Ruth Sullivan
R. L. Paschal High School
3001 Forest Park Blvd.
Ft. Worth, Texas 76110

As a result of my participation in the Institute, the new unit of study I added to my curriculum focused on the Dust Bowl/Depression era. In years past I’ve obviously always covered this period in my United States history classes, but the lessons I developed this year were focused more specifically on environmental issues related to the Great Plains and the Dust Bowl/Depression. These lessons connect to seven broad Fort Worth ISD objectives for Social Studies and language arts education. With these objectives in mind, I developed the following lessons:

  1. “The Great Depression: Causes of the Dust Bowl”
  2. “Video: ‘Battle for the Great Plains’”
  3. “History Through Literature”
  4. “History Through the Arts”
  5. “The Great Depression and The New Deal--An Oral History”

Description: 1. “The Great Depression: Causes of the Dust Bowl”

This was the focal lesson of the unit and involved historical investigation through individual research and group work. The historical question posed: Why did the Dust Bowl happen? I wanted students to realize from their research that the answer to this question is much more complex than a drought in the 1930s. I also wanted students to realize how history is a continuing process and to see the connections and cause-effect relationships from historical events a hundred-plus years before the Dust Bowl. This focal lesson required students to work in small groups on ten topics. The class spent one to two days in the school library researching their topics. I gave students several days back in class to use the books and other sources of information I provided for them. Then each group presented their research findings to the whole class in two to three minute reports. Students took notes on the reports they heard and then used those notes to formulate their own answer to the question, “Why did the Dust Bowl happen?”

2. “Video: Battle for the Great Plains:

I found a wonderful film produced by PBS video that fit exactly with this unit. The chairperson of the Social Studies Department was persuaded to purchase the video for our school library. Using the short teacher guide that came with the video, I developed questions for the students to answer as they watched the film over a two-day class period.

3. “History Through Literature”

I found three Wallace Stegner selections that fit particularly well into this unit. These selections give a personal perspective to the experience of a migrant life style and the Western landscapes.

4. “History Through the Arts”

I wanted to emphasize to students that we can learn a great deal about history by studying the arts of a particular historic period. The Depression/Dust Bowl era of the 1930s is a particularly rich period for this sort of study.

5. “The Great Depression and the New Deal--An Oral History”

I made this an optional/extra credit assignment. Students would need to interview someone at least in their late 60s to get an accurate, first-hand recollection of the Depression. Not all students have access to family, friends, or neighbors that are this old. If they do, this can be a wonderful, great learning tool, but I don’t think I can make this a required assignment for credit.


My students seemed to enjoy the lessons in this unit. We spent about three weeks altogether on the Dust Bowl, Depression, and New Deal periods. The textbook we use has two chapters related specifically to this period. In addition to the lessons I developed, students were required to read the two chapters. I had them work the map activities that accompany these two chapters. One map gave students a geographic perspective on where the Plains states are and exactly what areas were hardest hit by the drought and dust storms. Another map relates to the TVA project. We discussed generally how this project drastically altered the environment of the Tennessee Valley. Students also had to become familiar in general with the key people and terms of each chapter.

The first time you try out new lessons you discover a few things you’ll do differently the next year. Given time constraints and availability of school library resources, next year I plan to put together folders of specific materials related to each of the ten topics assigned in the focal lesson. This will help students focus their research in a shorter time period and help them to do more thorough research.

I has also planned to have at least one guest speaker and to make one field trip with the classes. (See the Enrichment Activities Sheet.) Time constraints, logistics, and schedules of various possible speakers prevented these activities from taking place this year. I’ll plan ahead a bit better next year. All in all however, I think the inclusion of these lessons into my curriculum was an excellent learning experience for my students.

United States History Unit
The Great Plains: From Grassland to Dust Bowl and Depression

Ruth Sullivan Paschal High School Fort Worth, Texas

“A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.”

From Song of Myself, Walt Whitman

Overview: This unit includes five lessons that require students to work individually and in small groups as they study environmental issues of the Depression era and view this historic period through literature and the arts.

Objectives--Social Studies and Language Arts:

  1. Explain government land and resource policies, their historical significance, and their environmental impact.
  2. Analyze the continuing impact of science and technology on business, industry, and agriculture.
  3. Identify the contributions of ethnic and racial groups and individuals.
  4. Describe the causes and impact of immigration, patterns of settlement, and population movements.
  5. Compare the impact of science and technology on society with changes reflected in art, literature, and music.
  6. Demonstrate critical reading, thinking, and speaking/listening skills through extensive independent reading and response, both oral and written to a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts.
  7. Participate in oral and written activities to address matters of expressing main ideas in one sentence, recognizing cause-and-effect relationships, and using independently a variety of reference materials of increasing complexity.

Lesson One

Page One

U.S. History: The Great Depression: Causes of the Dust Bowl
Historical Investigation

Assignment: Due date: ____________________________________________

  1. The class will be divided into 9-10 teams (2-3 people).
  2. Each team will receive a topic to research in relation to a historical question. (See topics below.)
  3. Each team member will research an aspect of the topic. Write notes on the form provided. Include a bibliography of all sources. Due by the end of the library period.
  4. Compile collective notes into a summary. Due 2nd day, 1 report per group.
  5. Each group will give a 2-3 minute report to the class.
  6. All class members take notes on each report.
  7. Formulate your answer to the question based on the evidence collected and presented by the


    • Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition
    • Plains Ecology: Plants, Animals, and Climate
    • Native Americans: Land Use and Resource Management
    • The Buffalo and the Great Plains Indians
    • The Horse and the Great Plains Indians
    • Water on the Plains: Wetlands and Aquifers
    • John Wesley Powell: Exploring and Planning for Western Development
    • Inventions that Made Farming on the Plains Possible
    • Western Development: Railroads and the Homestead Act of 1862
    • Farming Practices During World War I

    Page Two

    U.S. History							Historical Investigation Teams
    1.  Historical Question:  Why did the Dust Bowl happen?
    2.  Topic for investigation: ________________________________________________________
    3.  Team: (circle your name:: ______________________________________________________
    4.  Research notes: ______________________________________________________________
    Page Three
    5.  Bibliography:  (list sources below.)
    Page Four
    U.S. History							Historical Investigation
    								“The Great Depression”
    Name _________________________________________			Period ____________
    Historical question: Why did the Dust Bowl happen?
    Use the class notes you take from each group report and formulate a one page answer to this 
    question.  Tie together the information into a “big picture” of conditions, attitudes, actions taken, 
    etc., that led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.-
    Page Five
    In your opinion, how might the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s have been prevented from happening?
    Could another Dust Bowl happen?  Explain your response.

    Lesson Two
    U.S. History: Video - “Battle for the Great Plains”
    National Audubon Society film - PBS

    Name __________________________________________________	Period __________
    • The Great Plains is 2,500 miles long and 600 miles wide
    • The Great Plains covers one-fifth of U.S. land and is home to three percent of the population
    • Twenty different Indian tribes once hunted on the Plains
    • The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres of land to anyone who could farm the land
    • The Missouri River Dam Project flooded 156,000 acres of land and uprooted 90 percent of the Mandan tribe
    • Between 1862 and 1890, six million people migrated to the Great Plains
    • In the past 100 years, the Great Plains has lost one-half of its topsoil
    ______________________________________________________________________________ TERMS TO KNOW and DEFINE

    1. ecosystem
    2. balance of nature
    3. marginal land
    4. subsidy
    5. groundwater
    6. homesteader
    7. prairie
    8. Native American philosophy toward the land
    9. Lewis and Clark Expedition--connection to the Mandan Indian
    10. What destroyed the Mandan-Hidatsa tribal life?
    11. Identify: Wes Jackson: “We came with vision, but not with sight.” Explain. Does Jackson think we’ve learned our lessons after the Dust Bowl days? Explain. Sustainable agriculture--define.
    12. Discuss what “short-term technological fixes” have been used on the Great Plains.
    13. Problems for Wildlife: Identify. What do we need to bring wildlife back?
    14. What does Wes Jackson mean by “becoming native to this place”?
    15. Cattle/Sheep Ranchers: Some viewpoints.
    16. What is happening to the population in the Great Plains states?
    17. Who are Frank and Deborah Popper?
    18. What is their plan for the Great Plains? (Name and description)
    19. Why are buffalo (bison) better adapted to the Plains environment than cattle?
    20. Focus on Lassiter Ranch in Colorado. Describe the ranching practices he follows.
    21. Wes Jackson: Land Institute, Salina, Kansas. (final comments)

    Lesson Three U.S. History: History Through Literature

    “Perspectives from Wallace Stegner” Selections: 1. “Finding the Place: A Migrant Childhood” 2. “Living Dry” 3. “Thoughts in A Dry Land” Assignment: 1. Depending on your class size, run off enough copies of these three selections for every student to have a copy of one. Allow most of a class period for students to read the selections. 2. Divide students into reading response groups based on which of the three selections they read. In a large class create two response groups for each of the three selections. This puts only three or four in a group which is a better number than six or seven. 3. Give another class period for students to get into their response groups to discuss the selections. The teacher can give each group a thought-provoking question to discuss for 10 to 15 minutes. You might also have each response group develop some questions on each selection. 4. If you have two response groups per selection, let the two groups join together to discuss the selection for another 10 to 15 minutes. 5. Have each group choose one person to give an oral report to the class. The report should summarize what each group feels is important about the selection. 6. See “A Dozen Ways to Respond to A Book,” for additional lesson ideas. A DOZEN WAYS TO RESPOND TO A BOOK--- (or what to do when you and the kids are bored with comprehension questions) 1. Commentary/Response Journal--After reading a selection or a chapter of a book have students divide a page in half. On the left side have them record what is happening in the story progressively. On the right side have them record how they are responding to the selection-- feelings, memories, reflections, insights, associations that occur while they are reading (see article “Do We Teach The Way We Read”). 2. Retell story from another character’s point of view. 3. Write a script. Write a dialogue of the characters’ conversation at dinner discussing the events of the story. 4. Make a diary of one of the characters. 5. Write a poem in response to the story. Write a love poem from one character to another. 6. Divide the class into groups of four or five for reading response groups. After reading silently for a specified amount of time, give each group a thought-provoking question to discuss for 10-15 minutes. The group then discusses the question (see article “How Reading Can Inspire Writing). 7. Have students draw maps of the events of the story. For stories that take place over a period of time, have students make time lines of the major events. 8. Write statements concerning the story on strips of paper. Each student draws one and decides whether the statement is true or false. The student then must prove the decision with information from the story. Using both literal and inferential questions will provide opportunities for discussion of answers that are “right there” and those that need a combination of prior knowledge and search and find strategies. 9. Make a stack of cards with characters’ names on them. Have a child select a card. The rest of the group act as “reporters” who question the character about his or her feelings, actions, or intentions in the story. 10. Have children prepare questions about the story they are reading to ask each other during a group discussion. Children who are permitted to ask questions of each other become active participants in discussions. 11. Give students the following instructions: You are a reporter from the National Enquirer and you’ve been given the assignment to interview a character from the story. What questions would you ask? Once you have formulated your questions do a mock interview with one of your classmates. Write an article from the interview. 12. Write a newspaper using the characters, settings, and plot from the novel being read. The following newspaper items could be included in the newspaper: a) Front page articles about important events in the setting. b) Feature articles about characters. c) Editorials from characters about controversies in the book. d) Advice column answering questions from characters in book. e) Interview with author and illustrator. f) Review of book. g) Letters to editor from characters and about character and events in the book. h) Cartoons using book characters. i) Puzzle page using words from book. j) Business page featuring occupations of characters in book. k) Sports page featuring characters playing sports that fit their character. l) Classified ads selling services and items mentioned in the book. m) Weather report of typical weather for setting of book. n) Travel information using places from the book.

    Carol DuPaix Conroe ISD

    Lesson Four U.S. History: History Through the Arts

    “Culture During the Depression” Assignment: 1. Students should choose one area of the arts/pop culture during the Depression and Dust Bowl era. Research your chosen area/topic and produce a product to showcase that topic. (See the attached products list.) As you do your research, focus on how the environment is reflected in the art. 2. General topic suggestions: New Deal and the Arts Artists of the Depression Writers, Playwrights, and Poets Photography Music Movies Radio Fashion Styles Architecture 3. Present your product in a three- to five-minute presentation to the class. PRODUCTS Produce video Court trial Debate Panel discussion 60 Minute interview Socio drama Exhibits Photography layout Propaganda newspaper Stand-up routine Creating computer/or board games Simulation games Poem Song Literary publications Editorial Painting Guidebook Museum activity (role playing) Illustration Mural Multi-media art Cartooning Characters Sculpting Create, research and solve a mystery Statistical analysis Scrapbook Slide show Mosaic Radio show Dramatization Puppeteering Invention Scientific experiment Engineering competition Experiment Surrealistic art Optical illusio

    Lesson Five U.S. History: The Great Depression and the New Deal “Oral History - Personal Interview”

    Student Name _______________________________________________ Period ____________ Person Interviewed _____________________________________________ Age ____________ Relation to you _________________________________________________________________ Where did they live during the Depression/New Deal? __________________________________ What do they remember about the Depression and New Deal? (use back of this page or extra sheets if necessary) ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________ How does their view compare with what you have read and heard about this period? Give your opinion. _______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ Suggested Enrichment Activities: Field Trips: 1. LBJ National Grassland - Decatur, Texas 2. Native Prairies - Forreston, Texas 3. Botanical Research Institute of Texas - Fort Worth, Texas 4. Fort Worth Museum of Science and History Guest Speakers: Federal, state, and county agencies are possible sources for guest speakers. 1. Federal - Department of Agriculture a) Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service b) Soil Conservation Service Department of the Interior a) Water Resource Division 2. State - Parks and Wildlife Department Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) Texas State Agriculture Department 3. County - Agricultural Extension Services+ Additional: Extracted from the list of state field offices of The Nature Conservancy. INTERNATIONAL HEADQUARTERS 1815 N. Lynn St. Arlington, VA 22209 (703) 841-3300 ILLINOIS FIELD OFFICE 8 S. Michigan Ave. Suite 800 Chicago, IL 60603 (312) 346-8166 Bruce Boyd, Director KANSAS FIELD OFFICE 820 S.E. Quincy Suite 301 Topeka, KS 66612-1158 (913) 233-4400 Alan Pollom, Director LOUISIANA FIELD OFFICE P.O. Box 4125 Baton Rouge, LA 70821 (504) 338-1040 Lisa Creasman, Director MISSOURI FIELD OFFICE 2800 S. Brentwood Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63144 (314) 968-1105 Rod Miller, Vice President NEBRASKA FIELD OFFICE 1722 St . Mary’s Ave., Suite 403 Omaha, NE 68102 (402) 342-0282 Vincent E. Shay, Director OHIO FIELD OFFICE 1504 W. 1st Ave. Columbus, OH 43212 (614) 486-4194 David Weekes, Director OKLAHOMA FIELD OFFICE 23 W. 4th Suite 200 Tulsa, OK 7-4103 (918) 585-1117 Brita Cantrell, Director SOUTH DAKOTA FIELD OFFICE 405 S. 3rd Ave. Suite 102 Sioux Falls, SD 57104 (605) 331-06719 Rosemary Draeger, Director TEXAS FIELD OFFICE P.O. Box 1440 San Antonio, TX 78295-1440 (210) 224-8774 Robert Potts, Acting Director


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