Woody Guthrie Elementary School Curriculum
here for text only version
Guthrie sings, "On the fourteenth day of April of 1935, there struck
the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky. You could see
that dust storm coming, the cloud looked death-like black and through
our mighty nation it left a dreadful track." (The Great Dust Storm).
In "Dust Can't Kill Me" he laments, "This old dust storm it's a
kickin' up cinders, this old dust storm cuttin' down my wheat, this
old dust storm it pushed my shack down, but it didn't get me, girl,
it can't stop me."
images of the dust bowl traditionally show dark clouds enveloping
farm houses and livestock. Other scenes depict piles of sand covering
fences and piled high against sheds. We have a tendency to blame
the dust bowl on natural causes, overlooking the role of humanity.
What are the causes of the dust bowl? Can it happen again?
is a group of thematic ways to approach the science of dust bowls.
Some are straight forward charts of "human causes-natural causes" while others are more creative responses such as charcoal drawings
or creating a newspaper dated April 14, 1935. When taken together,
these lessons reflect Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences and
allow the student to internalize the information.
are excellent websites providing the facts on the causes of the
dust bowl which covered six states during the 1930's.
Dust Bowl. This site features documentary photos from the Farm
Security Administration as well as interviews of survivors.
from the Dust Bowl uses material from the Library of Congress
such as interviews and recordings of migrant workers in California
Channel Online developed a four part series chronicling the storm
of April 14, 1935. This series can be coupled with a timeline and
maps found on the PBS
website. A segment on the reform of the plains by journalist
John McCarty is included.
USDA-ARS Wind Erosion Research
Unit shows the wind erosion problem on the plains and the role
websites can compliment books found in the bibliography found on
the Woody Guthrie Archives as well as almanacs and research done
by students in the school library.
A good activity to guide or culminate lessons on the dust bowl would be a whole class discussion facilitated by the teacher using a big chart paper with the question, "What Caused the Dust Bowl?" Prepare it in two columns with "Humans" at the top of one side and "Nature" on the other. As students give reasons for the dust bowl, write them in the appropriate column. Natural causes will include lack of rain, or drought, and winds. Human factors may include unsound agricultural practices, specifically overgrazing, overplowing and removal of native grasses, constant planting of the same crops which depleted the soil, tractors which removed topsoil, destruction of the natural prairie, dependence on cotton or wheat year after year, lack of technological advances , poor land sold for farming, reduced diversity of the ecosystem.
Woody and Charlie Guthrie in a cyclone
would be a good time to introduce alternatives to destructive land
uses, such as crop rotation, irrigation techniques and no-till farming.
Guest speakers could come to your class and talk about alternative
the dust bowl happen again? Yes! Currently in Lamar, Colorado (see
the front page of the New York Times, May 3, 2002) there are dust
bowl conditions. Also, there are dust bowls developing in China.
Causes are similar to those of the 30's.
mistakes do people make today with regard to the land? Unsound agricultural
practices continue. So do unsound logging practices, strip mining,
overgrazing, the use of agrochemicals and pesticides, high water
consumption, destruction of rain forests, over consumption of non-renewable
resources. Students can branch out into issues of ecology and stewardship
of the earth. Look into local ecology groups who can link your class
with special hands-on projects.
your town has destructive practices relating to land use, have your
students write letters. They can also complete positives actions
like planting a butterfly garden, planting a vacant lot with wildflowers
or native grasses.
Amarillo Dust Storm
black pastels and gray paper, students can draw scenes of the dust
bowl including as many details as they can. Afterwards, display
all the pictures and have the students share.
students dress up like children of the 1930's and act out scenes
of the dust bowl. They can create dialogue or improvise.
a response sheet (see templates) of a newspaper for "The Dust Bowl
News", dated April 14, 1935. Students write their own headlines
and articles including the weather report.
a giant sheet of chart paper write the headline, "Dust Bowl News" and a date from the thirties. During language arts students may
come and add a sentence or two about how their family is being affected
by the dust bowl, as if they are living back then.
first person, students write letters to relatives explaing what
is going on with their family farms and during the dust bowl.
the images created by photographer Dorothea Lange. Provide black
and white film and cameras and have students document their own
the following Woody Guthrie songs about the dust bowl:
- The Great
Dust Storm - Lyric
- Talking Dust
Bowl - Lyric
- Dust Pneumonia
Blues - Lyric
- Dust Can't
Kill Me - Lyric
- So Long,
It's Been Good to Know Yuh - Lyric
on the reality of the dust bowl and the resources and bibliography,
students write poems reflecting their feelings and thoughts about
the dust bowl. The whole class can have a poetry reading and share
out loud, later making copies of the poems to make a class book.
a map of the United States, color in with pencil the states affected
by the dust bowl. Add physical features of the area.