Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Of Mice and Men in the Great Depression

Background & Setting

Susan McHale | Published: May 26th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts, Social Studies
  • Course Course American Literature, U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1-2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 90 minutes


This lesson analyzes the context and setting of the novel "Of Mice and Men." This cross-curricular lesson previews societal issues that were prevalent in John Steinbeck's text. Steinbeck was a young man during the Great Depression, and he wove the background and context of the Great Depression into several of his fictional novels. Students in this lesson will identify specific Depression-era struggles to gain insight into the setting, perspective, and background of the novel "Of Mice and Men." This lesson can serve as a preview prior to reading the novel.

Essential Question(s)

What was society like during the 1930s? How does understanding the 1930s prepare us for reading "Of Mice and Men"?



Students individually view four photographs of the Great Depression era and make general observations.


Students team with others to share their observations about the Great Depression photographs.


Students read different informational texts about Great Depression issues and create short summaries of what they read.


Students groups create concept maps about the Great Depression and draw conclusions about American life during the Depression.


Students write a personal essay comparing Depression-era societal issues with issues in today's society.


  • Lesson slides (attached)

  • Readings 1–5 (attached; print enough for each student to receive one of the five readings)

  • Notebook paper

  • Chart paper and markers or student devices with Internet access


Begin the lesson by explaining to students that today they will learn about the background and setting of the novel, Of Mice and Men. John Steinbeck, the author, wrote about the struggles of men and women during the Great Depression. Steinbeck was a young man during the Great Depression, and this experience greatly influenced his writing. To understand Steinbeck's novels, we need to understand the society about which he wrote.

Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the instruction. Display the learning objectives and the essential questions on slides 2 and 3, respectively. Discuss that these will be the focus of today's lesson.

Students will participate in an I Think/We Think activity. Ask students to fold a piece of notebook paper in half lengthwise, or hot dog style. Display slide 4, and ask students to create two columns with the headers "I Think" and "We Think."

Tell students that they will look at photographs from the era of the Great Depression (1929 through 1939). Slowly move through slides 5–8. As you display each photograph, ask students to write down any observations that they have about each image. Point out that the title of the photograph will serve as a clue to inform their observations. Allow 20–25 minutes for this activity.


Ask students to find three other students to form a group of four. Have groups sit together and discuss their observations of the photographs. Display slide 9. As a group, have students discuss the question on the slide: What do these pictures tell you about the Great Depression? Groups should write down their collaborative response in the "We Think" column.

Have groups share out their responses in a class discussion.


Tell students that they will learn a little more about the Great Depression to prepare for reading Of Mice and Men. Number students one through five. Pass out the attached informational text that corresponds to the student's assigned number:

  1. American Society in the Great Depression

  2. Minorities During the Great Depression

  3. The Great Migration West

  4. The Intellectually and Physically Disabled

  5. Women in the Great Depression

Display slide 10. Ask students to read their assigned informational text and annotate using the CUS and Discuss strategy.

Once students have read their assigned texts, have the class participate in an Inverted Pyramid activity.

Display slide 11. Have students find a partner who read the same text to discuss what they read and share their summaries. Allow only 5–7 minutes for this discussion.

Display slide 12. Have partners meet with another pair who read the same text. Have the group discuss the informational text and share what they learned or have summarized. Allow 7-10 additional minutes for this discussion.

Display slide 13. Have students create new groups of five who each read a different text so that the group has a representative for all the texts. These groups will work together to complete the activity described in the Extend portion of the lesson.


Once students are in their groups of five, give the groups time to share what they learned from their texts. Allow no more than 5–10 minutes for this sharing of information.

After their discussion, groups will create a concept map using chart paper and markers or a digital concept mapping tool. Display slide 14, which gives students an example of how to start their concept maps.

Ask students to add two or three details for each aspect of society that was affected by the Great Depression.

Allow 25–30 minutes for students to complete the concept map. Ask groups to present their completed concept maps to the class.

Display slide 15. Connect what students have learned about the Great Depression by sharing some details about the background and setting of the novel Of Mice and Men.

Display slide 16. Ask groups to make predictions about Of Mice and Men. You can record these on the board, in a Google Doc, on an Anchor Chart, or you can have students submit their predictions in writing. Refer back to these predictions periodically as students read the novel.


Then and Now: Ask students to reflect on what they learned about the Great Depression and compare it with what our society is like today. To begin this conversation, prompt students with the questions on slide 17.

  • What issues exist with poverty today? How do these issues compare with the poverty of the Great Depression?

  • How do women fare in the workplace today as compared to women during the Great Depression?

  • What problems and treatment do immigrants and minorities face in our country today? Is discrimination the same, better, or worse?

  • How has the treatment of the intellectually and physically disabled changed over the decades? Does discrimination still exist for people with disabilities?

Have students read through the questions and work individually to write a Two-Minute Paper about one of these topics.

Students' I Think/We Think responses and group concept maps can also serve as assessments for this lesson.