5 Classroom Activities for Teaching the Dust Bowl

Allison Friedman

“Black Sunday,” the nonfiction article in the December/January issue of Storyworks, is one of the most hauntingly fascinating disaster stories we’ve ever featured in the magazine. It’s the story of the Dust Bowl’s worst storm, a 200-mile-wide black dirt cloud that swallowed up the Southern Plains in April 1935.

The article is sure to pique your students’ interest in many different topics—the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the science of droughts, to name only a few! Below are some resources we’ve collected to feed their curiosity and inspire them to embark on on their own independent learning journeys.


TO READ: A choose-your-own adventure book about the Dust Bowl

TO DO: A class discussion

The wonderful “You Choose” history series drops kids smack in the middle of historical time periods, setting them off on interactive adventures. In the Dust Bowl installment, whirling dirt storms on the Plains will force readers to make a difficult decision: stay in Kansas to farm, migrate to California, or take a job as a government photographer.

LEARNING TASK: Hold a class discussion in which students explain which path they chose through the book and why.


TO WATCH: The video “Time Machine: the 1930s”

TO DO: Write a diary entry

This favorite from the Storyworks video archive will deepen students’ understanding of the article by providing rich context about the decade in which it takes place.

LEARNING TASK: Ask students to imagine they are kids living in the 1930s and write a diary entry describing an ordinary day, using at least five details from the video.


TO SHOW: A gallery of Dust Bowl photographs

TO DO: A text features exercise

These powerful documentary photographs of Dust Bowl landscapes and inhabitants will captivate your students with their chilling beauty.

LEARNING TASK: Have students choose five of the photographs and write new captions for them, using information from the Storyworks article.


TO WATCH: Videos of oral history interviews with Dust Bowl survivors

TO DO: Write an essay

In these fascinating video clips, people who were children or teens during the Dust Bowl years share their memories of taking cover during raging dust storms, sweeping piles of dirt out of the house, wearing dust masks to school, and more.

Note: One of the videos, “Killing Cattle,” may be upsetting to some students, so make sure to preview it before showing it in class.

LEARNING TASK: Have students write a short essay about what it was like to be a kid in the Dust Bowl. They should use at least one quotation from the oral histories in their essays.


TO EXPLORE: An information-packed website about droughts

TO DO: A cause-and-effect exercise

This collection of short, easy-to-digest articles from the National Drought Mitigation Center breaks down why droughts happen and explains how they impact people’s lives.

LEARNING TASK: Have students create a poster explaining the causes of droughts and their effects.


Did you discover any great learning extensions for this issue? Tell us about it in the comments!

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