The Red Pony - Writing Prompts

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Discipline

Language Arts, History

Grade Level

6-12

Type of Activity

Small Group, Individual, Ongoing, Sharing Work, Brief Research, Writing

Objectives

  • Students will have ongoing practice writing various papers (from short ones of 150-200 words, and longer ones of 500 words or more, and in different styles) on a variety of topics about The Red Pony.
  • Students will learn to share their writing with others.
  • Students will gain a deeper understanding of each story in The Red Pony.

Overview 

Short writing prompts (150-200 words) should be given throughout the unit. The prompts can be both broad and specific. Students should be made to feel comfortable with these prompts, even though (time permitting) some will read them out loud. The student audience will be encouraged to respond and take notes. Once students are comfortable, longer papers can be assigned.

NOTE TO TEACHERS: Any of the writing topics in this section can be expanded into full-length essays (word length and completion time at the discretion of teachers).

Types of essays can include:

  • Critical Analysis. This is generally a high-level paper which examines a particular aspect of the novel (for example, The Red Pony’s symbolism moves the plot forward). This type of essay can be first encountered in shorter forms before assigning a longer paper.      
  • Compare/Contrast. (For example, students can compare/contrast the relationship between Jody/Carl Tiflin with Jody/Billy Buck. Who is the better father figure for Jody?)
  • Descriptive. Students can emulate/evaluate Steinbeck’s descriptive writing. (Also see Sentence Fluency.)
  • Narrative. Under “Procedures,” see the topics in Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel). This type of essay is generally written in first person and recounts a personal experience.
  • Persuasive/Argumentative. This type of essay asks students to convince others of their opinion. (For example, the killing of Nellie to save the colt was absolutely necessary.)

NOTE: As with any essay, regardless of length and subject, it is important that students provide specific supporting examples, including, as appropriate, quoted passages from The Red Pony.

Materials Needed/Preparation 

  • Copies of The Red Pony.
  • Teachers should emphasize that each short prompt should be concise and contain specific examples from the novel or from personal experiences.
  • Arrange time in the computer lab (if available), so students can start their assignments and teachers can assist students.
  • For unfinished assignments, students may email themselves the document or place it on a USB flash drive.
  • Consider choosing writing topics prior to reading and assigning them to students. This lets them create advance organizers to use as they are reading.

Estimated Time

Each short writing prompt can be assigned and completed in one or two homework assignments. Longer papers will take additional time (up to the discretion of individual teachers).

Procedures

Provide some ideas and ask students to write about some (as much as can be covered during the unit) of these topics:

Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel)

  • Why are your parents important to you?
  • How important is it to have a place where you belong, where there are people who know you and love you?
  • Have you ever owned an animal that died? How did you react? How did this make you feel?
  • As humans, what are our responsibilities toward animals?
  • Who is your favorite character in this book so far? Give your reasons for choosing him or her.
  • Why does Steinbeck tend to start each new section with narrative description? Emulating Steinbeck’s style (see Sentence Fluency), write a narrative description of your room, your house, your yard, a local park, or anything else that lends itself to vivid description.
  • Define “responsibility.” Give some examples when you have been responsible and when you have not.
  • Can Nature be cruel? Provide some examples.
  • Write journal entries from the point of view of one of the characters in the novel.
  • Which characters can you identify with or with whom you can empathize/sympathize?
  • Is anger, or even violence, ever justified?
  • Are you concerned about what others think of you?
  • Write about a major conflict (during any stage of the novel).
  • Are your parents perfect? If not, point out some examples when they have not been so. 

“The Gift” (pp. 1-37)

  • Contrast/compare the relationship between Jody/Carl Tiflin and Jody/Billy Buck. Who is the better father figure for Jody?
  • Why is Carl Tiflin so stern and strict with Jody? How does Jody react to his father’s words and actions?
  • Examine why Jody is so mean to various animals (except Gabilan).
  • Examine how Jody handles his responsibilities.
  • What has Jody learned from Billy Buck?
  • Is Jody really mad at Billy Buck?
  • Did Billy Buck make mistakes and promises he could not keep?
  • Describe the ways in which Billy Buck tried to save Gabilan.
  • Who is the most important character in “The Gift”?
  • Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the personalities of the major characters?
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the appearance of the major characters?
  • There any many themes in “The Gift.” However, what is the major theme in the story? (See Plot and Theme.) Think about how theme affects plot and vice versa.
  • Examine Steinbeck’s clever use of foreshadowing in “The Gift.” Provide examples within the story that eventually foreshadow incidents in “The Gift.” See Literary Terms.
  • What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this story and why? See Literary Terms.
  • What are the motifs established in “The Gift”? See Literary Terms.
  • Discuss and provide examples of the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced.
  • Discuss/analyze Steinbeck’s use of symbols in “The Gift.”  

“The Great Mountains” (pp. 38-55)

  • Examine why Steinbeck included the cruel killing, dismemberment, and disembowelment of the bird.
  • Is Jody a cruel person?
  • There any many themes in the second story. However, what is the major theme in “The Great Mountains”? (See Plot and Theme.) Think about how theme affects plot and vice versa.
  • Why did Steinbeck include the character of Gitano? Why is his character so stubborn and insistent about staying at the ranch? See Land Grants and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and The Meaning of Place.
  • Why is Jody so curious about The Great Mountains, and why can no one answer his questions satisfactorily?
  • Examine and describe the relationship between Jody and Gitano.
  • Examine and describe the relationship between Carl Tiflin and Gitano.
  • Compare/contrast Gitano and Old Easter.
  • Why does Billy Buck defend paisanos in specific and Gitano in general?
  • Why does Gitano leave (probably with Easter) without a word?
  • Who is the most important character in “The Great Mountains”?
  • Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the personalities of the major characters?
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the appearance of the major characters?
  • Examine Steinbeck’s clever use of foreshadowing in “The Great Mountains.” Provide examples within the story that eventually foreshadow incidents in “The Great Mountains.” See Literary Terms.
  • What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this story and why? See Literary Terms.
  • What are the motifs established in “The Great Mountains?” See Literary Terms.
  • Discuss and provide examples of the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced.
  • Discuss/analyze Steinbeck’s use of symbols in “The Great Mountains.”  

“The Promise” (pp.56-79)

  • Compare/contrast Billy Buck’s attitude toward Jody in “The Gift” and “The Promise.”
  • Compare/contrast Jody’s reaction to Billy Buck in “The Gift” and “The Promise.”
  • Explain why Steinbeck includes the fantasy scenes about Jody leading a marching band and being on a safari at the beginning of “The Promise.”
  • Even though Carl Tiflin pays a compliment to Jody (through Billy Buck’s recommendation) about taking good care of Gabilan (in “The Gift”), Jody is still timid around his father. Show how Steinbeck shows his timidity.
  • Carl Tiflin lends Jody five dollars to have Nellie bred. What does Jody have to do in return to pay off the loan?
  • Show examples of Jody’s impatience (not to mention worrying) about Nellie’s pregnancy.
  • Examine instances where Billy Buck is angry with Jody. Why is Billy so uncharacteristically angry?
  • Did Billy Buck do the right thing by killing Nellie in order to save the colt?
  • There any many themes in the “The Promise.” However, what is the major theme in this story? (See Plot and Theme.) Think about how theme affects plot and vice versa.
  • Who is the most important character in “The Promise”?
  • Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the personalities of the major characters?
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the appearance of the major characters?
  • Examine Steinbeck’s clever use of foreshadowing in “The Promise.” Provide examples within the story that eventually foreshadow incidents in “The Promise.” See Literary Terms.
  • What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this story and why? See Literary Terms.
  • What are the motifs established in “The Promise”? See Literary Terms.
  • Discuss and provide examples of the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced.
  • Discuss/analyze Steinbeck’s use of symbols in “The Promise.”

“The Leader of the People” (pp.80-100)

  • Explain the significance of the mice at the beginning of “The Leader of the People.”
  • Compare/contrast Carl Tiflin’s attitude toward Grandfather with that of his toward Gitano in “The Great Mountains.”
  • Why is Jody interested in Grandfather’s stories, and why is Carl not?
  • Show examples of Carl Tiflin’s irritation with Grandfather.
  • Compare/contrast Jody’s reaction of meeting Gitano in “The Great Mountains” with that of seeing again Grandfather in “The Leader of the People”?
  • Steinbeck is a master of “show, not tell.” Provide examples of where the author shows how bored others are during Grandfather’s stories.
  • Mrs.Tiflin, who does not have a big role, actually gets mad at her husband, Carl. Explain how and why.
  • What does Grandfather mean by “westering”?
  • Who is the most important character in “The Leader of the People”?
  • Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the personalities of the major characters?
  • What methods does Steinbeck use to help readers understand the appearance of the major characters?
  • There any many themes in the “The Leader of the People.” However, what is the major theme in this story? (See Plot and Theme.) Think about how theme affects plot and vice versa.
  • Examine Steinbeck’s clever use of foreshadowing in “The Leader of the People.” Provide examples within the story that eventually foreshadow incidents in “The Leader of the People.” See Literary Terms.
  • What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this story and why? See Literary Terms.
  • What are the motifs established in “The Leader of the People”? See Literary Terms.
  • Discuss and provide examples of the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced.
  • Discuss/analyze Steinbeck’s use of symbols in “The Leader of the People.” 

After reading the novel

  • Compare/contrast “The Gift” with “The Promise.”
  • Compare/contrast “The Great Mountains” with “The Leader of the People.”
  • Who is the most important character in all of The Red Pony?
  • How are all the stories connected by Plot and Theme, and characters?
  • How has Jody matured throughout The Red Pony?
  • Compare/contrast Jody’s reaction at the end of each story.
  • Did you like this book? Why or why not? Be honest.
  • What did this book teach you?
  • If The Red Pony took place today, how would the story be different?

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up 

  • Takeaways
    • After finishing The Red Pony, students should write a brief (a paragraph) summary of each of their short writing prompts. This will reinforce what they have learned throughout the course of the novel
  • Follow-up
    • Have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned
    • Make sure students keep all returned and graded short (and longer) writing assignments (either electronically and/or in notebooks). 

Assessment 

  • In small groups, students can meet and, based on their short/longer papers, come with questions to be used for a final examination on the novel.
  • How thoroughly did the student respond to the writing prompt? Were specific, and correct, examples from the novel used to support opinions?
  • Take into consideration the writing abilities of individual students when grading a writing assignment.

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: 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
  • 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
  • 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
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7