Lesson Plan Read All About It! Events and People of the 1930s and 1940s That Shaped California and the Nation

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J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Lesson Plan
Read All About It!

Events and People of the 1930s and 1940s That Shaped California and the Nation

rades: Upper elementary (3–5)

Subjects: History-Social Science

Time Required: 4 class periods

Author: Susie Newman, Dean of Academic Affairs, Marquez Charter School, 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

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

Richmond, California/It Was Never Like This Back Home by Dorothea Lange
Lesson Overview:

Make connections between Dorothea Lange’s images and the history of the Dust Bowl, the Depression, World War II, and large-scale agriculture in the United States. Students learn about the role of photography in news stories and write their own news story.

Learning Objectives:

- Students will look carefully at four photographs by Dorothea Lange and discuss them in terms of what is depicted and what she may have wanted to communicate.

- Students will review what they have learned about the Dust Bowl, the Depression, the war era, and the growth of large-scale mechanized agriculture in California.

- Students will write a “newspaper” article to accompany a photograph by Dorothea Lange, demonstrating what they know and have learned about the Dust Bowl, the Depression, the war era, and large-scale agriculture in California.

- Students will write about and discuss the contribution Dorothea Lange made with her photographs.
Materials Required:

Access to the Internet and library books about the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II in the U.S. and California


This lesson should follow previous discussions and lessons on the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, California agriculture, and the effects of World War II on the state.

As a precursor to the lesson, students should spend time looking at headlines and captions that accompany photographs in newspapers and news magazines. Ask students to bring in recent examples of headlines and images about current events that catch their attention. Have them share these examples with the class.
Day 1: View the four photographs with students and ask the following photo-analysis questions with each image:

- Who is in this picture?

- What can you say about the person(s) you see in this image?
- What can you tell from the setting shown in the photograph?
- Where do you think the photographer was standing when she took this picture?
- How would you describe the mood of the image?
- How do you feel about the different images?
- How do you think Lange felt about the people she photographed? What makes you say that?
- Why do you think the photographer made each photograph? What did the photographer want to say with each image?
Summarize the students’ observations after presenting each image. Present all four images and lead comparative discussions about the images. Divide the class into four smaller groups. Ask each group to select one of the Lange images (or assign one to each group) for more intensive study.
Provide information about each image to an assigned leader in each group as a basis for initial group discussion. Share that Lange’s images captured the current issues of her time and often were published in newspapers along with articles about those issues. Explain that students will create their own news story and headline based on their image. Students will collaborate on writing a news story and will present it to the class as an oral report. Students also could be given the option to present the story in a news-show format.
Days 2 and 3: Allow students time to research and to write their news stories in class.

Ask students to gather additional information from encyclopedias, Web sites, and books on the subject matter presented in the photograph and the time period in which the photograph was taken. Each student in the group can be assigned a research area (farming, labor, migration, economics, etc.) and report back to the group about his or her assigned area. Their articles should be based on answering the basic questions about what is shown in the photograph (who, what, where, why, and when) and should provide basic background information about events related to the photograph in California and across the nation.

Day 4: Ask each group to present its image and related news story. Allow time for questions. When all four groups have completed their presentations, the teacher can direct a discussion comparing the information presented in the oral reports.
As a concluding exercise, students will take five to ten minutes to write about the significance of Dorothea Lange’s work, responding to the following questions:
- Why were her photographs published in newspapers?
- Are they still important today? Why or why not?
- Why is Dorothea Lange considered to be important in American history?
Students share what they have written.

- Students should be able to describe and interpret what is depicted in the selected group of images by Lange.

- Students should be able to build connections between the photographs by Lange and related historical events and issues (the Dust Bowl, the Depression, the war-time economy, and large-scale, mechanized agriculture).
- Students collaborate effectively, sharing in tasks required to produce their newspaper article.
- Students are able to explain their views about Dorothea Lange’s role in American history.
Standards Addressed:

History–Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4

California: A Changing State

4.4–Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s.

4. Describe rapid American immigration, internal migration, settlement, and the growth of towns and cities (e.g., Los Angeles).

5. Discuss the effects of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II on California.

9. Analyze the impact of twentieth-century Californians on the nation’s artistic and cultural development, including the rise of the entertainment industry (e.g., Louis B. Mayer, Walt Disney, John Steinbeck, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, John Wayne).

English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4


1.7–Use various reference materials (e.g., dictionary, thesaurus, card catalog, encyclopedia, online information) as an aid to writing.

Grade 5


2.3–Write research reports about important ideas, issues, or events by using the following guidelines:

Frame questions that direct the investigation.

Establish a controlling idea or topic.

Develop the topic with simple facts, details, examples, and explanations.
National Standards for U.S. History

(Lesson addresses aspects of the following standards)

Grades K–4

3. The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage

5.a. The student understands the movements of large groups of people into his or her own and other states in the United States now and long ago. 

Grades 5–12

Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929–1945)

1.b. The student understands how American life changed during the 1930s.

National Standards for English-Language Arts

Grades K–12

7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purposes and audience.

© 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust

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