Return to Dust Bowl Connections Resources

Dust Bowl & Depression Era Online Resources

The following sites were compiled by the American Library Association as additional online resources for the Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry Exhibit.

Classroom Resources

Lessons from

Grades 3-5: Dust Bowl Days
The ballads of Woody Guthrie, the novels of John Steinbeck and the WPA photographs of artists such as Dorothea Lange have embedded images of the Dust Bowl in the American consciousness. Introduce this dramatic era in our nation’s history to today’s students through photographs, songs and interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl. Help your students understand the problems Americans were facing during the Great Depression.

Grades 9-12: John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”: The Inner Chapters
In this lesson, students will first determine the function of Steinbeck’s opening chapter which acts as the first “inner chapter.” They will then explore the relationship between inner chapters and the Joad narrative chapters throughout the novel.

Grades 9-12: John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”: Verbal Pictures
In this lesson, students will study the sources of visual images that influenced Steinbeck’s writing in The Grapes of Wrath and its precursors. They will examine Dorothea Lange Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographs from the 1930s and trace Steinbeck’s method of drawing upon and further honing such images into pictorial prose through the “crucible of his imagination.” Students will then analyze and interpret the role the imagery based upon these verbal pictures plays in key passages within The Grapes of Wrath.

Grades 9-12: Steinbeck’s Use of Nonfiction Sources in “The Grapes of Wrath”
In a 1939 letter, John Steinbeck wrote that his goal for The Grapes of Wrath was “to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” Through the novel, Steinbeck wanted readers to experience the life of the Dust Bowl migrants with whom he had spent time. To achieve the authenticity he desired, Steinbeck sought to pile genuine, specific detail upon genuine, specific detail. He found an invaluable source in the official reports of Tom Collins, the director of California’s Arvin Migrant Camp. Comparing the reports to The Grapes of Wrath offers students a rare look into a writer’s process of converting nonfiction material into fiction. What details did Steinbeck choose? How did he use them? What purpose was he trying to achieve?


Lessons from

Grades 7-12: The Great Plow-up – The Economics of the Dust Bowl
This lesson explores the history and economics of the Dust Bowl years. Students examine the history of settlement in the Great Plains and analyze the farm practices that turned grasslands and wilderness into crop land. They then look at supply-demand-price charts, matching their rise and fall to major events, and examine the impact on farmers and the U.S. economy.

Grades 7-12: “A Man-Made Ecological Disaster of Biblical Proportions” Examining the Dust Bowl and Other Environmental Events
In this lesson, students produce their own documentary on an environmental event, either recent or in the past, in their local community.

Grades 9-12: A New Deal
In this activity students work in groups, representing different views on what policy to implement to address the problems of the Dust Bowl, and develop solutions to address these problems.

Grades 7-12: Dust Bowl Blues: Analyzing the Songs of Woody Guthrie
In this lesson, students explore the music of Woody Guthrie by viewing key video segments from THE DUST BOWL. They then analyze the lyrics of Guthrie’s songs identifying not only their message but also the effect on audiences in the 1930s and today.

Whirlwind Activities
Because THE DUST BOWL is so rich in educational themes and teachers have a limited amount of time, PBS has developed a series of quick, adaptable activities for classroom use. Each “whirlwind” contains a brief overview along with activity ideas you can use to create lessons tailored to your individual class curriculum and teaching style.


Lessons from

Dust Bowl Migrations
Library of Congress teacher’s guide focused historical context, teaching suggestions, links to online resources, and more.

Grades 3-8: 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 American Memory collections.

Grades 6-12: The Grapes of Wrath: Scrapbooks and Artifacts
Students use ethnographic research to enhance their reading and understanding of The Grapes of Wrath.

Grades 9-12: The Grapes of Wrath: Voices from the Great Depression
By examining primary sources, including songs, newspapers, interviews, and photographs of migrant farm workers in California during the Great Depression, students create a scrapbook from the point of view of a migrant worker, providing evidence of the colloquial speech used by the migrants and the issues affecting their lives. This lesson can be used in connection with a unit on the Great Depression, and specifically on The Grapes of Wrath.

Grades 6-12: Immigration and Migration: Today and During the Great Depression
Is there a novel in every person? Are there stories that have never been told because they seemed unimportant? What is the value of the lives of people who will never be famous or have their biographies written? Are we all part of American Memory? Students address these questions through activities using oral history methods and investigating life in the 1930s. They compare the immigration/migration experiences of their families to those of people living through the Great Depression using interviews with parents, and photographs, films, and documents from the Library of Congress and other sources.

Lessons from

Elementary Lesson Plan: The Whirlwind of the Dust
Students will work through a variety of stations to learn about the causes of the Dust Bowl and how Texans were affected by this disaster. Students will then become part of the FAP, the Federal Arts Project and create a large mural depicting images of the Dust Bowl.  Their mural should reflect the causes, effects on Americans and how the United States Government helped out the victims.

Elementary Lesson Plan: Life in the Dust Bowl
This lesson will explore the experiences faced by those who lived in the area affected by the Dust Bowl. Students will use a variety of primary sources (visual, audio, and print) to learn the hardships faced by those who persevered through the Dust Bowl. Students will then use the resources to evaluate statements about life in the Dust Bowl and finally write a letter in response to the one they have received from a cousin who has little understanding of how the Dust Bowl affected life from day to day.

Secondary Lesson Plan: A Moment in Time: The Dirty Thirties
This lesson will examine the causes of the Dust Bowl, both human and nature’s roles. Students will begin by brainstorming what they already know about this period in time as to the causes.  Students will then watch a documentary and evaluate it.  They will then move on to rotating through learning folders activities where they will gather information about individuals, events, and the type of American people who experienced the “dirty thirties.”  All students will also listen to the KACV oral histories that have been recorded and placed online.

Secondary Lesson Plan: Counteracting the Devastation of the Dust Bowl – Is that Constitutional?
This lesson well help students understand the personal hardships endured by individuals affected by the Dust Bowl.  Students will view brief video stories from Dust Bowl survivors. The students will also analyze primary sources to initiate further research about the need for government regulation during the Dust Bowl.  They will also examine the Constitution to determine if they feel the government’s policies were Constitutional.  The student’s performance indicator will be a visual timeline of the Dust Bowl.


Additional educational sites:

Woody Guthrie Educational Curriculum
The Woody Guthrie Foundation has worked with educators to develop curricula to bring Woody Guthrie and primary source documents from the Archives into the classroom. Woody Guthrie can be used to teach a variety of subjects.

Woody Guthrie Center Lesson Plans
The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK provides a range of lesson plan ideas for elementary school through high school students.

Grades 5-8: Rural Voices Through Photography
Students will research the history of the Depression particularly in the ways it was documented by photography. Then they will take their own pictures in the style of one of the best documentarians, Dorothea Lange.



Historical Archives of Dust, Dreams and Days Gone Dry Sponsors:

Two distinguished historical archives owned by sponsor institutions are available as resources for local programming:
The Oklahoma State University Library’s “Women in the Dust Bowl” online oral history archives of interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl.
The Mount Holyoke College Library’s collection of the papers of Caroline Henderson, who farmed throughout the Dust Bowl period and wrote many letters, essays, and articles about her experiences. Many of Henderson’s observations are gathered in the book, Letters from the Dust Bowl, edited by Alvin O. Turner.


Dust Bowl History
Official site for Ken Burns’ film The Dust Bowl. Site includes interactive, videos, biographies, lesson plans, and more.
Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-41, is a multi-format ethnographic field collection that contains audio recordings, photographs, manuscript materials, publications, and ephemera generated during two documentation trips to migrant worker camps in California.
Official site for The American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl film. Special features include biographies, interviews, and a timeline.
Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941. This collection consists of audio recordings, photographs, manuscript materials, publications, and ephemera generated during two separate documentation trips supported by the Archive of American Folk Song.
Site features oral history interview videos of farmers during the Dust Bowl.
The Dust Bowl of Oklahoma from the Library of Congress.
Report of the Great Plains Drought Area Committee, August, 1936.
NOAA site highlights information and images from the Black Sunday dust storm of April 14, 1935.
Dust Bowl significant dates.
History Channel site explores 10 surprising facts about them1930s environmental disaster.


Wind Erosion and Drought
The National Drought Mitigation Center site defines drought, provides forecasting information, and includes historical information about the Dust Bowl.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) created a site using paleoclimatic data, to study past droughts and predict the likelihood of droughts in the future.
The National Drought Mitigation Center displays maps that show current drought conditions in the United States.
Studies conducted at the USDA-ARS Wind Erosion Laboratory at Kansas State University result in wind erosion prediction tools and control practices to sustain agriculture, protect the environment, and conserve natural resources.
U.S. Drought Portal provides information and link to the Keech-Byram Drought Index.
AgriLife News: Drought site was developed by the faculty of Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas AgriLife Research to provide information and alternatives that might reduce further losses to the state’s agricultural industry and to our homes and gardens.
NASA explains the Dust Bowl Drought.
Dust storm film clip from the website of the USDA/ARS Wind Erosion Research Unit at Kansas State University.
Link to video that captures the conditions and feel of the Dust Bowl region today.

General Information on the 1930s
This web site features information on 1930s dress, radio programs, comic strips, films, books, articles from many magazines including Survey Graphic, and other items related to 1930s culture.  Index is here:
Site offers hundreds of links to websites with information on the Depression, culture, books, films, cars, art, and many other topics.
What things cost in the 1930s, and more information about the decade.
A 1930s timeline with notable events by month.


The Roosevelts
Eleanor Roosevelt biography available on the FDR Presidential Library website.
Franklin D. Roosevelt biography available on the FDR Presidential Library website.

Pare Lorentz
Background information on filmmaker and poet, Pare Lorentz.
Background information on The Plow That Broke the Plains.

John Steinbeck
Background information on John Steinbeck.
The Big Read – The Grapes of Wrath. Features reader’s guide and lesson ideas.

Background information on Woody Guthrie: Dust Bowl Balladeer.
Clip of Guthrie singing “Dust Bowl Pneumonia” and talking about his experiences.
Site includes a biography, lyrics, educational materials, and more.


Dorothea Lange background information and photographs.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI , 1935-1945
Dust Storms and their damage – the Wind Erosion Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Kansas State University archive of Dust Bowl photographs.
Postcards sent from Kansas showing the dust storms.
Dust Bowl photographs from the Wind Erosion Research Unit at Kansas State University.
Information on Farm Security Administration Photographers with interview clips.


Films and Videos

Following is information on a general list of films and videos that might be used with Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry. This is not a comprehensive list, nor is it an ALA-reviewed or recommended list. Please preview films for quality and appropriateness for your audience.

Each library wishing to show films or videos related to the Dust Bowl must arrange for public performance rights (PPR) and payment of fees for those rights.

The following films can be rented from Swank Motion Pictures (, 1-800-876-5577); Swank rental fees include public performance rights.

American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl. Produced by Chana Gazit. 1998. Steward/Gazit Productions.

Dust Bowl. Directed by Ken Burns. 2012. Florentine Films.

Grab a Hunk of Lightening. Directed by Dyanna Taylor. To be released 2014. American Masters/PBS.

Grapes of Wrath. Directed by John Ford. 1940. 20th Century Fox.

The Plow That Broke the Plains. Produced by Pare Lorentz. 1936. U.S. Government Short Film. (Available from the FDR Presidential Library:

Stinging Dust and Forgotten Lives: The Dust Bowl. 2008.Tempestas et Caelum Productions. Available at:

When Weather Changed History: Dust Bowl. Produced by Dan Tyrrell. 2008. The Weather Channel.