able to convince Candy it was the right thing to do.
  • Have students identify ways in which Steinbeck created suspense and tension while the bunkhouse men waited to hear the sound of Carlson’s shot gun outside, killing Candy’s dog.
  • For example, the scene in which the men play cards and engage in small talk while waiting for Candy’s dog to be shot is very tense (46-49).
  • Ask students why Curley, without provocation, attacks Lennie.
  • For example, students can refer to previous reactions of Curley towards Lennie and George and especially why Curley does not like “big guys.”
  • Ask students why Curley agreed so readily with Slim’s suggestion that his hand was caught in a machine. Reactions will vary, but keep in mind the regal role of Slim on the ranch and how foolish Curley would have looked had it been revealed that he had attacked a migrant worker without provocation.
  • Have students identify the reactions of George and Lennie at the end of this section. Why was Lennie ashamed? Why was George still confident? How did Candy feel?

Section 4 (pp. 66-83):

In this section, Crooks, the black stable buck, is featured. He lives apart from the other men, segregated in his own quarters. Most of the other workers are spending a night in town, while Lennie wanders in and enters Crooks’s quarters. Crooks tries to convince him to leave, but Lennie innocently charms his way in; also, Crooks is lonely and eventually welcomes the company. Lennie talks about his dream of owning a ranch filled with rabbits, and Crooks discusses his isolated childhood, being a member of the only black family for miles. Crooks begins to torture Lennie, telling him that George may leave him and that no workers ever achieve their dreams. Lennie is visibly upset and Crooks eventually backs off as Candy enters. Candy also discusses the dream, and Crooks is briefly interested in joining the dream. Curley’s wife enters, berates all of them, and actually threatens Crooks with a lynching.

Areas on Which to Focus for a Class Discussion:

  • Again, focus on how Steinbeck uses description of settings/characters. Ask students to identify passages that are particularly descriptive.
  • For example, “This room [Crooks’s] was swept and fairly neat for Crooks was a proud aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs. His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity” (67).
  • Again, have students identify various forms of figurative language. See Literary Terms for examples of metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, motif, and personification.
  • For example, “In the stable buck’s room a small electric globe threw a meager yellow light [personification]” (67).
  • Ask students why Lennie is clueless about why he should not be in Crooks’s living quarters. Lennie, like a young child, is innocent and does not understand the concept of racism or segregation.
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to describe Crooks? Students should find many, including “His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity” (67).
  • Have students identify why Crooks allowed Lennie into his segregated quarters. This is open ended, but loneliness (a theme of the novel) is at its core.
  • Ask students what Crooks and Curley’s wife have in common. Again, this is open ended, but students should be able to identify that both Crooks and Curley’s wife are unique—she is the only woman on the ranch, and Crooks is the only minority. As such, both are outcasts.
  • Have students identify why Crooks is initially so mean to Lennie, telling him that George may leave him. Students may realize that Crooks is lonely and actually jealous of the friendship between Lennie and George.
  • Ask students if they think Curley's wife’s threat to Crooks is serious. Have students think about this as they refer to Understanding Lynching and Character Reactions—Crooks' Quarters.
  • Ask students why Crooks cowers at Curley's wife’s suggestion about being “strung up on a tree.” By now, students should have a good explanation for this question. 

Section 5 (pp. 84-98):

In this section, the death of Lennie’s puppy and Curley’s wife are highlighted; these tragic events happen in rapid succession. Lennie is in the barn and is obviously upset and seems to find innocent comfort with Curley’s wife. They mutually comfort each other, as they both discuss their dreams. With Curley’s wife’s permission, he begins to pet her hair. However, he panics when she tells him to stop, and he eventually breaks her neck. After Lennie runs away to his hiding place, Candy finds the dead body, shortly followed by an outraged Curley. Curley vows to have vengeance on Lennie.

Areas on Which to Focus for a Class Discussion:

  • Again, focus on how Steinbeck uses description of settings. Ask students to identify passages that are particularly descriptive.
  • For example, “One end of the great barn was piled high with new hay and over the pile hung the four-taloned Jackson fork suspended from its pulley” (84). 
  • Again, have students identify various forms of figurative language. See Literary Terms for examples of metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, motif, and personification.
  • “The afternoon sun sliced in through the cracks of the barn walls and lay in bright lines on the hay [personification/metaphor]” (84).
  • Ask students why the death of Lennie’s puppy is not described in “real time” but instead after the death of the puppy. This is open-ended, but perhaps Steinbeck did not want to overbear readers with real-time tragedy upon tragedy.
  • Ask students if they think Steinbeck has portrayed Curley’s wife more sympathetically in this section. Have students identify how Steinbeck achieved this. This is open-ended, but have students consider how Curley’s wife was portrayed at first and now.
  • Have students identify any similarities of the situations of Lennie and Curley’s wife. For example, both are lonely.
  • Ask students why Lennie seemingly blames his puppy for its death.
  • Ask students if they think Curley’s wife was partially responsible for her own death. This is usually controversial but always provocative. Interesting discussions usually result.
  • After Candy discovers the dead body of Curley’s wife and tells George, ask students why George asks Candy to pretend he knows nothing about the death. Again, this is open ended, but ask students to further explore this.
  • Led by Curley, the angry mob is intent on finding Lennie. Ask students, by inference from the text, what they think Curley and his mob intend to do to Lennie. Open ended.

Section 6 (pp. 99-107):

Undeniably, this is the most tragic portion of the novel. Lennie, as instructed by George earlier (should trouble arise), is again in the clearing, next to the riverbed, where the novel started. George, who has stolen Carlson’s luger, finds Lennie, as he hears the mob of men, led by Curley, approaching. Lennie has two auditory visions, one of his Aunt Clara and one of a giant rabbit, both spoken through Lennie’s voice. His aunt and the rabbit basically berate him for the troubles he has caused. After these visions, George tries to calm Lennie, telling him he never meant the mean things he had said. At Lennie’s request, George calmly tells Lennie again about the dream of owning their own land, including rabbits. As the mob approaches, George shoots Lennie in the back of the head. Only Slim understands what has happened.

Areas on Which to Focus for a Class Discussion:

  • Again, focus on how Steinbeck uses description of settings and language. Ask students to identify passages that are particularly descriptive.
  • For example, “A water snake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from side to side; at it swam the length of the pool and came to the legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shallows” (99).
  • Have students identify various forms of figurative language. See above. Also see Literary Terms for examples of metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, motif, and personification.
  • Ask students why Steinbeck would end the novel where it began.
  • Think about the cycle of life.
  • Of Mice and Men is a realistic novel. Ask students why they think Steinbeck included the “fantasy” (magic realism) scenes with Aunt Clara and the giant rabbit. This is very open ended. Push students to respond.
  • Ask students if George had any other alternatives to shooting Lennie (especially with the mob approaching). Solicit serious alternatives.
  • Ask students to identify why Slim was the only person who truly understood what George did and why he had to.
  • Ask students why they think Slim is so understanding.
  • Ask students to think about the novel as a whole and specifically identify how Lennie’s death was foreshadowed.
  • The death of the mice.
  • The girl in Weed.
  • The fight with Curley.
  • The death of Lennie’s puppy.
  • The death of Curley’s wife.
  • Ask students to compare George’s interaction with Lennie throughout the novel with this final interaction in this section.
  • Compare/contrast or use a Venn Diagram.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

  • Takeaways
    • Takeaways have been included above.
  • Follow-up
    • Teachers can have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.
    • Students can write short papers based on discussions.

Assessment

Periodic tests/quizzes and short papers on each section would be useful.

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
  • 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, 9
    • Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
    • Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2, 3
    • Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4
  • Language Standards 6-12
    • Conventions of Standard English: 1
    • Knowledge of Language: 3
    • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
    • Range of Writing: 10