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Voices from the Dustbowl: Connecting the Past to the Present


In this activity, students personally connect to the Dust Bowl Migration through song lyrics of the time. Intended for use as an activity within a larger unit of study about the Great Depression, students analyze the lyrics of migrant worker songs to learn more about this period. Using these primary sources, students identify various aspects of migratory life as starting points for research. Lastly, students creatively express their discoveries about the lives of Dust Bowl migrants by writing poems, song lyrics or stories.


After completing the activity, students will be able to:

  • Describe one or more aspects of the lives of individuals forced to migrate from the Dust Bowl
  • Analyze song lyrics written by Dust Bowl migrants for information about their lives
  • Research a topic relating to the Dust Bowl Migration, referenced in song lyrics
  • Write a poem, song lyrics or story to creatively express new understandings about the Dust Bowl Migration from a first-person perspective, drawing from primary and secondary sources

Time Required

Two class periods

Recommended Grade Range



Culture, Folklife


Social Studies, Language Arts (Writing and Reading)


McREL 4th Edition Standards and Benchmarks

Historical Understanding

Standard 2. Understands the historical perspective

United States History

Standard 23. Understands the causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American Society

Language Arts: Writing

Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Language Arts: Reading

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process


Activity adapted from “The Great Depression,” a unit plan created by Gared Chrismer and Amy Thornton, Waynesburg University School of Education students, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

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