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Classroom Activities

THE LAND: Human Migration

Once, hopeful homesteaders flocked to the area that now makes up Dan O'Brien's ranch in Northwestern South Dakota. Many managed to hang on as farmers for a while, but low rainfall was a problem. The economic impact of the Great Depression and a severe years-long drought in the 1930s drove many from their homes.

Struggles on the Land

Objective: As a result of this activity, students will be able to understand the factors that impact human migration and describe the social impact of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.


STANDARDS

View the standards correlated with these activities.


STUDENT PRODUCTS:

Grades 6-8:

1. Newspaper article (500-word minimum) based on research of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and interview(s) with people who lived during this period. OR

2. Graphic organizer ("Fishbone Map") and report (500-word minimum.)

Grades 9-12:

Fictional "biography" of a homesteader forced to leave his or her land during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl period (1000-word minimum.)

MATERIALS AND RESOURCES:

Access to a variety of research materials and instructions for using these materials and resources; (newspaper article/interviews) access to similar newspaper articles either historical or current; (newspaper article/interviews) lists of names of people still living in your community who lived during this period; (newspaper article/interviews) tape recorder and tape; graphic organizer; (fictional biography) access to a variety of short biographies to use as illustrations of the genre.

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory provides graphic organizers.

Related Internet Resources:

Check the University of South Dakota for a description of Dust Bowl and a movie of a Dust Bowl storm.

The University of Nebraska - Lincoln provides a variety of links to Dust Bowl sites. See the effects.

Teachers may want to have students use the following web sites in their research:

The American Experience – Surviving the Dust Bowl – Timeline

The Migrant Experience:
Provides a comprehensive overview of human migration during the Dust Bowl years. (From the Library of Congress American Folklife Center.)

Categories of Drought – Understanding & Defining Drought Talks about the sequence of drought impacts and socioeconomic drought, in addition to conceptual definitions of drought.

ACTIVITY:

Newspaper Article: (6-8)

  • Upon completion of a unit on the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl period and viewing "Falconer's Memoir," students will design a research project that calls for them to conduct research into the period and to interview people still living in your community – or in their family – who lived during this period.
  • Student research should include using library and Internet resources, evaluating validity of resources, and organizing research information effectively for this product.
  • Teachers may want to have students study current newspaper articles and copies of newspaper articles from an earlier time period. Discuss the steps in writing a newspaper article of this type and provide an outline of the steps for students to use. Teachers may find the following useful in this unit:

Writing a Newspaper Article
By Stephanie M. Rusnak, Charleston, South Carolina.
A curriculum unit, complete with handouts, for grades 6-9 that helps students:

  • Understand the journalistic terms 'lead' and 'inverted pyramid'
  • Research a news article
  • Develop keyboarding skills
  • Proofread their articles and engage in peer editing

The Power of Words – A variety of articles about writing newspaper articles.

Fourteen tips for clear and graceful writing

The dance of interviewing

Finding that simple, perfect lead

Tapping the human element in a small town story

  • From their research, the students will write a newspaper article either from the viewpoint of someone living and writing during this period or as a feature article in the current time.

 

Graphic Organizer and Report: (6-8)

  • Students will use a graphic representation/graphic organizer to demonstrate the causal interactions of the events and outcomes of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the out-migration of settlers from the Great Plains during this period.
  • To begin, students will conduct research into the events and impact of these events. This research should include using library and Internet resources, evaluating validity of resources, and organizing research information effectively for this product.

(Refer to Materials and Resources for research ideas.)

  • From this research, the students will complete a "Fishbone Map" or other similar graphic representation tool that allows them to explore the causal relationships between events and outcomes and write a short report (500-word minimum) summarizing their findings.

 

Fictional "Biography": (9-12)

  • Students will write the story of one person's life during the period of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the out-migration of settlers from the Great Plains during this period. The story of this person's life will create a picture of the social impact of these events and how these events affected one person, his or her family, and the community.
  • Teachers may want to have students view the entire "A Falconer’s Memoir" video for a overview of the impact of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression on the homesteaders and ranchers on the Great Plains. Much of the story revolves around this impact. Several segments are highlighted below:
    • At 14 minutes, 39 seconds (14:30) into the program: "In 1912 John and Alicia Courtney pulled up stakes in Missouri and (moved to South Dakota)…." This segment begins to tell the story of the Courtney family who homesteaded in this area of South Dakota and later fell victim to the land crisis surrounding the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
    • After a segment that returns to the story of the falcon, Thelma Louise, the Courtney family story continues. Includes a chronology of events that led to their out-migration from the area. In this segment Courtney talks about his life away from the Plains. As O’Brien states, the little square of land was the beginning of a successful life but "not the kind of beginning celebrated in the lore of the homestead West. (21:30). Courtney states that the best thing that ever happened to him was getting away from there.
    • At 31:50: "I found Thelma Louise in the ruins of an old house two miles down on the southwest corner of the ranch." This segment begins the story of Freeman Smalley, who survived the Dust Bowl and Great Depression only to lose his money later. Smalley’s story is one of a family struggling to living on this land and later giving in to circumstances too difficult to overcome.
    • Within the last five minutes of the program: "…a cluster of bush roses, gone wild and blooms each summer. A blaze of yellow on the green prairie. Someone with imagination once lived here." This final segment of the program talks about the difficulties of living on this land – difficulties that remain today. According to O’Brien, fewer people inhabit this area now than in the Dust Bowl days (time cue: 53:15). It’s a land that takes a heavy toll on people. O’Brien quotes T.S. Elliot’s poem "April is the Cruelest Month" in creating an analogy between the forces of nature and human will (53:42). As he says, "…the Great Plains is the cruelest landscape…The promise, the curse of infinite possibilities." "False expectations are the cause of hardship and failure on the Plains." (54:38)
  • Students will begin with research into the events of the period. They will use both primary and secondary research sources, will evaluate the validity of these sources for use in preparing this narrative, will organize their research material into a sequence appropriate for this type of writing, will write the narrative (1000-word minimum), and will provide a bibliography of resources.

(Refer to Materials and Resources for research ideas.)

Plus:

Books About the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl:

Driven from the Land: the Story of the Dust Bowl by Milton Meltzer. ISBN: 0761409688
Describes the economic and environmental conditions that led to the Great Depression and the horrific dust storms that drove people from their homes westward during the 1930s.

Life During the Great Depression by Dennis Nishi. ISBN: 1560063815
Describes daily life for Americans during the Great Depression, as well as some of the lasting changes that occurred.

The Dust Bowl: Disaster on the Plains by Tricia Andryszewski. ISBN: 1562947478
Examines the human and natural causes of the severe dust storms that turned much of the Great Plains into a "dust bowl" in the 1930s and describes the devastation caused by these storms. Grades 5-7.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997.
In a series of poems, fifteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family’s wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.


STANDARDS
Social Studies – US History Standard 23

Understands the causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American society.

Benchmarks:

Level III (6-8):

Understands the environmental and social impact of the Great Depression (e.g., the effects of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl on American farm owners, tenants, and sharecroppers; the effects of the Depression on diverse groups and on local communities.

Language Arts Standard 1:

Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Benchmarks:

Level III (6-8) and Level IV (9-12)

Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies.

Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work.

Editing and Publishing: Uses a variety of strategies to edit and publish written work.

Evaluates own and others' writing.

Writes expository compositions.

 

Language Arts Standard 2:

Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing.

Benchmarks:

Level III (6-8) and Level IV (9-12)

Uses paragraph form in writing.

Uses a variety of sentence structures to express expanded ideas.

Uses explicit transitional devices.

Level IV (9-12):

Organizes ideas to achieve cohesion in writing.

 

Language Arts Standard 3:

Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions.

Benchmarks:

Level III (6-8) and Level IV (9-12) – All benchmarks.

 

Language Arts Standard 4:

Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Benchmarks:

Level III (6-8):

Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (card and computer catalogs, books, periodical literature, newspapers, journals, etc.)

Organizes information and ideas from multiple sources in systematic ways.

Writes research papers.

Level IV (9-12):

Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (card and computer catalogs, books, periodical literature, newspapers, journals, etc.)

Uses a variety of primary sources to gather information for research topics.

Determines the validity and reliability of primary and secondary source information and uses information accordingly in reporting on a research topic.

Synthesizes information from multiple research studies to draw conclusions.

Writes research papers.

Creates bibliographies for research topics.3.

 

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