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The Great Depression and Now: The Migrant Worker Experience

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman
With portions adapted from Matthew Tidwell
Editor: Stephanie Nardei



Time: 5 classes
Preparation
Time:
1 hour to read through lesson plan
Arrange for time in computer lab
Materials: Great Depression (power point)
Time in a computer lab to be able to view material provided in the powerpoint and to go to web sites provided
Migrant children stories and poems need to be downloaded from provided websites and copies made of each for the students

 


Abstract
Students will begin this lesson by viewing and responding to pictures taken during the Great Depression (use the powerpoint provided). They will also analyze a song of the era encapsulating the spirit of the times. Then they will move to more contemporary migrant experiences as related by young people and children.

Purpose This is the Explore lesson. This lesson will help students make connections between two points in American history where people from different backgrounds encountered similar experiences.

Objectives
Students will be able to:
1. Identify the concerns of people caught in desperate times during the Great Depression;
2. Make connections between The Grapes of Wrath and historical images from the Great Depression;
3. Make connections between the experiences of migrant workers from the Great Depression and more contemporary times.

Standards
Standard #2
Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

Standard #3
Students apply a wide variety of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with others readers and writers, their knowledge of word meanings and of other texts, their identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Arizona State Standards:
VP-P1. Analyze and evaluate visual media for language, subject matter, and visual techniques used to influence attitudes, decision making, and cultural perceptions.

WRITING, Grade 11
Concept 5: Literary Responses
c. analyzes the way in which the theme, or meaning of a selection, represents a
view or comment on life, providing textual evidence for the identified theme

Teacher Background
You need to have a general understanding of the Great Depression and know the plot of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Of course, the more you know about both of these topics the better a resource you will be for this lesson. It is also important to have a general understanding of the conditions in which migrant workers live in present times.

Resource Websites
An explanation of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2/brother.html

Material for migrant children poetry activity (2 sites):
http://www.xmission.com/~rraab/migrant.htm
http://www.mrsglazner.com/Migrant%20Workers/poems_and_stories.htm

Material for the migrant children stories (3 sites):
http://users.owt.com/rpeto/migrant/ey.html
http://users.owt.com/rpeto/migrant/cy.html
http://users.owt.com/rpeto/migrant/is.html

Detailed summary chapter-by-chapter, plus maps and a character list.
http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/Steinbeck/grapes.html

In-depth analysis chapter-by-chapter of the book.
http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/grapesofwrath/summary.html


 

 

Activity
1. The first day of this lesson will be spent viewing photographs from the Great Depression and reading/listening to the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Begin lesson by having students look at the pictures from the powerpoint provided. On paper have each student write down a brief description of the picture and adjectives to describe the state of mind of the people depicted. Give students a minute or two for each image. Then go through the pictures again and have each student select a picture that touches them directly or is especially poignant.

2. Have a brief class discussion in which students share their thoughts on seeing actual images (often heart-rending ones) from the Great Depression. What adjectives did they use to describe the photographs? Did any of the pictures make them think of any of the characters from The Grapes of Wrath?

3. In the second half of class have students read the lyrics from “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” If you have the capacity to listen to the song, the web site http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2/brother.html contains a recording of it and it would be beneficial for the students to listen also. Discuss with them the sense of despair found in the song. Then go deeperand discuss the theme of the betrayal of the American Dream. It has always been a tenet of American life that if you worked hard and lived responsibly you would have a successful life. How does the song explore the dark side of this ideal?

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?
(E. Y. HARBURG/JAY GORNEY) (1932)
They used to tell me I was building a dream
And so I followed the mob.
When there was earth to plow or guns to bear,
I was always there, right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead --
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run,
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad, now it's done --
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun,
brick and rivet and lime.
Once I built a tower, now it's done --
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee, we looked swell
Full of that Yankee Doodle-de-dum.
Half a million boots went slogging through hell,
And I was the kid with the drum.

Say, don't you remember they called me Al,
It was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal --
Say, buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, ah, gee, we looked swell
Full of that Yankee Doodle-de-dum.
Half a million boots went slogging through hell,
And I was the kid with the drum.

Say, don't you remember they called me Al,
It was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal --
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

4. In the second and third day of the lesson the students will move to contemporary times to examine the experiences of present day migrant workers from the perspective of the youngest workers. Inform the students they will now read about life experiences of migrant children similar to those depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.

5. Distribute the stories found on the provided web sites to each of the students.

6. Take volunteers or read the material to students. The students may write on their copies to underline sections that they find particularly compelling.

7. Read through the selections taking time for student reflections.

8. After the reading, lead a class discussion on the stories, focusing on similarities between the children and elements which make each narrative unique. How are their lives different from those of your students? Are there any ways in which they are the same?

9. The teacher should create a graphic organizer on the board to organize ideas emerging from the discussion. Students should keep a similar graphic organizer in their notes. A Venn diagram would be appropriate to allow for tracing differences and similarities.

10. The teacher should create a Venn diagram for compare and contrast of the life experience of the migrant children depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.

11. The fourth and fifth days of this lesson will be spent looking at the poetry of migrant children.

12. Pass out copies of each poem to students. They can take notes and write on their copies.

13. Have students silently read only the poem titles without reading the rest. Clarify the meaning of any confusing words, such as mockers.

14. Ask students their initial responses to the titles. What are the poems about? What is the connecting idea? Write responses on the board.

15. Read each poem in any order to the class. Ask for volunteers to read out loud.

16. Conduct a class discussion on initial responses to the poems. Allow the students to share their visual perceptions, lines with a strong impact, and their emotional reactions to the poems. What stays with each student afterwards? Allow for a free flowing discussion with topics changing as ideas are shared. However, ask questions, directing students to basic poem comprehension. For example, who is the speaker of the poem? What happens in this poem? Take time in class to explore connections with the topics in these poems to those factors that affect modern day workers.

Closure
The conditions in which migrant workers live and toil have always been difficult. Ask the students if they think that life has improved or become more dangerous for those working in the fields. Have changes in farming practices made life any better or added to the problems encountered?

Homework
None assigned

Embedded Assessment

Student learning in this lesson can be assessed by the quality of participation in the class discussions, by how focused the students stayed, and by the amount and quality of written work produced.

 

 


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:


an
NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award

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Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694


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Last update: November 10, 2009
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