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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Voices from the Dust Bowl
Migrant camp, wide shot

[Detail] Migrant camp, wide shot

Arts & Humanities

Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941 offers many opportunities to learn about American social history while developing language arts skills. Stories told through songs and other materials in the collection can launch literature, writing, and speaking activities.

1) Literature

Voices from the Dust Bowl provides unique insight into John Steinbeck's classic The Grapes of Wrath. A note on the photograph to the right indicates that "Many thought of [Mrs. Pipkin] as a prototype of 'Ma Joad' in The Grapes of Wrath." Conversely, notes about the Todd and Sonkin Collecting Expedition reveal that a pamphlet written by John Steinbeck inspired Charles Todd to investigate migrant camps.

Tell students that they are set designers for a stage adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. Have students write a set description for the camp scenes in the novel. Then have students compare their scene description with field notes about Arvin Camp, Arvin California. These field notes describe the camp on which The Grapes of Wrath was based.

Have students research the contemporary response to the publication of The Grapes of Wrath. Using their school library or resources found in Charles Todd's Scrapbook, ask students to consider why some journalists sought to discredit the novel. (See image 10 in the notebook; for a legible copy, click on the small image of the article entitled "Grapes of Wrath") Would this book be banned today from libraries?

2) Role Playing

Have students listen to the five-minute recording of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Becker describing the conditions under which people lived in private and government camps. (You may wish to have students listen several times.) Assign roles to students such as:

  • New Arrival at Camp, Came from a Private Camp
  • New Arrival at Camp, No Money
  • Camp Resident with Contagious Illness
  • Overseer Trying to Help New Arrivals
  • Camp Doctor
  • Woman in the Welfare Unit

Have students write and perform or improvise a vignette about camp life based on the information in these interviews.