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Freedom Of Speech Essay Ideas For Of Mice

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Language Arts, History

Grade Level


Type of Activity

Small Group, Individual, Ongoing, Sharing Work, Brief Research, Writing


  • Students will have ongoing practice writing short papers (150-200 words, in different styles) on a variety of Of Mice and Men topics.
  • Students will learn to share their writing with others.
  • Students will gain a deeper understanding of each section of Of Mice and Men.


Even though the Of Mice and Men unit may culminate with a major scholarly paper, short writing prompts (150-200 words) should be given throughout the unit. The prompts can be both broad and specific. Students should be made to feel comfortable with these prompts, even though (time permitting) some will read them out loud. The student audience will be encouraged to respond and take notes.

NOTE TO TEACHERS: Any of the writing topics in this section can be expanded into full-length essays (word length and completion time at the discretion of teachers). These short writing prompts can also be used as discussion topics , journal entries, or as advance organizers .

Types of essays can include:

  • Scholarly. (See Critical Analysis Essay) 
  • Compare/Contrast. (For example, students can compare/contrast the relationship between Lennie and George. Are they similar to brothers, parent/child, best friends, and so on?)
  • Descriptive. Students can emulate/evaluate Steinbeck’s descriptive writing. (See Sentence Fluency) 
  • Narrative. Under “Procedures,” see the topics in Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel).
  • Argumentative. (For example, what is “mercy killing”?  Ask students to defend or condemn the practice, and argue reasons for their opinions.)
  • Evaluation. (For example, if Of Mice and Men took place today, not during the 1930s, how would life for Lennie have been different?)

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Copies of Of Mice and Men.
  • Teachers should emphasize that each short prompt should be concise and contain specific examples from the novel.
  • Arrange time in the computer lab (if available), so students can start their assignments and teachers can assist students.
  • For unfinished assignments, students may email themselves the document or place it on a USB flash drive.

Estimated Time

Each short writing prompt can be assigned and completed in one or two homework assignments.


Provide some ideas and ask students to write about some (as much as can be covered during the unit) of these topics:

Ongoing (before or during the reading of the novel):

  • What does friendship mean to you?
  • How important is it to have a place where you belong, where there are people who know you and love you?
  • What dreams do you have? How can these dreams fail? How can they succeed?
  • Who is your favorite character in this book so far? Give your reasons for choosing him or her.
  • Why does Steinbeck tend to start each new section with narrative description?
  • Define “responsibility.” Give some examples when you have been responsible and when you have not.
  • Write journal entries from the point of view of one of the characters in the novel.
  • Which characters can you identify with or with whom you can empathize/sympathize?
  • Do you know anyone who is mentally-challenged or otherwise disabled? If so, describe your relationship with that person.
  • Is violence ever justified?
  • Are you concerned about what others think of you?
  • Write about a major conflict (during any stage of the novel).
  • In which time period does the novel take place? How can you tell? Use specific examples. Consider:  vocabulary, scenery, attitudes.

Section 1 (pp.1-16):

  • Contrast/compare the relationship between Lennie and George. Are they similar to brothers, parent/child, best friends, and so on?
  • What does the mouse in the first section tell you about Lennie? Think about why Lennie insists on carrying it around with him.
  • Examine Lennie’s use of language and thinking. At what level is he functioning?
  • What figurative language does Steinbeck use in this section and why? See Literary Terms.
  • Why is setting important to Steinbeck? Consider why he usually starts each section of the novel with a description of the setting.
  • What are the motifs already established in Section 1?
  • Discuss, and provide examples of, the literary devices Steinbeck has introduced. 

Section 2 (pp. 17-37):

  • How does George try to prevent Lennie from getting into trouble?
  • Why is Curley so mean to Lennie and George upon first meeting them? What does he have against them?
  • Describe Curley’s personality. Why do you think he acts the way he does?
  • Why does George tell Lennie to remain silent when they first meet the ranch boss?
  • Why is the ranch boss so suspicious of George and Lennie?
  • Why do Curley and Curley’s wife pose a threat to George and Lennie? Why is George especially worried?

Section 3 (pp.38-65):

  • Why did Steinbeck include the scene about the killing of Candy’s dog?
  • Why does Lennie refuse to fight back when Curley attacks him?
  • Why does Curley agree to what Slim told him about how to explain his crushed hand?
  • How does Slim get George to honestly talk about his relationship with Lennie and what happened in Weed?
  • Describe Slim’s personality. Why is he so highly regarded?
  • What is Candy’s role in this section? Why is it so important that he is included?
  • What is the importance of Carlson in this section?
  • Why is Curley so quick to attack Lennie?

Section 4 (pp. 66-83):

  • On page 70, Crooks says to Lennie “‘I ain’t no southern negro…I was born right here in California.’” What does he mean by this? How was life different for African Americans in the south compared to those out west in California?
  • Possible follow-up: Do you think there is any difference today?
  • On page 70, recall the scene in Crooks’s quarters once Curley’s wife arrives (pages 76-83), focusing on what happens after the passage quoted above. What is Curley’s wife threatening to do to Crooks? How did Crooks react? Why did he react this way? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
  • How did Candy react? What do you think about his reaction? Should he have reacted differently?
  • How would you have reacted if you were Crooks? If you were Candy?
  • When Lennie visits Crooks, why is Crooks so mean to Lennie? Think about why he told Lennie that George would leave him.
  • Explain what Crooks and Curley’s wife might have in common.
  • Explain why Crooks finally allowed Lennie into his segregated living quarters. Think about the role each play in the novel.

Section 5 (pp. 84-98):

  • Lennie’s puppy died. Have you ever had a pet that has died? Describe your emotional reaction.
  • Why is the death of Lennie’s puppy not described in “real time: (that is, it is described after the fact)?
  • Why does Lennie kill Curley’s wife? Do you consider this murder? Why or why not?
  • Explain what Lennie and Curley’s wife may have in common as they converse in the barn. Why would those two even talk to each other?
  • Is Curley’s wife partially responsible for her own death? Provide specific examples.

Section 6 (pp. 99-107):

  • Why does Steinbeck include the fantasy scenes of Aunt Clara and the giant rabbit at the end of the novel?
  • The novel ends where it begins. Why do you think Steinbeck did this? Would the novel be any different if Steinbeck had it end in a different place?
  • Discuss any alternatives George had to shooting Lennie. What would be the consequences? 
  • What foreshadowed Lennie’s death? Students may cite brief examples from the entire novel.
  • The novel ends with Carlson saying to Curley (about Slim and George), “‘Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’” (Steinbeck 107). Explain what Carlson means.

After reading the novel:

  • What is “mercy killing”? Defend or condemn the practice, and give reasons for your opinion.
  • Who is the most important character in Of Mice and Men?
  • Write about a major theme in the novel. Why is it important? See Plot and Theme.
  • Write about some major symbols in the novel. See Symbolism.
  • Do you think Lennie understands what he does is wrong?
  • Is Lennie a violent person?
  • What is Slim’s role in the novel? Why is he so important?
  • If Of Mice and Men took place today, not during the 1930s, how would life for Lennie have been different?
  • Lynching is often referred to as “vigilante justice” or “taking the law into your own hands.” When, if ever, is this justified? Think outside of your own life. What about in other countries, other times, other conditions?
  • What can you learn about race relations during the 1930s from Of Mice and Men? Use specific examples.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

  • Takeaways
    • After finishing Of Mice and Men, students should write a brief (a paragraph) summary of each of their short writing prompts. This will reinforce what they have learned throughout the course of the novel.
  • Follow-up
    • Have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.
    • Make sure students keep all returned and graded short writing assignments (either electronically and/or in notebooks).


  • In small groups, students can meet and, based on their short papers, come with questions to be used for a final examination on the novel.
  • How thoroughly did the student respond to the writing prompt?  Were specific, and correct, examples from the novel used to support opinions?
  • Take into consideration the writing abilities of individual students when grading a writing assignment.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 9
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2, 3
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 9
    • Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
    • Comprehension and Collaboration: 1
  • Language Standards 6-12
    • Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2
    • Knowledge of Language: 3
    • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4, 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7

Speech in that broad sense was once suspect unless expressly permitted; monitored speech was the norm. But in liberal modernity, unmonitored speech is the norm and limits to speech are suspect unless specifically justified. The main arguments now separate laxists from restrictionists. Laxists favor few limits, restrictionists many. The kinds of limits matter. Coercive laws, whether prior censorship or after-the-fact sanctions, provide one kind of limit. Garton Ash is generally against them. High standards of public argument and common decency are another kind of limit. Garton Ash is broadly for them. You could say he is laxist about law and restrictionist about standards. His approach has the great merit of keeping distinct what is legally permissible and what is or ought to be socially acceptable. Garton Ash treasures the jewel but recognizes and regrets the mud. His guiding maxim, never wholly lost amid near encyclopedic detail, is “More free speech but also better speech.”

As a scholar-journalist, Garton Ash knows what he is talking about from a career of reading, writing, listening and, more lately, web-clicking. When reporting on the breakup of the Communist world in the 1980s, he befriended East European dissidents, saw how truthful speech could sap the will of wrongful power and collected a private lexicon of sardonic political jokes that here lighten the going. Now a fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, he supervises a 13-language online debating platform — — for promoting free speech and arguing with all sides about its proper limits. His travels and interviews for “Free Speech” spanned the world, or what he calls the “cosmopolis,” a global space that is virtual as well as geographic. That range alone will squelch the fantasy that free speech is a purely Western concern.

Garton Ash invokes recent work by lawyers and philosophers but sees that fine distinctions and tight reasoning get you only so far in public argument. Talk of freedom is empty, he recognizes, when it neglects unequal power. In illustration, he offers a nice cartoon metaphor. Speech, he writes, is fought over by dogs (big state powers like the United States, the European Union and China), cats (big Internet and media concerns) and mice (that is, us). Government and corporations, he thinks, should interfere with speech very little. We should accordingly not look to them to improve speech. Making speech better is up to us, the mice.

Law to Garton Ash is a poor tool for ­civic education. He questions hate-speech laws and Holocaust-denial laws, fearing a ­“taboo ratchet.” Corporations in their turn are after profit, not civic uplift. He distrusts the idea that Google, Amazon and Facebook, for example, serve ­equally the values of free speech and good speech. His preferred answer to the more flagrant vices of liberty — hate speech, manipulative journalism, coarsened debate and a vast sewer of abuse on social media — is to encourage “shared norms and practices that enable us to make best use of this essential freedom.”

In lesser hands, that recommendation might sound overabstract or simply pious. Garton Ash, ­however, applies and tests it in 10 chapters offering “complex, contextual judgments” that pretty well cover the field of present controversy. He writes with panache and understands the world he works in, especially the virtual world of the Net. Practical answers interest him more than doctrinal purity. His website has adopted a “one-click-away” rule. It screens provocative material — Muhammad cartoons, for example — with a warning that some may take offense, leaving them to see it or not as they choose.

He knows that “we,” the citizenry of mice, are not all secular-minded liberals like him but deeply divided in outlook. Heading each chapter is a free-speech maxim that he hopes modernity and tradition may agree on: for example, “Neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation” or “Respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.” His watchword for dialogue amid ­cultural diversity is “robust civility,” an ideal somewhere between internal warfare and inauthentic making nice. He derides trigger warnings and on-campus censorship, explaining tersely that “children should be educated to become sovereign adults, but not treated as if they already are.”

Most of us are somewhat stunned at present by the scale and ­complexity of the forces in play, be they government surveillance; the “Great Firewall of ­China” that can censor the national web; the mounting strength of the Internet giants; or the frightening violence of militant Islam. Bewilderment is the easy option. “Free Speech” encourages us to take a breath, look hard at the facts and see how well-tried liberal principles can be applied and defended in daunting new circumstances.

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