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Lesson Plan Out of the Dust: Visions of Dust Bowl History

Much of history is interpreted from an adult point of view. This unit helps students gain an understanding of Dust Bowl history through the eyes of a child. Using Karen Hesse’s Newbery Award-winning Out of the Dust as an introduction to this aspect of the Great Depression, students have the opportunity to identify with the personal experiences of youth in the 1930s. In addition, students examine primary source materials of the period to correlate the fictional text with actual visual, auditory, and manuscript accounts as found in the Library of Congress Digital collections.


Students will be able to:

  • examine primary source materials to gain knowledge of the Dust Bowl;
  • use historical fiction to understand the human aspect of the Dust Bowl experience;
  • relate primary source materials from American Memory collections to passages, characters, and events from the novel;
  • develop research skills and strategies, such as keyword searches, for finding information.

Time Required

One to two weeks

Lesson Preparation


Images of the Great Depression

Study these images, then answer the following questions.

  1. Speculate as to when and where these photographs may have been taken.
  2. Which image "speaks" to you and why?
  3. If every picture tells a story, what story do these photographs convey?
  4. What questions do these images evoke?

Guided Reading Journal

As you read Out of the Dust, use this page to document significant passages in each of the following areas that reflect the Dust Bowl experience from a young person’s point of view. Quote the passages you select, giving the page number.

If you have other passages from Out of the Dust that you feel are significant, feel free to list them on the back!

Categories Page # Passage
School life    
Community life    
Family life    
Assistance from others    


Lesson Procedure

Step One: Accessing Prior Knowledge, Initial Reaction (1 class period)

  1. As an introductory activity, use Images of the Great Depression and present students with these three images from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives :
  2. Using Images of the Great Depression, ask students to analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Step Two: History Through Fiction (2-3 class periods)

  1. Students read Out of the Dust, noting Billy Jo's experiences in the Dust Bowl.
  2. Using the Guided Reading Journal, students keep a guided journal noting specific passages relating to:
    • school life
    • community life
    • family life
    • government assistance
    • agriculture
  3. After reading the novel, as a group examine the cover of Out of the Dust, noting the photograph of Lucille Burroughs. She was used to visually depict Hesse's character, Billy Jo. Using the same photoanalysis technique in Step One, discuss with students the possible origins of the photograph. Why was this photograph used? After a brainstorming session, students can review the original image of Lucille Burroughs, daughter of a cotton sharecropper with its bibliographic record found in America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black-and-White Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945.

Step Three: Depicting the Text (3-4 class periods)

  1. Using their Guided Reading Journal, students generate keywords and concepts for searching Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives or Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs collections for images that portray sections of free verse found in Hesse's Out of the Dust. Students locate photographs that represent meaningful passages from the novel.
  2. After image selection, students compile a presentation (poster, collage, scrapbook, multimedia presentation, etc.) to be shared with others. The presentation should include the picture with the accompanying passage from the text.


Lesson Evaluation

Student assessment is determined by teacher and peer evaluations based on how closely student-selected images depict text selected in the student's Guided Reading Journal.


Jan King & Rena Nisbet