Connecting with History

Steinbeck's writing was deeply connected to the time and place in which it was set. The characters and events portrayed in his fiction were meant to be realistic. Understanding the time period in which Steinbeck was writing in and about creates a deeper connection to the characters and the issues Steinbeck illuminated in his writing.

These lessons focus on specific historical themes and topics found in The Red Pony. Each lesson is linked to historical context resources to help teachers and students connect the novel to its place in time.

Oral History

In this activity, students will learn a bit of someone else's life story through interviewing a family member, or close friend of the family. Teachers can choose to focus students on a similar topic (e.g. immigration, the Great Depression, etc.), or to allow students to decide what kind of history they will be collecting.


Until recently, westward expansion was portrayed as courageous pioneers fighting the elements and Indians—the civilized world clashing against the savage world. Recent scholarship has brought to light a more complete history of the West and its people. Through the use of primary sources, students can examine the old pioneer story from the perspectives of peoples who have been traditionally left out.

The Meaning of Place

In this activity, students will examine what drew Gitano specifically to the Tiflin ranch, the reactions that the Tiflins had to Gitano, and their own thoughts on what makes a place important. Students will engage in a four-corners style debate over where Gitano should have gone and will script a fictitious interview with Gitano to learn and understand more about him.

Land Grants and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1848) was officially ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty gave to the United States vast territories that once belonged to the Mexican government. This was not, however, the extent of the Treaty. The land rights and citizenship of Mexican peoples living in the newly acquired territories was also covered—issues that are still yet to be completely resolved today. In this activity, students will look closely at how the war between the United States and Mexico affected land ownership in California and the West.

Boosterism and Manifest Destiny

Students will analyze 19th century broadsides that advertised moving west. After gaining an understanding of the methods used, students will create their own broadsides to entice people to move west. This is an interactive activity that can be done regardless of student artistic ability.

Exploring Social Services

Students will examine how the Great Depression affected people like the Tiflins, Billy Buck, and Gitano. Through a short research project, students will compare what social services were available during the 1920s/30s with those that are available today.

Price Comparisons

This activity challenges students to research prices and values of items, goods, and services during the 1920s/1930s up to today. Depending on class abilities and time available, this activity can be adapted for many different mathematical and research skill levels.

Period Music

Music is important to any generation; in the 1930s, people listened to not only big band music, but folk music, including Woody Guthrie. John Steinbeck was a fan of Woody Guthrie, and vice versa. Understanding the rich connection between period music (using lyric sheets as well as listening) of the 1930s and The Red Pony is an important complement.