Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:
Background information: I wrote this lesson to be used grades 7-12 English Language Arts, but I know Out of the Dust is also taught in some elementary school levels. It is a good poetry lesson, as it can be applied to various genres. Additionally, the lesson would work well in a social studies class about the time period.
The dust bowl ballads are great to use because they relate the history and hardships of the 30’s, and listeners can almost feel the dust enveloping them as they listen to the lyrics. I use this lesson at the end of my Grapes of Wrath unit, which I enrich with many excerpts from Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.
If you are unfamiliar with the idea of "found poems that the students will write, you might look through Gretchen Bernabei’s book, Reviving The Essay; her "Woven Poem" is an excellently-explained lesson that helps students synthesize a time period.
This lesson can be further enriched with any other texts from the Dust Bowl Era, and would also work well if you added historical slogans and quotes from the 30’s and FDR, for example. News articles about the 1930’s would also work. Depending on how much time you have, I also recommend Jerry Stanley’s Children of the Dust Bowl and Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time.
Pre-step…before sharing the song: Explain to students that they will be listening to some Woodie Guthrie Dust Bowl Ballads and writing poetry that demonstrates they can show connections between the Out of the Dust/Grapes of Wrath characters and the lyrics.
Hand out graphic organizer and have students pick out key phrases/sentences from their mentor texts; ideally, this lesson should be taught near the end of your unit that uses the mentor texts, so students have a good idea of essential phrases or ideas. Students need to record these phrases/sentences in the numbered left hand box of their organizer. It is adviseable to do a little modeling so students have a better idea of what you mean by "essential."
While students are looking through the novel(s), prepare to share a series of Woodie Guthrie Blues songs, which you can download separately, but I suggest the 1940 Dust Bowl Ballad Collection because it contains so many songs to choose from. Some of my favorite songs from the collection include “Dust Bowl Blues,” “Dust Pneumonia,” and the infamous, “Tom Joad.” Make a copy of the lyrics to hand out to students while they listen.
Step one…sharing the song: Play the chosen song(s) a few times through for the students. As they listen to and read the lyrics, have them highlight key words, phrases and ideas on their lyric copies. They are looking for things that connect to their study of Out of the Dust / Grapes of Wrath.
Have students write down meaningful lyrics in the numbered right-side box of the graphic organizer, focusing on the message or ideas Guthrie is trying to share with his audience, many of whom, at the time, may have been migrant farm workers.
To inspire better poems from your students, have a teacher model ready to show them, and/or have them discuss the student samples beelow.
Step two…introducing student models of writing: In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson. The groups will certainly talk about the idea development, since it's the focus of the lesson, but you might prompt your students to talk about each model's organization as well.
- Because this is a brand new lesson at WritingFix, we're looking for student samples for all grade levels for this prompt! Help us get some, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Step three…drafting: Now, students will develop their woven poems, which can be done--at its easiest level--by combining their even and odd number sentences/lyrics into a lyrical poem about the Dust Bowl; however, students have the freedom to combine them in any free form and to add words and phrases that help their poems make more sense. Challenge your students to create something that is a combination of original ideas/images from their heads with the borrowed ideas from the mentor texts.
As they draft, remind them to focus on the skill of text-weaving, which should initiate some great discussion about "thick versus thin description." As they work, be sure they can tell you how they have compared the big ideas in the mentor texts with each other, and how they have synthesized a theme that comes out somehow in their writing.