Travels with Charley - From Words to Pictures


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Download "From Words to Pictures" as a Word file


Art, Reading Comprehension

Grade Level

6 – 12

Type of Activity

Individual, Artistic, Small Group, Ongoing


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

Standards Met

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