National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Growing a Nation Era 2: From Defeat to Victory

Grade Level(s)

9 - 12

Estimated Time

60 minutes


Students will engage with the Growing a Nation timeline to explore the significant historical and agricultural events and inventions from American history during the years 1930-1949. Students will examine the cause and impact of the Dust Bowl, recognize how the Dust Bowl led to the Great Depression, and describe the government's response to assist farmers in the 1930s.


Activity 1: Event Exploration

  • Growing a Nation timeline and necessary projection equipment or computer lab
  • Demonstration of Learning Strategies

Activity 2: Dust Bowl Impact

Activity 3: Ranch Starter Kit

  • Jiffy 7 peat pellet pots,* 1 per student
  • Plastic cups, 1 per student
  • Permanent markers, 1 per group
  • Grass seed,* 2-3 teaspoons per group
  • Plastic spoons
  • Water
  • Trail activity sheets

*These items are included in the Ranch Starter Kit, which is available for purchase from

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


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

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

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

From Defeat to Victory (1930-1949) is the second story event in the Growing a Nation online interactive timeline. The timeline provides a chronological presentation of significant historical events focusing on the important role agriculture has played in America's development. Growing a Nation uses a graphic organizer (timeline) and online multimedia resources to bring depth and meaning to historical events. The interactive timeline and lesson plans merge seamlessly with existing American history textbooks and high school history curricula.

Our country has witnessed sweeping changes—from the untamed wild times of Buffalo Bill to the technological era of Bill Gates and Elon Musk—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. We are all aware of how food has changed. 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.

Dust Bowl

Dust Bowl describes both a time and a place. The dust bowl region of the United States covers the southern portion of the Great Plains, including parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. But Dust Bowl—with a capital D and B—refers to the time during the 1930s when drought, prairie winds, and poor land use practices combined to make life in this region miserable and farming nearly impossible.

In the early 1900s, gas-powered tractors enabled farmers to cultivate millions of acres and enjoy bountiful harvests. In the southeastern Great Plains, farmers used the newly invented steel plow to dig up acres of perennial prairie grasses and plant annual crops like wheat. When the economy declined in the late 1920s, farmers were forced to cultivate more land to pay their bills. Poorer quality land was tilled, and conservation practices were abandoned to reduce costs. Few recognized that they were setting the stage for mass erosion. In 1930, farmers tilled and planted their fields, but the rains never came, so their crops didn't grow. The drought continued through the 1930s, leaving acres of dry soil vulnerable to the wind with no plant cover to hold it in place.

On Sunday afternoon of April 14, 1935, clouds of dust moved through the southern Great Plains and turned the sky black. People had to cover their noses and mouths so they could breathe. The day would go down in history as Black Sunday. Robert E. Geiger was a writer for the Associated Press who visited the area during that time. In a series of firsthand articles for the Washington Evening Star, Geiger described "pelting winds full of topsoil" and was the first to call the area the "Dust Bowl."

Government actions helped reverse the situation caused by the dust bowl. The Soil Conservation Service (SCS), a special branch of the United States Department of Agriculture that is called the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today, was created and went to work. The SCS used carefully planned conservation methods to restore grasses and helped farmers implement techniques like conservation tillage to reduce erosion. Local Soil Conservation Districts were established, which still promote conservation on public and private lands today. As vegetation was restored, farmers and ranchers moved back onto the land. Using improved farming and grazing management practices, agriculture has returned to the Great Plains.


Rangeland refers to a large, mostly unimproved section of land that is used for livestock grazing. Rangelands can be found in a wide variety of ecosystems, including natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, deserts, tundras, alpine communities, coastal marshes, and wet meadows. Rangelands are usually mountainous, rocky, or dry areas that aren't suitable for growing the usual farm crops. However, grass and other plants on this rangeland can be used for grazing livestock. People can't eat grass, but cattle and sheep can turn grass into beef and lamb. Rangeland ecosystems provide nutritious forage for grazing livestock, which produce food, fiber, leather, and many other useful by-products.

Grass is one of our most important and available renewable resources. Grass plays a number of environmentally important roles. Grass covers the soil and holds it in place, slowing runoff of rain, preventing erosion, and reducing the potential for floods. Grass traps and filters sediments and nutrients from runoff and helps water percolate through the soil and back into streams and groundwater.

Cattle and sheep are like rangeland lawn mowers that can help care for grassland ecosystems. Imagine what your lawn would look like if you didn't mow it! At first glance, when we see animals grazing, it seems like the animal wins all. However, there are more winners here than first meets the eye. The moment grass is shorn, it seeks to restore a balance between its roots and leaves. When the tops of the grass leaves are eaten by grazing livestock, the same amount of root is lost. When the roots die, the soil's population of bacteria, fungi, and earthworms gets to work breaking down the dying roots. This creates fertile organic matter.

Rich soils, in turn, support more grass growth. Grasses regrow from the bottom up. Because their growing point is low to the ground, grasses can usually recover well after grazing. However, repeated, heavy grazing can kill grass. When a grass plant is grazed very low to the ground, a large portion of its roots die, and it has little leaf area left to make energy through photosynthesis. Because the plant can't generate much energy, it takes a long time for the roots to regrow, and the plant is very susceptible to drought. Proper management of grazing involves moving livestock to a new area before grasses are grazed too low and allowing grasses a period of rest to regrow leaves and roots before grazing them again. 

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Use the following questions to hold a class discussion to assess your students' 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: Event Exploration

  1. Using a projector, mobile devices, or computer lab, review the Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory section of the multimedia timeline. The Growing a Nation events and sub-events are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies. Each Main Event contains Sub-events that explore American history for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. The sub-event tiles ask higher order questions to not only expand student knowledge, but also to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  2. After students view selected events and sub-events, assign or allow students (or student pairs) to choose a sub-event tile. Students can work off of a computer or mobile device or take a screenshot of the selected sub-event and print.
  3. Ask the students to be prepared to answer the questions on their tile by either using the Think, Pair, Share strategy or by using one of the attached Demonstration of Learning Strategies. You may want to choose a particular strategy to use with the entire class 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. Keep in mind that some Demonstration of Learning Strategies will be a better fit for some of the event topics than others and that some take more time than others. Some strategies may need to be grouped depending on the available time.

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 activity 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. 

  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. From the Media Analysis activity sheets, each student should complete either the "Sound Recording" (if they listen to the interview) or the "Written Document" (if they read the transcript) analysis pages.
  2. In addition, the “Eyewitness Account” and primary resource of Lawrence Svobida could be used with the "Written Document" analysis pages.
  3. As a class, listen to or view one or more of the following radio broadcasts or films linked in the Growing a Nation timeline. (These are engaging, dramatic primary sources. You may want to explain to the students that radio was the state-of-the-art media of the time!) From the Media Analysis activity sheets, students should complete the "Sound Recording" or "Motion Picture" analysis pages or note the three most significant concepts they hear. Discuss the concepts and issues raised in each radio program. The audio and movie files can be downloaded or streamed by searching the title on the Growing a Nation timeline.
    • Fireside Chat 8, The Drought and The Dust Bowl, 1936 (2:03 minutes)
    • Westward Movement and Resettlement, 1936 (15:16 minutes)
    • What Price America? Taylor Grazing Act, 1939 (30:11 minutes)
    • Food to Win the War, circa 1941 (4:58 minutes) 

Activity 3: Ranch Starter Kit

  1. Read the "Rangelands" section of the Background Agricultural Connections portion of this lesson to review the information concerning rangelands, grazing, and the nature of grass.
  2. Explain to the students that they will be starting their own "ranch" with a small planting of grass.
  3. Provide each student with a peat pellet and a plastic cup to hold it. Make available permanent markers, bowls of grass seed, plastic spoons, and water.
  4. Ask the students to write their name on their cup, place their peat pellet into their cup (make sure the end with the small hole faces up), and fill the cup half full with water. It takes about 15 minutes for the peat pellet to hydrate and expand into a pot in which seeds can be planted. While the peat pellet is hydrating, have students work on one of the Trail activity sheetsNote: Some of the "Trail" activity sheets will be most pertinent to Utah students, but the majority are generic and will be relevant to students in any state.
  5. When the students finish the Trail activity, the water should be absorbed and the peat pellet completely hydrated. Use a pencil to loosen the top 1/4 inch of peat moss.
  6. Evenly spread 1/2 teaspoon of seeds on the top of the peat pot. Press the seeds down gently with your thumb.
  7. Once the seeds germinate (in about 1 week), keep the peat pots moist, and allow the grass to grow until it has reached 2-3 inches in height.
  8. Ask the students to use scissors to cut half of the grass blades short (1 inch) above the soil to simulate a cow grazing.
  9. They should clip another quarter of the grass down to the crown—where the blades meet the roots; this part of the blade is white in color. To stimulate overgrazing, ask the students to clip this quarter area to the crown every couple of days.
  10. The last quarter section of the grass should remain unclipped.
  11. Observe the grass for a few weeks and then make comparisons. What are the results of the overgrazed, grazed, and ungrazed grasses? Ask the students how their grazing experiment compares to mowing their grass. 

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 the "Sound Recording" analysis page from the Media Analysis activity sheets.

  • 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 on 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 what the government did to help people during the Dust Bowl. Which two or three do you think had the most impact?

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 of 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
    Humans 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