Relevancy and Engagement

Growing a Nation Era 2: From Defeat to Victory

Grade Level

9 - 12


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 contributed to the Great Depression, and describe the government's response to assist farmers in the 1930s. Grades 9-12

Estimated Time

60 minutes

Materials Needed

Supporting Question 1: What events led to the Dust Bowl?

Supporting Question 2: How did the Dust Bowl impact society?

Supporting Question 3: How did governmental actions impact the environmental and economic crises between 1930 and 1949?


conservation: the wise use of resources, to conserve them for use by present and future generations

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?
  • 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
C3 Framework

Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory uses the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework's Inquiry Arc as a blueprint to lead students through an investigation of the environmental changes and human choices that affected society from 1930-1949. The Inquiry Arc consists of four dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies:

  1. Developing questions and planning inquiries;
  2. Applying disciplinary concepts and tools;
  3. Evaluating sources and using evidence;
  4. Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

The four dimensions of the C3 Framework center on the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century.For more information about the C3 Framework, visit

C3 Table- Growing a Nation Era 2: From Defeat to Victory

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. 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.

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, and when the dust from this storm reached Washington D.C., politicians knew it was time to act. 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." The Dust Bowl resulted in the largest migration of a population in the United States.

Government actions helped reverse the situation caused by the Dust Bowl. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established a number of legislative measures to help farmers. He also addressed the environmental degradation that had led to 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.


Compelling Question: How do environmental changes and human choices affect society?

  1. Use the following questions to hold a class discussion to assess your students' prior knowledge:
    • What were the causes 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?
  2. After the discussion, inform your students that they will be learning the answers to these questions throughout this lesson and while investigating the question, "How do environmental changes and human choices affect society?" Display the compelling question on a whiteboard or chart paper.
Explore and Explain

Supporting Question 1: What events led to the Dust Bowl?

  1. Explain to the students that they will investigate the question, "What events led to the Dust Bowl?"
  2. View Surviving the Dust Bowl: Chapter 1 (9 minutes). Ask students to consider how misinformation contributed to the number of acres plowed and planted in the southern plains in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
  3. Using a projector, mobile devices, or computer lab, review with student how to navigate the Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory section of the multimedia timeline. Review the main tiles so that students have some context for the time period.
  4. Locate the "1930s Dust Bowl" tile in the era spanning 1930-1949. Read or have students read the background on the tile.
  5. Assign one of the sub-event tiles (there are four) to four groups. Students may view the tiles on a mobile device, or take a screenshot of each tile, print, and provide each group with the printed tile. Ask each group to read/listen to the information on the tile, and decide what they think is the best response to each question. Ask each group to share their questions and their responses with the class.
  6. Project the Dust Storm Map. Ask students if they think this captures all the areas impacted by the Dust Bowl. (While the map shows the environmental area of the Dust Bowl, it does not show how other areas of the country were impacted by the Dust Bowl, e.g., the air quality of surrounding areas and the migration of people to California and other states).
  7. Revisit the question, "What events led to the Dust Bowl?" (Economic depression, drought, and poor agricultural practices that left the land and soil at risk for wind erosion.)

Supporting Question 2: How did the Dust Bowl impact society?

The ballads of Woody Guthrie, the novels of John Steinbeck, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographs captured by Dorothea Lange and others, are historical and emotional reminders of the Dust Bowl tragedy. 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. To help your students understand the magnitude of the environmental disaster, relate to students that the people directly impacted by the Dust Bowl were also experiencing the impacts of the Great Depression. 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 Growing A Nation Timeline, the American Experience PBS website Surviving the Dust Bowl: Chapter 1, including the transcript of survivors who offered their testimony for the American Experience PBS video, and resources form the Library of Congress.

  1. Explain to the students that they will investigate the question, "How did the Dust Bowl impact society?"
  2. To engage your students with firsthand accounts of the Dust Bowl use the Interview Transcript, Dust Bowl Survivor Script. Ask 11 students to take on the roles of Dust Bowl Survivors and a narrator (or ask some student to share a role). Provide scripts to each person with a role, and begin the reading. After the reading ask the following questions for a discussion (there may be more questions as the script may take the discussion in multiple directions):
  • How did the Dust Bowl impact society? (Consider impacts beyond the testimony of the Dust Bowl survivors)
  • Do you think there could be another Dust Bowl?
  • Who should be responsible for land stewardship?
  1. 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. As an alternative, ask students to note the three most significant concepts they hear or see related to the social impacts of the Dust Bowl. 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 (25:04 minutes)
    • What Price America? Taylor Grazing Act, 1939 (30:11 minutes, audio)
    • Salvaging Drought Cattle, 1935 (13:32 minutes, video)
    • Westward Movement and Resettlement, 1936 (15:16 minutes)
    • Food to Win the War, circa 1941 (4:58 minutes, audio) 
  2. Revisit the question, "How did the Dust Bowl impact society?" (The Dust Bowl itensified the effects of the Great Depression. It left many families destitute and forced them to leave their farms in search of work.)

Supporting Question 3: How did governmental actions impact the environmental and economic crises between 1930 and 1949?

  1. If students have access to a mobile device, ask students to explore one of the sub-event tiles of the Growing a Nation timeline between 1930 and 1949. Each student or pair of students should have choose one sub-event (no duplications). If they do not have access to the timeline, select some sub-event tiles you would like them to use to answer Supporting Question 3, take a screenshot, and print these out. See the example below.
    Life on the farm
  2. Explain to the students that they will investigate the question, "How did governmental actions impact the environmental and economic crises between 1930 and 1949?"
  3. Option A: Ask students to use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to answer the sub-event tile questions and Supporting Question 3: How did governmental actions impact the environmental and economic crises between 1930 and 1949? Option B: Use the Demonstration of Learning Strategies. if you choose to have them engage with the Demonstration of Learning Strategies, you may want to choose one 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. Ask the students to use the strategy to share their sub-event and answer Supporting Question 3: How did governmental actions impact the environmental and economic crises between 1930 and 1949?
  4. Review the Dust Bowl Migration (Prezi) and ask students, "How did governmental actions impact the environmental and economic crises between 1930 and 1949?" (Real estate syndicates and railway companies exaggerated the productivity of the farmland and the amount of moisture the area received. Other incorrect information about land management spread, such as "plowing up grasses allows more rainfall to penetrate the soil." Additional lies about trees, artisan wells, higher yields, and fatter catle brough prospective farmers who began "the great plow up." Government officials said, "Wheat will win the war." Prices were set at two times the previous rate as the government bough wheat for the war effort. This "great plow up" resulted in the Dust Bowl when the rains stopped and the wind blew. Bare, plowed soil is subject to wind erosion. See the following tiles and subtiles in the Growing a Nation Timeline; Boom to Bust, Ken Burns video, What Price America, The Homestead Act, Westward Movement and Resettlement.)

Summative Performance Task 

Using evidence from historical sources, construct an argument (e.g., essay, project, video production, portfolio, detailed outline, poster) that addresses the compelling question, "How do environmental changes and human choices affect society?"

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.
  • There is a close relationship among humans, animals and the environment.

  • 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?

  • Investigate how "rangelands" were (and are) impacted by changes in the environment. The Dust Bowl not only impacted farmland, it had devastating effects on rangeland. View the Beef-Canning Program sub-event tile from the Growing a Nation timeline to elaborate on how farming/ranching, and food access were impacted. For greater meaning, allow students to explore and elaborate on the nature of grass and the role it plays in our ecosystems. Grass holds much of our soil in place! In this activity, students will simulate grazing using scissors to 1) trim half of the grass blades short (1 inch) above the soil to simulate a cow grazing, 2) clip another quarter of the grass down to the crown—where the blades meet the roots, to simulate overgrazing, and 3) leave the last quarter section of the grass unclipped. Students should observe the grass for a few weeks and then make comparisons. What are the results of the overgrazed, grazed, and ungrazed grasses? What can we can take to conserve natural resources and promote sustainability of our land resources? Teacher Note: set this up a few weeks in advance of this lesson so grass will be tall enough to graze. A kit, the Ranch Starter Kit, is available for purchase from


Growing a Nation was funded by USDA CSREES cooperative agreement #2004-38840-01819 and developed cooperatively by: USDA, Utah State University Extension, and LetterPress Software, Inc.


Debra Spielmaker


National Center for Agricultural Literacy

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