I think that one particular assignment that can be quite useful in teaching "Train Dreams" would be a Common Core Close Reading Assessment. Being able to examine particular passages from the work allows students to interact with the text in a very rich and meaningful manner. The Close Reading aspect of Common Core focuses student attention on the elements of writing and passage- based analysis can help to accomplish this end.
Common Core Close Reading can be highly effective in getting students to work with text in a complex manner. Selecting passages in which questions such as what the author's motivation might have been with the inclusion of a particular detail, or what is revealed about a particular character, as well as why word choice is essential in that passage to the overall meaning and message being conveyed are aspects of the Common Core that are evident in Close Reading. The questions that students have to answer in a Close Reading Activity must be driven by the passage and demand that the student interact with the passage in a meaningful and thorough manner. The following passage from the first chapter of the work can be a good example:
They came abreast of the others, a gang of a dozen men pausing in the sun to lean on their tools and wipe at sweat and watch this thing. Grainier held on convulsively to the Chinaman's horny foot, wondering at himself, and the man with the other foot let loose and sat down gasping in the dirt and got himself kicked in the eye before Grainier took charge of the free-flailing limb. "It was just for fun. For fun," the man sitting in the dirt said, and to his confederate there he said, "Come on, Jel Toomis, let's give it up." "I can't let loose," this Mr. Toomis said, "I'm the one's got him by the neck!" and laughed with a gust of confusion passing across his features. "Well, I've got him!" Grainier said, catching both the little demon's feet tighter in his embrace. "I've got the bastard, and I'm your man!"
Questions such as what is revealed by Grainier's use of the word "bastard" or why would Johnson describe Granier as "wondering at himself" would be examples of Close Reading questions that compel students to probe the meaning of both the passage and the motivation of the author in the writing process.