Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
1–2 class periods and 1–2 hours of homework
Author: Linda Harris, A.P. U.S. History Teacher, Fairfax Senior High School Magnet Center for Visual Arts, Los Angeles, with J.Paul Getty Museum Education staff

For the Classroom

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Lesson Overview

Students analyze one of Dorothea Lange's photographs and make connections to its historical context by creating a one-page written and visual response.

Learning Objectives

• Students will analyze a photograph and translate that analysis into words and pictures.
• Students will understand and be able to explain the historical impact of photographs.
• Students will create a visual composition based on a photograph.

Note: Students should have covered 1930s American History in class before this lesson.


Instruction sheet for "One-Pager" (included here) and photocopies of Lange's images.

Lesson Steps

1. Select one or more of the Lange photographs to show the students and discuss in class.

2. Ask students questions to help them look carefully at the photograph on three levels. You may choose to print these questions out on a worksheet so the students can answer the questions on their own before opening up a class discussion.

Level I: (just state the facts)

a. Describe the colors, lines, shapes, texture, and space you see in the image.
b. What do you notice first in this picture? Where is your eye led?
c. How many faces do you see?
d. What are the people wearing? How are they posed?
e. Where are their hands resting?
f. Are you looking up or down at the people in the image?
g. When was this picture made?

Level II: (begin to analyze and interpret)

In your opinion,
a. What are the people in the photograph looking at?
b. What are the expressions on their faces?
c. What are they thinking?
d. At what time of day might the photograph have been taken?
e. Where was the photograph taken?
f. What do you think they are doing?

Level III: (connect the image to historical context)

Based on what you know about the 1930s,
a. Who are the people in the photograph?
b. What message do you think the photographer was trying to convey?
c. What is the situation of the people depicted? Point out some visual elements in the photograph that tell you about their situation.
d. If possible, how would you help the people in this photograph?
e. Might a photograph of this nature be made today? Why or why not?
f. What alternative title would you give this photograph?

3. Students share their answers and the alternative titles they give to the photograph with the class.

4. Hand out summary descriptions of the photograph(s) and read aloud. Discuss the role of photography and photographers in the United States of the 1930s.

• Why did Lange take these photographs?
• Why were artists given jobs by the government as part of the New Deal?
• These images, and many like them, were published in the 1930s in newspapers and magazines. What kind of effect do you think they had on the public?

5. Distribute and explain instructions for the "One-Pager" (see attached). You may want to prepare a One-Pager of your own as a model. Students will use this creative exercise to express their interpretation of the effects that the events of the 1930s had on society.

6. Students choose one of the images by Dorothea Lange and begin composing a One-Pager in class, completing it for homework. You can determine how much time the students need to create a quality product based on ability and age level.

Stoop Labor / Lange
Stoop Labor in Cotton Field, San Joaquin Valley, California, Dorothea Lange, 1938 (print 1950s)


Visual Analysis—Students should be able to make statements on all three levels of analysis:

• Factual: Students should be able to describe at least one visual element in the photograph.
• Analytical: Students should be able to make a statement interpreting meaning in the image and support that statement with factual evidence in the image.
• Contextual: Students should be able to make a connection between meaning in the photograph and the historical events occurring during the time it was created.

One-Pager—Students should be able to use visual and textual metaphors to interpret the chosen photograph, communicate their interpretation to their audience, and make connections to the history of the 1930s.


• Have each student analyze another's One-Pager and write an essay comparing the peer's composition to his or her own.
• A One-Pager may be adapted to reading and analyzing written material.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–12

Production and Distribution of Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Comprehension and Collaboration
1. 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.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

History–Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 6-8

Historical and Social-Science Analysis Skills
Historical Interpretation
1. Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in a matrix of time and place.

Grades 9-12
Historical and Social-Science Analysis Skills
Historical Interpretation
3. Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

Grade 11
U.S. History and Geography: Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century
11.6.3–Discuss the human toll of the Depression, natural disasters, and unwise agricultural practices and their effects on the depopulation of rural regions and on political movements of the left and right, with particular attention to the Dust Bowl refugees and their social and economic impacts in California.
11.6.4–Analyze the effects of and the controversies arising from the New Deal economic policies and the expanded role of the federal government in society and the economy since the 1930s (e.g., Works Progress Administration, Social Security, National Labor Relations board, farm programs, regional development policies, and energy development projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, California Central Valley Project, and Bonneville Dam).

Visual-Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9-12
Artistic Perception
1.5–Analyze materials used by a given artist and describe how their use influences the meaning of the work.

Creative Expression (9-12 Advanced)
2.3–Demonstrate in their visual artwork a personal style and an advanced proficiency in communicating an idea, theme, or emotion.
2.4–Use innovative visual metaphors in creating artworks.

Grades 5-12
Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
1b. The student understands how American life changed during the 1930s.