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Music in "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck: Project-Based Learning Assessment

written by: Lisa Biber • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 1/16/2013

Are you becoming increasingly frustrated with your students' unwillingness to put away those personal electronic devices? In this activity, students can actually use their iPods for educational purposes! Have students create a playlist to go along with "The Pearl".

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    Project-based learning encourages teachers and students to embrace technology integration rather than fight it. The Pearl by John Steinbeck lends itself well to a variety of projects, but this unit assessment incorporates a popular interest of teenagers: music.

    The Pearl When I teach The Pearl by John Steinbeck, I contain the novella in a short unit that I call American Parables. I teach my class about parables and give different examples of lessons to be learned. After reading a few short, older parables, we delve into The Pearl.

    Usually about halfway through the book, my students get the general idea of Steinbeck's message and begin to wander off mentally. After growing frustrated with how disengaged my students became, I searched for ways to reactivate their interest in the story and the message of it. Creating a soundtrack for a story or book is not an entirely new idea, but telling my students that it was okay to pull out their iPods and cell phones for a few days in class really got them excited, and their projects reflected a level of thoughtfulness and comprehension that pleasantly surprised me.

    Lesson Objectives

    By the end of the project, students will be able to:

    1. Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of characters and themes in The Pearl
    2. Analyze the progression of themes in The Pearl
    3. Connect the importance of music in The Pearl to modern music

    Materials Required

    • Access to music [most of my students have their own iPods/cell phones; some needed to use a computer]
    • Computers with internet access and a word processor
    • Poster board
    • Project Handout (Download Here)
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    Lesson Procedure

    1. Introduce the project by discussing themes presented in the story: Greed, good vs. evil, the importance of family, the American Dream, and so on. You could have students participate in an informal class discussion, or have them write to a prompt and share their thoughts with a partner.

    2. Remind students of the music Kino hears throughout the story and distribute the project handouts.

    3. Read the project steps with students. Essentially, the students will choose six songs that go with songs Kino hears throughout the story (Song of the Enemy, Song of Evil, Song of the Family, Song of the Pearl [beginning of story], Song of Pearl [end of story], and a song that represents the book as a whole). They will write paragraphs that explain their song choices, incorporating details from the book. Then, they will create a poster that displays their song choices, explanations, and an image to go with each song. Project-based learning usually requires a question to drive student work. Although there is no formal question presented in the project, emphasize that their project should demonstrate the themes and messages presented in the book, not contain a simple list of songs they personally enjoy.

    4. You can assign this project as out-of-class work, or use class time to coach students if they are relatively inexperienced in project-based learning. I break down the steps of the project over the course of three days. The first day is for brainstorming using the chart on the back of the handout (see attachment). This is when they can search their own play lists or go online to find song titles. The second day is for students to type up their explanations and print lyrics. The third day is for them to create their posters. You may find students struggle finding songs at first because they may not be used to connecting their own background to a story such as The Pearl. Many of my students will say, “I was going to use this song, but I'm not sure if it will work." When I question them about their choice, they are almost always able to give me great, thoughtful explanations. I simply tell them, “There you go. That's exactly what you write down."

    5. Be sure to display their work at the conclusion of the project. Give them an opportunity to look at other posters and discuss the differences in song choices. You may also require them to present the projects if you so choose.


    I use a basic rubric that follows the assignment sheet. Download it here.

    This project has become a staple in my curriculum. I am always surprised by the thoughtful song choices my students make—songs I would never think of on my own, but always nod as soon as I see the titles. When my students look back at the books we've read and the projects we've completed, this is often a favorite.


  • Image via Amazon.