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

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