Online Lesson Plan Migration from the Dust
This lesson plan combines oral histories from the Wessels Living History Farm site, a popular children’s book and an historic china pattern into an imaginative synthesis. Students are asked to trace their own family’s migrations and history.
Lesson Plan by Suzanne Ratzlaff, Fourth Grade Heartland Community Schools, Henderson, Nebraska.
As a learner
- interview a family member about stories of the Depression.
- identify factors that influenced people to migrate.
- design and illustrate two visual representations (map and plate) of an ancestor’s migration from the 1930s until now.
- discover stories of the “Dirty Thirties” by reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
- understand that there are different ways of learning and communicating.
As a reader
- utilize effective comprehension strategies from multiple text structures.
- relate stories and informational texts to personal experiences and background knowledge in order to enhance comprehension.
As a writer
- write and draw to make sense of what they see, hear, do, think, and know.
- retell migration stories through the writing process of creating, revising, editing, and publishing.
As a speaker
- engage in a rich verbal interaction while conducting an interview.
- effectively speak while sharing information learned about the Depression and migration stories.
As a listener
- listen attentively, appreciatively, and critically while conducting an interview.
Take the class on a walk around the area and stop by a willow tree. Observe the tree and discuss the branches and how they flow towards the ground. Have the children compare and contrast this tree to others. While sitting under the Willow, show them a Blue Willow plate. Then become a storyteller and tell them the love story depicted in the design on the plate.
Next, hold up the book Blue Willow by Doris Gates. Point out that the plate on the cover is the same basic design as the plate you are holding. Explain that this story takes place during the 1930s (Dirty Thirties) and tells about a migrant family who has left Texas in hopes of finding work in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Inform the students that you will be reading this book aloud to them. Decide on a date to begin reading and a time during the day that would be good for relaxing and listening to the story. After arriving back in the classroom, have the students choose a place to display the Blue Willow plate and book for all to see.
Materials needed –
- Book – Doris Gates’s Blue Willow (Penguin USA: Product #0140309241) This Newbery Honor Book explores the migration of a family during the 1930s. They leave their farm in Texas and follow the harvests, migrating to find work. Their daughter, Janey Larkin, is a nine year old girl who has been on the move as long as she can remember and longs to find a permanent home and real friends in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California.
- Extra copies of the book
- Blue Willow plate/dish
- Large outlined copies of Nebraska, U.S. and World maps
- White paper plates
- Supplies for coloring/drawing
- computers with Internet capabilities
- computers for word processing
Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn about what school was like in Nebraska during the 1930s.
Weather affected every aspect of farm life during the 1930s, especially the migration of families. Have your students read and discuss this information.
- Drought Facts
- What does Drought do to Crops?
- The Dust Bowl
- Calling Off School for Dust
- Telling Tales out of School
- Red Dust from Oklahoma
Your student can visit these Wessels links to learn more about what people in Nebraska did for fun during the 1930s.
Since this story takes place during the Depression, have your students visit these sections on the Wessels site to learn more about school days in the 1930s.
To learn more about the migration of Okies and others from the Great Plains have the students read and discuss the information from these sites:
The legend of the Willow pattern originated in China and has been told and passed down through many generations.
Parents/Guardians will need to assist their child with the research aspect of the Migration Map project. Here is a sample letter to send home explaining the project, its expectations and timeline.
Students need to be a part of brainstorming and then creating an interview form.
Since the Larkin family lived near the San Joaquin River, the children might enjoy learning more about the river. The children will discover that the river water comes from melted snow high above in the Sierra Nevada Mountains around the area of Yosemite National Park. To learn more about Yosemite National Park and experience a virtual tour, students can visit this internet site. [http://yosemite.org].
Before reading the book Blue Willow . . .
Pass out copies of a map of the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. This can be a reference for the class when certain towns, rivers, and counties are mentioned in the book.
Give each child a copy of the Blue Willow plate pattern so they can study the visual designs representing the love story. Also, in the first chapter, titled “The Shack,” Janey Larkin tells the story of the Blue Willow legend, and the students can follow along by looking at the design.
Pass out a large sheet of construction paper to each student and have them fold it in half to make a folder for these materials. As the book is being read, the children can draw and color covers on their Blue Willow folders.
Over the next two weeks, read the book Blue Willow aloud to the class. Some children might want to draw pictures of the story while listening, and these drawing can be displayed near the Blue Willow plate. Others may wish to have a copy of the book and follow the print with their eyes as you read aloud. While reading each chapter, you will find many aspects of the Depression that will need to be studied and discussed. Here are some examples:
In the middle of the first chapter, Janey remembers, “not since the drought and dust storm had driven them out of Texas had the blue plate ever been used as a dish or for any other purpose.” Have your students read and discuss this information from the Wessels site.
- Drought Facts
- What does Drought do to Crops?
- The Dust Bowl
- Calling Off School for Dust
- Telling Tales out of School
- Red Dust from Oklahoma
In Chapter #3, Janey‘s new friend, Lupe, invites her to go to the Fresno County Fair. During the Depression, people had to overcome their worries by making sure they had some fun. Your student can visit these Wessels links to learn more about what people in Nebraska did for fun during the 1930s.
The chapter titled “Camp Miller School” tells a touching story of a child wishing so much to be a permanent member of a classroom of learners with real friends. Since this story takes place during the Depression, have your students visit these sections on the Wessels site to learn more about school days in the 1930s.
In the chapter titled “More Trouble” Mr. Larkin and Janey begin to reminisce about their farm life back in Texas. Janey’s family farm was in the panhandle of Texas, which borders Oklahoma. To learn more about the migration of Okies and others from the Great Plains have the students read and discuss the information from these sites:
Once the children have some background information and an understanding of the Great Depression, ask them questions about where their ancestors lived during those years. Discuss the idea to conduct a research project to learn about their own families and how the Depression affected where their families moved or lived.
Migration From the Dust
Map Research Project
- Create a letter with the students – or adapt this sample letter – to explain the Migration Map Research Project, the expectations and timeline.
- Brainstorm information needed and questions to be asked during interviews, and create an interview handout something like this one.
- Send home the parent letter and the interview handout with a permission forms.
- Once research is complete, students bring their interview notes, photographs, and any other information to school.
- At school, each child will complete their migration map by creating labels with names, dates, and locations. They will represent the movement by drawing lines showing where their ancestors lived and moved. They will also add photographs and titles needed. Some students may need a map of Nebraska, while others might need a United States or World map.
- Once the family mapping has been completed, display them in the classroom.
- Have a sharing time where each child can talk through all that they have discovered.
After the children have learned the migration pattern of their families, discuss the idea to have pictures tell the story of their ancestors by designing a plate pattern.
Stories From a Plate Project
- Review the Blue Willow story and the drawing depicting the story.
- Have the students draw a sketch of their plate design. As they create their pattern designs of their family’s migration story, they might want to add names and words to their plate.
- To create a plate, students can draw on a regular paper plate. If there is an art specialist at your school, it would be exciting to create a pottery plate and paint the design right onto the plate. There are also plate-painting kits that can be bought at craft stores.
- Once the plates are finished, display them along with the migration maps.
- Next, have the students write short narratives describing the plate story designs. Then they keyboard, proof, edit, print and frame their writings to be displayed beside their plates and maps.
Timeline – The initial introduction will take one class period, and the book can be read to the students within a couple weeks. Then set aside two weeks to allow students time to complete their interviews. The creation of the map, plate design, and narrative will take approximately six class periods.
Some families have moved so much and lost family records that they might have difficulty tracing the migration of their ancestors since the 1930s. Be satisfied with whatever the child discovers, even if it is only the migration of his/her immediate family. The child can map out where the family has lived and then create a plate design about his/her own life.
All children learn differently. Some are able to process information much better if they can see and hear at the same time. Have extra copies of the book for the children to look at and follow the print with their eyes as you read aloud. Also, let students take a book home to read the information already heard or let them read ahead. Some children love to know what is coming!!! It’s a real motivator.
As a celebration, plan a “Stories from a Plate” open house for family, relatives and friends. At the open house, the children could talk through their migration maps and share their plate designs with the visitors. To add a personal touch, snacks could be served on Blue Willow plates or tea could be served in Blue Willow cups. As a final closure to this experience, have an afternoon with your class under the Willow tree. It could be a time for snacks, reading, writing, drawing, or just telling stories of what has been learned.
Students can be assessed on their interview note taking skills related to Nebraska Writing State Standard 4.2.5 (questions, note taking and summarizing).
Migration Maps can be assessed for accurate information.
Students’ short narratives describing the plate story could be assessed on standard English conventions (Nebraska Writing Standard 4.2.1).
If the class has studied map skills during this project (see general notes section) the students could be given a copy of an unlabeled Nebraska map and then have them label all the main rivers and lakes. Local rivers, small streams, or lakes could also be labeled, connecting them to the place they call home.
Migrant Families – The idea of migration and being a migrant family may be a new concept to the children. Migrant is defined as one who migrates, such as an itinerant worker or as a bird or animal. Relate this concept to the migration of the sandhill cranes through Nebraska. Many of their issues for migration are also related to weather.
San Joaquin River – Since the Larkin family lived near the San Joaquin River, the children might enjoy learning more about the river. In the book, Mrs. Larkin says “Rivers of water in a dry place.” Once a desolate desert, this valley is now full of lush produce thanks to irrigation. Study a valley map and trace where the San Joaquin River originates. The children will discover that the river water comes from melted snow high above in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Notice that the river begins in the area of Yosemite National Park. Just think, some of that water flowing in the San Joaquin River could have come from melted snow off Yosemite’s Half Dome. To learn more about Yosemite National Park and experience a virtual tour, students can visit the internet site http://yosemite.org.
Rivers of Nebraska – Compare and contrast the rivers in the San Joaquin Valley to rivers in Nebraska. Locate where they originate and follow their flow. Where does Nebraska’s water come from? Where does it go? Also, study and label local rivers, small streams and lakes.
Pen Pals – Have the class study a map of the San Joaquin Valley and look for town names in and around the Fresno area. Choose a town and write a letter inviting a class to become pen pals. Address the envelope to a specific grade such as:
Fourth Grade Class
Town, State and zip code.
Hopefully an accommodating postmaster will make sure it is delivered. One thing the children will discover is that this area has migrant workers today, and some children still move with their families from town to town to follow the crops.
Fruit Boxes – Much of the produce sold in the United States is grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Take a walk to the local grocery store and read the labels on the boxes of fruit. You will discover names of towns such as: Dinuba, Reedley, Sanger, Kingsburg, Fresno, Clovis, etc. Don’t forget to check out the raisin boxes.
The World‘s Fruit Basket – Reedley, California, is known as the “World‘s Fruit Basket.” Every year there is a celebration in spring where tourists follow the Blossom Trail. These visitors can experience the breathtaking view of the fruit orchards in full bloom. To learn more about this area, have your students visit the Reedley Chamber of Commerce web site and click on “Tourism” to see a map of the Blossom Trail. [http://www.reedley.com]
Who was Doris Gates? – Did you know that Blue Willow has a copyright of 1940? Could Doris Gates have written this story based on her own life experiences? Are there other books written by Ms. Gates? This would be a fun mystery for the students to solve. Remind your students that this book was written over 60 years ago, and is still read and loved by children today.
Books from the 1930s – In the Wessels section titled “1930s Life,” your students can discover information about books that were published during the 1930s. Did you know the first Dr. Seuss book was published then? Have your class research and discover other books published at that time. Parts of a book such as title page, publisher’s name, date of publications, etc. will become very important to the students.
Get Published. You can also submit your own lesson plan based on this Web site to us by clicking the button at left. We will review the plan and publish it for you.