Investigating an Icon of the Great Depression: the Migrant Mother

In this lesson students will consider what they know about a famous photograph from the Great Depression. They will analyze and discuss this primary source before investigating several different viewpoints on how the photograph came to be taken. Students will then write an essay discussing how this contextual information has affected how they understand the image. 

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Determine an author's point of view and/or purpose in a text, analyzing how style and content contribute to its effectiveness.
Evaluate the topic or subject in multiple diverse formats and media.
Analyze and evaluate a variety of thematically-related texts of historical and literary significance for their topics, facts, purposes, and rhetorical...
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; support an interpretation of a text by citing and synthesizing relevant textual evidence from...
Determine an author's point of view or purpose and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
Evaluate the topic or subject in two diverse formats or media.
Analyze a variety of thematically related texts of historical and literary significance for the way they address related topics, facts, and concepts.
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; cite the strongest, most compelling textual evidence to support conclusions.
Analyze the causes of the Great Depression, including the following:
Analyze the causes and consequences of the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

The learner will:

  • Analyze and discuss the Migrant Mother photograph
  • Investigate the circumstances under which this photograph was taken and the viewpoints of the people involved.
  • Compose a short essay on his or her new understanding of the photograph
Essential and guiding questions: 

Does learning more about the background of a photograph change how you think about that photograph? In what ways?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Print copies of the Migrant Mother photograph for students to take home. Have students interview their parents and grandparents about the photograph. When and where have they seen it before? What do they know about it? What does it mean to them? Have students share what they’ve discovered with the class.
  • Assign students (or let them choose) another iconic photograph to research for a presentation to the class. Some possible photographs are “Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel,” “Afghan Girl,” or “V-J Day in Times Square.” In their presentations, students should be sure to address the photographer’s background and point of view, the subject’s point of view (if possible), and the consequences of the photograph’s publication for the photographer, the subject, and the public. 

Helpful Hints


  • PowerPoint
  • Worksheet
  • Essay Prompt