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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

“Migrant Mother and Children” by Dorothea Lange and “Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse

Lesson created by: Joanne Grimes

Grade Level: upper elementary


18-B Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother and Children, 1936

Migrant Mother and Children

Dorothea Lange (1895–1965), Migrant Mother and Children (Destitute pea pickers in California, a 32 year old mother of seven children), February 1936. Black-and-white photograph. Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Other Resources Needed for this Lesson

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse


  • Students will understand that this photo prompted the government to step in and send food to these poor hungry migrant families.

Focusing Statement

Today we are studying the plight of the migrant workers during the time of the depression in 1930's. We are going to start by looking at Dorothea Lange's 1936 photo titled "Migrant Mother" to investigate what people in the 1930's saw in this photo that made them empathize with the migrant mother and her family.

Background Information

Background Information on "Migrant Mother" photograph

Examining Expressive Content

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think people in the 1930's saw when they looked at this photo?
  • After this photo was taken and published in newspapers, it prompted the government to send food to these poor hungry families. Why do you think this photo was able to make that kind of impact?
  • Describe the expression on the woman's face. What might she be thinking?

Teaching Plan

  1. Students will work in groups to create a timeline of the events that led up to the time period when the photograph was taken.
  2. Students will read Karen Hesse's book Out of the Dust and discuss the events, characters, setting, author's style and other aspects.
  3. Students will describe, analyze and interpret Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" to try to figure out why the photo made such an impact on people during that time.

Putting It All Together

Ask the students to compare and contrast the novel with the photograph and ask them to think about and describe how these two works of art together help us to understand what it was like to be a western farmer during the Great Depression. Use the "interpret questions" section from the Picturing America resource guide noted above to get the students thinking. Students will compare and contrast the Lange photograph with the main character in Out of the Dust.


Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • 8.19 Identify and analyze sensory details and figurative language.
  • 8.20 Identify and analyze the author's use of dialogue and description.

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature

Grade 4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.7 Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

Grade 5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

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