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Museum Home Education Search Lesson Plans All Curricula About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Curriculum Lesson Plans Writing About Photographs: Responding to the Art of Dorothea Lange
Writing About Photographs: Responding to the Art of Dorothea Lange

Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Approximately 4 class periods
Author: Susie Newman,
Dean of Academic Affairs,
Marquez Charter School, Los Angeles,
with J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

Lesson Overview

Students keep journals in which they respond in writing to Dorothea Lange's photographs.

Learning Objectives

• Students will respond in writing to selected images by Dorothea Lange.
• Students will create their own journals filled with reflections on Lange's photographs.


Journals or sketchbooks (or several sheets of paper stapled or bound together with yarn), pencils

Lesson Steps

Day 1: Students create journals that will be used for writing, sketching, and pasting in images.
Introduce each image to the students as an independent basis for discussion, and then bring the images together for a comparative discussion. Use the following photo-analysis questions to get started.

• What do you see, think, and feel when you look at this photograph?
• If you can see facial expressions of people depicted, how would you describe them?
• How would you describe the body language of the people depicted?
• What do you think the people might be thinking?
• What sort of response do you think Lange wanted you to have?
• How would you describe the setting in the image?
• Can you tell the time of day or season? How can you tell?
• What do you think the image is about? What makes you say that?

Discuss the images as a group:

• How are these images similar?
• What differences do you notice?

Summarize what students have reported on each of the images. Provide background information about the images that is appropriate for students' comprehension levels. Also provide biographical information about Lange.

Days 2 and 3: Reintroduce the images as a group to students.
Ask them to take a quiet moment to look at them carefully. Have each student choose an image, and provide the student with a photocopy. Explain that the image they choose will be the subject of their journal entries. Ask students to paste their photocopied image inside their journals.

Journal assignments:
Description—students write about what they see in the image they have chosen. Encourage them to start off by listing what is in the image (the nouns). Next, students can include descriptive words (adjectives).
Questions—students write questions they have about the image. These might be questions about the people, setting, or action depicted, or they might be questions they would like to ask the photographer.
Reflections—students write about their personal reactions to the image. What is the overall mood or message of the photograph? Do they like it or not? Why? To prompt their writing, it may be helpful for them to think in terms of themes, for example: hardship, patriotism, work, and daily life.
Diary entry—students write a story in the form of a diary entry about what is depicted in the photograph. Students write in the voice of one of the people in the image they selected. Students base their writing on what is in the photograph, the background information they have about Lange, and the events surrounding the image.

Day 4: Students read their entries aloud to the class.


Teacher observation of student discussion and time on task.

Students write about the images from four angles: describing what they see, posing questions, reflecting on their personal response to the image, and creating a diary entry written in the voice of an individual depicted in the image.


Have students write and illustrate a story using the steps below.

As a class, make a web showing the common characteristics of a story.

• Identify the main character of the photograph in Dust Bowl Refugees.
• Use the characteristics of the main characters and of the web to create a series of events that leads up to the scene in Dust Bowl Refugees.
• Chart a list of the events in order as reference for the students.
• Write a story that includes the main events that are listed on the chart.
• Use colored pencils and have the students re-create in their journals the main events leading up to the moment in Dust Bowl Refugees.

Standards Addressed

English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3
2.2–Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.

Grade 4
2.1–Write narratives:
a. Relate ideas, observations, or recollections of an event or experience.
b. Use concrete sensory details.

National Standards for English-Language Arts
Grades K–12
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing-process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

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