Teaching with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

New Deal Propaganda Lesson
Kim Rusnak – Harpursville High School

Intended Audience: 11th Grade U.S. History Classes

After reviewing the alphabet soup programs of the 1st and 2nd New Deal, students will engage in an activity that explores the use of propaganda to gain support for these programs, most especially the Farm Security Administration(FSA).

Estimated Time – 2 class periods.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson students will be able to:
  • define propaganda
  • analyze photographs
  • create dialogue
  • evaluate the impact of propaganda

Bellringer: What was the FSA? What was its purpose? Why were some people opposed to it?

Intro: Go to Library Of Congress: American Memory website:

Read the opening 3 paragraphs in the story about the migrant mother's family.

Discuss the work of Dorothea Lange and the iconic photo of the Great Depression migrant workers.

Quickwrite – 5 minutes – Have students write from a first person perspective what they think is going through Florence Owens Thompson’s head as the photo is being taken (consider the past, present and future in her world). Share with Learning Partners. Option – after this is finished have students write from the perspective of Dorothea Lange.

Finish reading the story on the family of the Migrant Mother at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awpnp6/migrant_mother.html

Discuss the impact of the publication of the photo and why it was such a powerful piece of propaganda (For example, it generated support for the FSA and prompted the shipment of food to migrant camps.

Make the connections between this photo and John Steinbeck'’s the Harvest Gypsies and The Grapes of Wrath (Students read these works in ELA).

Analytic Writing Activity:

A. Have students go to the photos of the Great Depression at the Library of Congress. They must pick and print one picture to use as a piece of propaganda to gain support or opposition to a federal New Deal program. They may not use the Migrant Mother. Photos will be preselected for student use. However, a student may choose another photo on the LOC websites listed below (must be teacher approved). Suggested key words to use for search: shantytown, bread line, migrant camp, drought, children, etc.



B. Students are to write an explanation that identifies:
  1. Why they chose the photo.
  2. what piece of legislation/program it is aiming to gain support for.
  3. How and why they believe the piece is effective.
This is to be finished for home work if they do not finish it in class.

C. Students will present their work in small groups or to the whole class the next day.


After the presentations are completed, have the students respond in their journal to the following questions:

1. What piece (other than yours) affected you?

2. Why?

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