J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Lesson Plan
Journey and Change: The Migrant and Immigrant Experience
Grades: Middle school (6–8), High school (9–12)
Subjects: English-Language Arts
Time required: 2–3 class periods
Author: Steven Gee, English Teacher, Fairfax Senior High School Magnet Center for the Visual Arts, Los Angeles, with J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff
Featured Getty Artwork:
Highway to the West/U.S. 54 in Southern New Mexico by Dorothea Lange
Richmond, California/It Was Never Like This Back Home by Dorothea Lange
Students examine two of Dorothea Lange’s photographs in relation to the universal theme of a journey. They make connections between the photographs and poems about journey and write about a journey in their own lives.
- Students will look carefully at two photographs by Dorothea Lange that relate to the universal theme of a journey.
- Students will identify parallels between Lange’s photographs and two poems, “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” by Adrienne Rich and “Lost” by Bruce Ignacio.
- Students will write about the theme of journey as it relates to their own lives or to the lives of their family members or ancestors.
- Copies of “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” by Adrienne Rich and “Lost” by Bruce Ignacio
- Writing paper
Day 1: Show Highway to the West and lead the students through a visual analysis using the following questions:
- List everything you see in this picture.
- What time of day is shown here? Can you tell the season?
- Why do you think Lange did not include any people in the photograph?
- Where was Lange standing when she made this picture? Why did she choose this particular vantage point?
- What is the mood of this scene? How might you feel if you were driving down this road?
- Why do you think people might have driven down this road during the Depression, when Lange photographed it? How do you think they felt?
- Have you ever driven on a road like this? Where were you going? What was the trip like?
Have students write in their journals or on single sheets of paper for ten minutes about a journey they have been on. Where did they go? What was the purpose of the journey? If they have never been on a long journey, they can write about a journey taken by someone else in their family, or even about a journey they would like to take some day.
Have students read the two poems, and ask them:
- What kind of journey is described in each poem?
- Compare and contrast the two different types of journeys.
- The speaker in “Lost” is thinking about the urban world of his childhood, which is starkly different from that of his Native American ancestors. Why is the poem called “Lost”?
- What is the speaker in “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” saying about the experience of someone who journeys to a new country and culture? What does the door symbolize?
Ask students to think about both poems in relation to Lange’s photograph Highway to the West. Based on what they know about the migrant experience of the Great Depression, what parallels can be drawn between the poems and the image?
Day 2: Show It Was Never Like This Back Home. Explain that this photograph by Lange depicts a woman who had come from the southern United States to work in the Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California, where ships were being built in round-the-clock shifts during World War II. Have a discussion using the following questions:
- What can you say about the woman in this picture?
- How would you describe the expression on her face?
- Where was Lange standing when she took the photograph?
- How does the low vantage point affect your impression of the woman?
- Why do you think she is all dressed up in the middle of a sunny day?
- Why were women suddenly welcomed into the workforce in the 1940s?
- How would you explain the title, It Was Never Like This Back Home?
Divide students into small groups and have them discuss the themes of journey and change. Examining the messages conveyed by the four works of art (two poems and two photographs), each group should make a list of the many different reasons people have historically left behind their pasts to journey to a new future.
Come back together as a class, compile one master list, and discuss the push-and-pull factors that migrants or immigrants experience in leaving behind the old life for the new. Is the new always better? In what ways can the new life be both good and bad?
- Teacher observation of student discussion and work.
- Verbally and in writing, students should be able to explain the universal themes of journey and change, connecting them to the works of art.
- Verbally and in writing, students should be able to show how diverse sources such as poetry and photography can convey a historically significant event yet also express a universal theme.
- Have students write autobiographical accounts of their journey or their family’s journey to this country.
- Have students interview someone who has immigrated to the United States and write an article detailing that person’s story.
- Have students randomly survey ten to twenty people, asking them to respond to the following question: “America: Land of Opportunity, yes or no?” Students should write a report of their survey results.
English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
2.3–Connect and clarify main ideas by identifying their relationships to other sources and related topics.
3.4–Define how tone or meaning is conveyed in poetry through word choice, figurative language, sentence structure, line length, punctuation, rhythm, repetition, and rhyme.
Listening and Speaking
1.5–Emphasize salient points to assist the listener in following the main ideas and concepts.
3.4–Identify and analyze recurring themes across works (e.g., the value of bravery, loyalty, and friendship; the effects of loneliness).
Listening and Speaking
1.4–Organize information to achieve particular purposes and to appeal to the background and interests of the audience.
2.3–Find similarities and differences between texts in the treatment, scope, or organization of ideas.
3.4–Analyze the relevance of the setting (e.g., place, time, customs) to the mood, tone, and meaning of the text.
Grades 9 and 10
2.5–Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original analysis, evaluation, and elaboration.
3.2–Compare and contrast the presentation of a similar theme or topic across genres to explain how the selection of genre shapes the theme or topic.
3.12–Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical period. (Historical approach)
Listening and Speaking
1.1–Formulate judgments about the ideas under discussion and support those judgments with convincing evidence.
Grades 11 and 12
3.2–Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim.
National Standards for English-Language Arts
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word-identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
“Prospective Immigrants Please Note”
By Adrienne Rich
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.
“Prospective Immigrants Please Note” Copyright © 1993, 1967, 1963 by Adrienne Rich, from COLLECTED EARLY POEMS: 1950-1970 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the author and W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
By Bruce Ignacio
I know not of my forefathers
nor of their beliefs
For I was brought up in the city.
Our home seemed smothered and surrounded
as were other homes on city sites.
When the rain came
I would slush my way to school
as though the street were a wading pool.
Those streets were always crowded.
I brushed by people with every step,
Covered my nose once in awhile,
Gasping against the smell of perspiration on humid days.
Lights flashed everywhere
until my head became a signal, flashing on and off.
Noise so unbearable
I wished the whole place would come to a standstill,
leaving only peace and quiet
And still, would I like this kind of life? . . .
The life of my forefathers
who wandered, not knowing where they were going,
but just moving, further and further
from where they had been,
To be in quiet,
to kind of be lost in their dreams and wishing,
as I have been to this day,
Copyright © Bruce Ignacio.
Used by permission of the author and The South Dakota Review, vol. 7, number 6, summer issue, 1969.
© 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust