Dust Bowl Stories



Utilizing video and photos, elementary school students will synthesize some Dust Bowl experiences by creating a children's book in this multi-day activity.


Beginning in the 1930s, drought wracked Oklahoma, Arkansas, and other areas of the Great Plains. Farmers watched in despair as their crops died and their children grew hungry. The experiences of these farmers have been publicized in many ways, most notably in the stunning photography of Dorothea Lange. Lange began working for the California and Federal Resettlement Administrations in 1935, and through her photography she not only captured the hardships endured by migrant workers but called for more federal help for them.


  • Students will analyze Dorothea Lange’s photographs.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of the Dust Bowl.
  • Students will be able to identify three to five facts about migrant farm workers’ experiences during the Dust Bowl.
  • Students will be able to explain tell the stories behind some of the Lange photographs.


Essential Question

What were the experiences of farmers displaced by the Dust Bowl during the 1930s?



Think: Have students spend thirty seconds to one minute thinking about what natural resources make crops grow.

Pair: Each student will have thirty seconds to share his/her ideas with a partner.

Share: The partnered students will share their ideas with the whole class.


  1. After motivation, discuss what happens to farmers if there is a prolonged period of drought. Explain to students that this is what happened in the 1930s in Oklahoma and other areas in the Great Plains region. There was a drought so severe that the soil blew away, and it was called the Dust Bowl.
  2. Watch excerpts from the PBS video Surviving the Dust Bowl. Alternatively, or in addition, students may read or you can read to them excerpts from that website, linked above
  3. Distribute three different Dorothea Lange photographs to each group of three students. Photos can be found at the link above
  4. Each group will analyze their photos using the photography analysis worksheet.
  5. The teacher will work with the groups to make sure they understand the stories behind the photographs. The teacher can assess understanding verbally, by collecting the worksheets, or through whole group or small group discussions.
  6. Students will share their photographs with the class and discuss what they think is happening (or has already happened) in each.
  7. Students will create a children’s short story book centered around the pictures that they have analyzed. Give out the rubric and explain the task.
  8. Pass out four pieces of paper and drawing implements. Explain to students that they will paste each picture to a paper and write a story about what is happening. The fourth piece of paper will be the cover page where they will make up a title and create a cover illustration.
  9. Students will share the books with their classmates when they are finished.


To extend this lesson on the experiences of Dust Bowl migrants, students can listen to songs written and performed by migrants and compiled on the American Memory website of the Library of Congress. Students can discuss the lyrics and create their own songs, lyrics, and/or podcasts. Two songs of particular interest are "Sunny Cal" by Jack Bryant, available here, and "Root Hog or Die" by Bill Jackson, available here.