About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Lesson Plan Lange & Steinbeck: Pictures and Words

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J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Lesson Plan
Lange & Steinbeck: Pictures and Words

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:

White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco by Dorothea Lange

Human Erosion in California/Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California by Dorothea Lange

Dust Bowl Refugees Arrive in California by Dorothea Lange

Highway to the West/U.S. 54 in Southern New Mexico by Dorothea Lange

Stoop Labor in Cotton Field, San Joaquin Valley, California by Dorothea Lange
Lesson Overview:

Students compare Dorothea Lange’s photographs with passages from John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. Students create an oral group presentation comparing the two works.

Learning Objectives:

- Students will look carefully at and analyze a Dorothea Lange photograph and compare it with the migrant experience described in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

- Students will identify and analyze passages of the novel, demonstrating how these passages reflect the same concerns addressed by Lange’s photographs.

- Students will create an oral group presentation based on their analysis of the text and images.

- Students will articulate the differences and similarities between written text and visual image.

Materials Required:

- Writing paper

- Multiple photocopies of each image for individual use

Students should have read The Grapes of Wrath in its entirety or be provided with selected chapters chosen by the teacher. Suggested chapters: 5, 10, 12, 17, 27.

Day 1: Show Migrant Mother and lead the students through a visual analysis using the following questions:

- What do you see in this photograph?

- How do you think the people are related? What do you see in the picture that gives you clues?

- How would you describe the woman’s expression?

- What does the woman’s gesture tell you about how she is feeling?

- Why do you think Lange showed the sitters at a very close range?

- Why do you think Lange posed the two older children facing away from the camera?

- How do you think the public responded to this photograph when it was published in a newspaper in the mid-1930s?
Have students write in their journals or on single sheets of paper for ten minutes, comparing this image in a general way with John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. What themes addressed by the story are reflected in this image? How, specifically, does Lange create a visual statement that connects with Steinbeck’s text?
Have students read and discuss their responses.
Day 2: Divide students into five even groups. Give each group a set of photocopies of the five photographs. Working as a team, each group will identify passages from The Grapes of Wrath that match the visuals. Each group decides how many of the five images to work with. The student groups should plan a short performance of the passages they choose. Passages should be read aloud in front of the class, with the appropriate example of Lange’s work shown. Each student should read aloud at least once.
Afterwards have a discussion about the process, considering questions such as:

- Did the groups find completely different passages to read, or was there some overlap? Was it hard or easy to find appropriate passages?

- What kinds of details were you looking for to determine which passages to select?

- Which image was selected most frequently? Why do you suppose it was selected most often?

- If you were a publisher about to release a reprint of The Grapes of Wrath, which image, if any, would you choose to illustrate the cover? What about the image makes it the best choice?

- What are the differences and similarities between the written text and the visual image? Do you feel that one form of expression is more powerful than the other?


- Teacher observation of student discussion and work.

- Verbally and in writing, students should be able to explain and establish connections between Lange’s images and an appropriate passage from The Grapes of Wrath.

- Have students select one image and write a five-paragraph expository essay citing quotations from The Grapes of Wrath that show parallels between the photograph and the text.

- Have students write from the point of view of a person in any one of the photographs. The writing could take the form of a story, a diary entry, or a letter to a loved one.
Standards Addressed:

English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 6


1.1–Read aloud narrative and expository text fluently and accurately and with appropriate pacing, intonation, and expression.

2.3–Connect and clarify main ideas by identifying their relationships to other sources and related topics.

Listening and Speaking

1.7–Use effective rate, volume, pitch, and tone and align nonverbal elements to sustain audience interest and attention.
Grade 7

Listening and Speaking

1.4–Organize information to achieve particular purposes and to appeal to the background and interests of the audience.

1.6–Use speaking techniques, including voice modulation, inflection, tempo, enunciation, and eye contact, for effective presentations.

Grade 8


2.3–Find similarities and differences between texts in the treatment, scope, or organization of ideas.

3.3–Compare and contrast motivations and reactions of literary characters from different historical eras confronting similar situations or conflicts.

Listening and Speaking

1.3–Organize information to achieve particular purposes by matching the message, vocabulary, voice modulation, expression, and tone to the audience and purpose.

1.6–Use appropriate grammar, word choice, enunciation, and pace during formal presentations.
Grades 9 and 10


2.5–Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original analysis, evaluation, and elaboration.

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.

1.7–Use props, visual aids, graphs, and electronic media to enhance the appeal and accuracy of presentations.
Grades 11 and 12

Listening and Speaking

1.3–Interpret and evaluate the various ways in which events are presented and information is communicated by visual-image makers (e.g., graphic designers, documentary filmmakers, illustrators, news photographers).

National Standards for English-Language Arts

Grades K–12

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).

© 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust

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