National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory

Grade Level(s)

9 - 12

Estimated Time

60 minutes


Students will study the cause and impact of the Dust Bowl, recognize how the Dust Bowl led to the Great Depression, and learn how the government responded to assist farmers in the 1930s.


  • Growing a Nation multimedia program and necessary projection equipment or computer lab
  • Embedded Resource Cards
  • Photo Analysis Activity Sheets
  • Sound Recording Analysis Sheet

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Essential Links


conservation: protection of animals, plants, and natural resources; the careful use of natural resources (such as trees, oil, etc.) to prevent them from being lost or wasted

grazing: grassland suitable for foraging animals

works progress administration (WPA): WPA was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

  • Minerals are the primary component of soils. These minerals are from weathered rock, called parent material.
  • Soils can come in black, red, yellow, white, brown, and gray.
  • It can take 1,000 years to form one-inch of topsoil. If people grew that slowly it would take 80,000 years to grow a basketball player.

Background Agricultural Connections

Growing a Nation uses instructional design and innovative technology to bring depth and meaning to historical events. The program and lesson plans merge seamlessly with existing American history textbooks and high school history curricula. 

Introduction to Growing a Nation:

Our country has witnessed sweeping changes—from the untamed wild times of Buffalo Bill to the technological era of Bill Gates—but food has never lost its central role in our lives. Food not only sustains life but also enriches us in many ways. It warms us on cold, dreary days, entices us with its many aromas, and provides endless variety to the everyday world. Food is also woven into the fabric of our Nation, our culture, our institutions, and our families. Food is on the scene when we celebrate and when we mourn. We use it for camaraderie, as a gift, and as a reward (and sometimes as a crutch).

We are all aware of how food has changed. At the turn of the 20th century, home cooking and canning were fixtures of life in America. Lard, seasonal vegetables, potatoes, and fresh meats were the staples of our diet. And 40 percent of Americans lived on farms. Today, convenience foods and dining out are common. Ethnic diversity has influenced our tastes and the variety of foods available. Technology and trade allow us to enjoy most foods all year round. And less than 2 percent of the population grows our food, while 9 percent are involved in the food system in some way—in processing, wholesaling, retailing, service, marketing, and inspection.

What Americans often forget, however, is the remarkable system that delivers to us the most abundant, reasonably priced, and safest food in the world. The American food system—from the farmer to the consumer—is a series of interconnected parts. The farmer produces the food, the processors work their magic, and the wholesalers and retailers deliver the products to consumers, whose choices send market signals back through the system. Every piece fits every other piece, notwithstanding an occasional gap and pinch.

At the end of the day, it is safe to say the U.S. food system has done a remarkable job of using technology and inventiveness to its advantage and ultimately to the benefit of the consumer. We get the foods we want, when we want them, in the form we want them, all at affordable prices. Thanks to this system, Americans spend less of their income on food than do consumers anywhere else in the world.

Despite the dramatic evolution of the American food system, there are some constants in our ever-changing world. Americans will always love food. The American food system will continue to adapt, grow, and provide us with the products we desire.

(James R. Blaylock, Associate Director, Food and Rural Economics Division, ERS, Amber Waves, June 2003)

Review the Growing a Nation website and the Embedded Resource Cards attached to this lesson.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Use the following questions to hold a class discussion to assess your student's prior knowledge:
    • What was the cause of the Dust Bowl?
    • How did the Dust Bowl and agriculture contribute to The Great Depression?
    • How did the Dust Bowl impact the environment?
    • What was government's response to help farmers during the 1930s?
    • What ended The Great Depression?
  2. After the discussion, inform your students that they will be learning the answers to these questions throughout this lesson.


Activity 1: Using Embedded Resources

  1. Using a projector or computer lab view the Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory multimedia program (From Defeat to Victory section).
  2. After students view selected slides, assign each student or group of students an Embedded Resource Card and ask them to be prepared to answer the Embedded Resource Questions either by direct response or by using one of the Teaching and Learning Strategies. You may want to assign a particular strategy or cut the strategies into strips and ask each student to pick one or two. If the student or group of students is allowed to pick two, ask them to choose the learning strategy they prefer and put the other one back. The embedded resources that pop up on each Growing a Nation screen are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies and flexible for diverse learning styles. Each slide contains five or six embedded resources that detail events in American history that can be explored for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. Each embedded resource asks higher order questions to not only increase student knowledge but to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives).
  3. The Teaching and Learning Strategies can be applied to nearly all the embedded resources in addition to students answering the embedded resource questions.

Activity 2: Dust Bowl Impact

The ballads of Woody Guthrie, the novels of John Steinbeck and the WPA photographs of artists such as Dorothea Lange have embedded images of the Dust Bowl in the American consciousness. Introduce this dramatic era in our nation’s history to today’s students through photographs, songs and interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl. Help your students understand the problems Americans were facing during the Great Depression. Students learn from their textbooks what caused the Dust Bowl and where the Dust Bowl occurred, but to better understand the impact of this environmental disaster, students need to use a variety of primary source documents from this time period. This lesson uses the resources from the American Experience PBS website Surviving the Dust Bowl. The resources on the site allow students to explore the Dust Bowl through photographs, songs (lyrics), interviews, and other archival documents from the Dust Bowl era. Primary Source Analysis

  1. Assign each student to listen to or read one of the interview transcripts from J.R. Davison, Imogene Glover, or Melt White on the PBS Surviving the Dust Bowl website. Each student should complete either the Sound Recording Analysis Activity Sheet (if they listen to the interview) or the Written Document Analysis Activity Sheet (if they read the transcript).
  2. In addition, the “Eyewitness Account” and primary resource of Lawrence Svobida could be used with the Written Document Analysis Activity Sheet.
  3. As a class listen to or view one or more of the following radio broadcasts or films: (These are engaging, dramatic primary sources. You may want to explain to students that radio was the state-of-the-art media of the time!)
    • Fireside Chat 8, The Drought and The Dust Bowl, 1936 (27 minutes)
    • The Westward Movement and Resettlement, 1936 (15 minutes)
    • What Price America? Taylor Grazing Act, 1939 (30 minutes)
    • Food to Win the War, circa 1941 (3 minutes)

4. Students could complete the Sound Recording or Motion Picture Analysis Activity Sheets or note the three most significant concepts they hear. Discuss the concepts and issues raised in each radio or film program. The audio and movie files can be downloaded or streamed from the Classroom Resources section of the Growing a Nation website.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • The Dust Bowl had a deep impact on agriculture and the overall economy.
  • The Dust Bowl changed the way farmers managed their land. Widespread use of conservation management practices began to be used to prevent future disasters.
  • Agricultural land that is suitable to grow crops for food and fiber is a valuable resource.

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!

Enriching Activities

  • Listen to an interview with Mrs. Flora Robertson about dust storms in Oklahoma and complete a Sound Recording Analysis Activity Sheet.

  • Visit the website PBS American Experience and then select two historical figures or two events or one historical figure and one event and create a Venn diagram after you read your selection. The Venn diagram should note each point of view or event content that the people or event do not have in common in the outside of the circles. Do the viewpoints or events have anything in common? If so, place these commonalities in the place where the circles overlap. Present your historical character or event and your diagram to the class.

  • Using the timeline from PBS American Experience note the things the government did to help people out during the Dust Bowl. Which two or three do you think had the most impact?

  • Consider creating or have the student create a WebQuest on the Dust Bowl using these websites: Library of Congress or Library of Congress- American Memory. Search “dust bowl”. PBS Surviving the Dust Bowl: Google, Search “dust bowl."

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Agriculture and the Environment

  • Describe resource and conservation management practices used in agricultural systems (e.g., riparian management, rotational grazing, no till farming, crop and variety selection, wildlife management, timber harvesting techniques) (T1.9-12.b)
  • Discuss the value of agricultural land (T1.9-12.d)

Culture, Society, Economy & Geography

  • Evaluate and discuss the impact of major agricultural events and agricultural inventions that influenced world and U.S. history (T5.9-12.g)

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math

  • Describe how agricultural practices have contributed to changes in societies and environments over time (T4.9-12.b)

Education Content Standards


9-12 Geography Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Human modifications of the physical environment can have significant global impacts.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    The use the technology can have both intended and unintended impacts on the physical environment that may be positive or negative.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    People can either mitigate and/or adapt to the consequences of human modifications of the physical environment.

9-12 Geography Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Depending on the choice of human activities, the characteristics of the physical environment can be viewed as both opportunities and constraints.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Human perceive and react to environmental hazards in different ways.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    Societies use a variety of strategies to adapt to changes in the physical environment.

9-12 Geography Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    The meaning and use of resources change over time.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    Policies and programs that promote the sustainable use and management of resources impact people and the environment.

9-12 Geography Standard 17: How to apply geography to interpret the past.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Geographic contexts (the human and physical characteristics of places and environments) can explain the connections between sequences of historical events.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    The causes and processes of change in the geographic characteristics and spatial organization of places, regions, and environments over time.


5-12 History Era 8 Standard 1B: American life changed during the 1930s.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Explain the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl on American farm owners, tenants, and sharecroppers.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    Analyze the impact of the Great Depression on the American family and on ethnic and racial minorities.

5-12 History Era 8 Standard 2A: The New Deal and the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    Contrast the first and second New Deals and evaluate the success and failures of the relief, recovery, and reform measures associated with each.
  • Objective 6
    Objective 6
    Explain renewed efforts to protect the environment during the Great Depression and evaluate their success in places such as the Dust Bowl and the Tennessee Valley.

NCSS 2: Time, Continuity, and Change

  • Objective 5
    Objective 5
    The impact across time and place of key historical forces, such as nationalism, imperialism, globalization, leadership, revolution, wars, concepts of rights and responsibilities, and religion.
  • Objective 6
    Objective 6
    Different interpretations of the influences of social, geographic, economic, and cultural factors on the history of local areas, states, nations, and the world.
  • Objective 7
    Objective 7
    The contributions of philosophies, ideologies, individuals, institutions, and key events and turning points in shaping history.
  • Objective 8
    Objective 8
    The importance of knowledge of the past to an understanding of the present and to informed decision-making about the future.

NCSS 3: People, Places, and Environments

  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Concepts such as: location, physical and human characteristics of national and global regions in the past and present, and the interactions of humans with the environment.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    Consequences of changes in regional and global physical systems, such as seasons, climate, and weather, and the water cycle.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    The causes and impact of resource management, as reflected in land use, settlement patterns, and ecosystem changes.
  • Objective 6
    Objective 6
    The social and economic effects of environmental changes and crises resulting from phenomena such as floods, storms, and drought.
  • Objective 7
    Objective 7
    Factors that contribute to cooperation and conflict among peoples of the nation and world, including language, religion, and political beliefs.
  • Objective 8
    Objective 8
    The use of a variety of maps, globes, graphic representations, and geospatial technologies to help investigate spatial relations, resources and population density and distribution, and changes in the phenomena over time.

NCSS 8: Science, Technology, and Society

  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Science and technology have had both positive and negative impacts upon individuals, societies, and the environment in the past and present.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    Consequences of science and technology for individuals and societies.
  • Objective 5
    Objective 5
    Decisions regarding the uses and consequences of science and technology are often complex because of the need to choose between or reconcile different viewpoints.
  • Objective 11
    Objective 11
    That achievements in science and technology are increasing at a rapid pace and can have both planned and unanticipated consequences.

Common Core Connections

Reading: Anchor Standards

    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
    Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.


Creative Commons License