The Red Pony

Pre-Reading ActivitiesOngoing ActivitiesCumulative ActivitiesGeneral Activities

Pre-Reading Activities

Controversial Topics

Even though some of the controversial issues in The Red Pony may not seem as controversial today as they were in the 1930s, students still need to be prepared for what they will encounter in the classroom.

The Red Pony/John Steinbeck Introduction

An introduction to John Steinbeck, The Red Pony, its characters, the setting, and the contextual background, including the Great Depression. Includes a PowerPoint presentation to download and customize.

Ranch Life

Understanding ranch life in the 1920s/1930s and the migrant ranch experience from that period, and today, are essential for understanding the novel.

Plot and Theme

Plot and theme are often easily confused. This activity challenges students to create and act out their own skits that demonstrate the differences between plot and theme. 


Steinbeck’s novels are rich with symbolism, and The Red Pony is no exception. It is important that students are able to distinguish between literal and figurative concepts.  This activity helps students to understand symbols, and to track the use and meaning of symbols throughout The Red Pony.

The American Dream

The “American Dream” is part of the theme of moving west that can be found in “The Leader of the People, the fourth story in The Red Pony. This concept is important to understanding the novel and the motivation of the characters.

Ongoing Activities

The Red Pony Discussion by Section

A section-by-section breakdown of the major events, themes, and discussion topics. This is a rich source of information to help frame an entire unit plan for The Red Pony.


This activity helps students to understand characters and their motivations through the use of a graphic organizer.

Identity Charts—Characters

This activity helps students to understand characters and their motivations through the use of a graphic organizer.

Character Webs

Character Webs are graphic organizers that help students to gain a deeper understanding of the characters. The purpose of a Character Web is to show the connections between characters. Character Webs can also be done autobiographically; that is, a student can create a web about him/herself.

Show, Don’t Tell

Understanding the difference between “showing” and “telling” will not only enhance the students’ enjoyment of literature, especially The Red Pony, but will improve their own writing and make it more vivid and visual.

Favorite Passages

This activity creates a “message board” where students can post and comment upon important, entertaining, and interesting passages from The Red Pony. The message board can be displayed in class and expanded as reading through the novel continues.

Interviewing Characters

A great way for students to get to know the characters in The Red Pony is for them to actually inhabit the personalities of those characters. In this activity, students are challenged to use what they have learned about the characters to script and perform an interview with the character.

Literary Terms

A rich resource to help build students’ knowledge and understanding of the literary elements present in The Red Pony. This guide includes a comprehensive list of literary terms, their definitions, and examples of their usage as found in the novel.


This activity provides a list of slang terms used in The Red Pony as well as an interactive, student driven, “word wall” to help students understand the new vocabulary encountered in their readings.

Sentence Fluency—“Painting with Words”

To increase the level and complexity of students’ writing, students can improve their sentence fluency by emulating the sentence structure of Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and those of their classmates. This can work with all levels of students’ writing abilities. Essentially, students will learn to “paint” with words and create powerful sentences.

Correcting the Grammar of Others

Besides students’ usual grammar exercises in English class, they can learn literature-based ways to enhance their grammar capabilities. One of the best ways to complement grammar study in the classroom is to correct the errant grammar of characters in novels.  Obviously, The Red Pony reflected the language and vernacular of mostly under-educated migrant/ranch workers of the time; as a result, the novel is rich in non-standard language. Finding examples to “correct” will be plentiful. Includes an optional “grammar walk” where students seek out and correct grammatical errors outside of the classroom.

Found Poetry

This is a fun and creative activity during any time of the year, but teachers can apply this specifically to The Red Pony. Through spontaneous poetry, students will learn more about The Red Pony.

Period Music—The 1930s

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.

Adapting Scenes from the Book to a Play

The Red Pony has a natural and episodic dramatic structure and is perfect for an adaptation to the stage; each story can serve as an “act” in the play. Students can easily learn the art of adaptation of genres, a valuable lesson. Selected scenes from each “act” should be included in the adaptation. 

Brochures, Posters, Illustrations

This is a fun activity, especially for those students who are not yet proficient in writing. Students can graphically “speak” about The Red Pony by creating brochures, posters, and other illustrations about the novel.


Eulogies are powerful, and should be taken seriously, even though they may contain some elements of humor. This exercise can provide students with empathy, sympathy, and a greater understanding, during any point in the novel, of the characters and situations surrounding death.

From Words to Pictures

Steinbeck’s writings are known for their vivid descriptions. In this activity, students adapt a short passage from The Red Pony into a visual form. 

Mining for Examples

In this ongoing activity, students work collaboratively to create an in-depth study guide to understanding key scenes, quotations, and themes in The Red Pony.

Mining for Examples - Sample Project

This sample was created by students examining some of their favorite scenes in The Red Pony.

Letter Exchange

This is a fun and educational activity in which individual students choose a character from The Red Pony whom to write. All students will receive a letter in return from another character (penned by another student who, for the time being, remains anonymous) in the novel. This series of back-and-forth letters from one character to another is not only fun but will provide the students with a deeper understanding of the characters.

Reader’s Theater

Reader’s theater is an effective, fun, and different (“out-of-the-box”) way to help students understand problems that characters experience throughout The Red Pony. Groups of students are assigned a small portion of the text to present to their class. Unlike the presentation of traditional plot skits, reader’s theater asks students to create a performance that reveals a message, theme, or conflict represented by the text they have chosen. Reader’s Theater can be especially helpful for students who are not yet proficient in writing.

Jody and Responsibility in “The Gift”

Responsibility is an important theme in The Red Pony, especially in “The Gift.” Jody experiences a wide range of emotions during the course of this story, and he also is expected to be responsible along the way. During this activity, students will not only be discussing and writing about Jody’s responsibility but their own.

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.

Modernizing the Tiflin Ranch

In this activity, students will apply their research skills to examine the Tiflin ranch scientifically. In small groups they will create plans to “upgrade” the ranch to a more modern, more “green” business.

Study Guides

This activity provides additional structure and guidance to that found in “Mining for Examples.” Students create their own study guide for the novel. 

Short Writing Prompts

An in-depth, section-by-section breakdown of short writing prompts for use in journal assignments, assessments, and discussion starters. 

Cumulative Activities

Jeopardy Review Game

An interactive PowerPoint modeled on the popular quiz show. A fun way to review for a cumulative assessment of the novel.

Radio Plays/Podcasts

In this activity, students create radio play adaptations of scenes from The Red PonyThis activity can be done simply as live, unseen performances (behind a room divider or curtain). Or, for teachers with access to some basic recording equipment, the radio plays can be recorded, edited, and turned into a podcast.

Placing Characters on Trial

This activity works well for many books, but it especially lends itself to The Red Pony because there are so many “alleged” crimes committed during the course of the novel. The classroom will be converted into a courtroom (as elaborate or simple as time permits). Students will begin to understand the legal system and its implications.

Passport to Literacy

Passport to Literacy is a cross-curricular project that examines life on a farm in the 1930s and today. Passport to Literacy: The Red Pony was created by sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students at Merryhill School in Milpitas, California. This is an excellent example of what is possible in a cross curricular, collaborative project. Language Arts, History, Science, Math, Entrepreneurship, and Art are all components built into this project. 

General Activities 

Steinbeck Club

A fun way to expose interested students to more of the writings of John Steinbeck.

Document Analysis

Analyzing documents of any kind is a skill that will aid students in multiple subject areas.  This activity provides a structure that students of all abilities can utilize to build their analytical skills. 


The Jigsaw method is a way to help students understand and retain more information by working collaboratively with classmates. Students work in small groups to analyze and dissect a reading, then report back to the class. This collaborative method aids students in understanding material that at first seems complex and dense with new facts and information.

Four Corners

A four-corners debate requires students to show their position on a specific statement (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) by standing in a particular corner of the room (signs will be posted) or by responding to four choices to one question. This activity gets everyone involved and requires full participation by taking a position.

The Final-Final

The Final-Final is designed to reinforce feedback on student writing. Too many times students ignore or forget the feedback given to them on their writing assignments. The Final-Final requires students to take action on that feedback and to resubmit their work for a last round of teacher feedback.