Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Out of the Dust (High School)

Cynthia Youngblood
Santa Rosa District Schools


Students read Hesse's [Out of the Dust], the story of a girl who struggles to help her family survive the dust bowl years of the Depression. Students respond to FCAT-like questions about the novel and write a free-verse poem modeled after the author's.


The student determines the main idea and identifies relevant details, methods of development, and their effectiveness in a variety of types of written material.

The student determines the author's purpose and point of view and their effects on the text.

The student drafts and revises writing that: is focused, purposeful, and reflects insight into the writing situation; has an organizational pattern that provides for a logical progression of ideas; has effective use of transitional devices that contribute to a sense of completeness; has support that is substantial, specific, relevant, and concrete; demonstrates a commitment to and involvement with the subject; uses creative writing strategies as appropriate to the purpose of the paper; demonstrates a mature command of language with precision of expression; has varied sentence structure; and has few, if any, convention errors in mechanics, usage, punctuation, and spelling.

Analyzes the effectiveness of complex elements of plot such as setting, major events, problems, conflicts and resolutions


-Class copies of the book: Hesse, Karen. [Out of the Dust]. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1997.
-Class copies of Discussion Questions (See Associated File)
-Class copies of Writing Assignment (See Associated File)
-Pen or pencil


1. Read [Out of the Dust] by Karen Hesse. (See Materials for bibliographical information)
2. Research and read about the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. (See Weblinks)
3. Make class copies of Discussion Questions. (See Associated File)
4. Read Answer Key to discussion questions. (See Associated File)
5. Read Sample Poems. (See Associated File)


1. As an introduction to the novel [Out of the Dust], ask students if they have ever heard of the saying “trial by fire.” Tell them that it refers to a situation in which someone is being tested . Tell students that the family in this novel goes through a “trial by dust.” As the family faces hardships caused by numerous huge dust storms, their strength put to a test of endurance and survival. Lead a class discussion about the qualities that difficult times bring out in people.

2. As a pre-reading strategy, tell students to close their eyes and imagine that they are in a massive dust storm. What would they see, taste, smell, touch, and hear? What would they think they would experience in a terrible dust storm? Call on all students and give them a chance to share their thoughts.

3. Ask students what they know about the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's. (In the 1930's, the soil in Oklahoma and neighboring states had become loose and dry partly as the result of converting too much wild grassland to farmland. Wheat crops failed, and nearly fifty million acres were severely damaged before conservation measures helped put an end to the storms that threatened the lives of people and animals as well as the crops.) Have students brainstorm what it might have been like to live during that time. How would everyday life be affected? Call on all students and give them a chance to share their thoughts.

4. Before actually reading the novel, explain to students that the form of the novel is unusual because it consists of a series of first-person, free-verse poems. Discuss how this form adds to the atmosphere of the book and the reader's understanding of Billie Jo, the narrator.

5. Share information about the author Karen Hesse. (See Weblinks)

6. Read aloud the short poem “Breaking Drought: February 1934,” inviting students to note how the author uses repetition, line breaks, and punctuation to create a rhythm and mood for the poem.

7. Review the elements of the novel: setting, plot, point of view, characterization, theme, etc.

8. Assign the rest of the novel as outside reading. Allow the students to have at least a week to read the novel. Hand out the Discussion Questions for the students to answer about the novel. (See Associated File)

9. After five days, go over Discussion Questions. (See Answer Key in Associated File)

10. Assess students' answers to questions.

11. Review the Writing Assignment with the students. (See Associated File) Students rewrite one of the poems from the point of view of the father of Billie Jo.

12. Assess the poem. (See Assessments)


1. The twenty-five discussion questions on the novel count four points each for correct answers. (See Associated File)
2. The poem is assessed to determine if the student’s poem is focused and reflects insight into the writing situation.


Students could read John Steinbeck’s [The Grapes of Wrath], a novel about the life of people during the 1930's. Students could write a comparison and contrast essay on the [The Grapes of Wrath] and [Out of the Dust].

Web Links

Web supplement for Out of the Dust
Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's

Web supplement from Brooks Memorial Library for Out of the Dust
A Biography of Karen Hesse

Web supplement from for Out of the Dust
Karen Hesse's Biography

Web supplement for Out of the Dust
Karen Hesse's 1998 Newbery Speech for Out of the Dust

Web supplement for Out of the Dust
Information on the world's worst natural disasters

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