Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

This lesson plan, adaptable for grades 5-12,  centers around the simulation Mission US: Up from the Dust, which provides young people with an experiential understanding of the enormous hardships facing Americans during the late 1920s and early 1930s, as they struggled against the joint catastrophes of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Understand how the lives of ordinary people were altered in different ways by the economic and environmental hardships of the 1930s
  2. Describe how people took individual and collective action to survive the Great Depression and demand government assistance
  3. Identify why federal government intervention was necessary and describe the successes and limitations of New Deal programs


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard


This lesson plan puts players the roles of Frank and Ginny Dunn, twins growing up on a wheat farm in the Texas Panhandle. The game begins in summer 1929, as the Dunn family is preparing to plant their wheat crop. During the 1929- 1930 growing season, the stock market crashes and wheat prices begin a precipitous fall. Later, a drought adds to their problems. Over the next few years, the Dunns witness how the Great Depression affects not only their neighbors in Texas, but people all across the United States. They also experience how people came together, both through charity and government programs, to get through this challenging period in American history.  Players make important decisions about everything from how many acres to farm or leave fallow to how many cattle and chickens to raise.

Familiarize yourself with Mission US: Up from the Dust prior to introducing to your class. Click the "New Game" button, and then point and click buttons and text on the screen to navigate.

Explore the Mission US: Up from the Dust Educator Guide to learn about the game and download related curriculum and activities. Portions of this lesson plan have been adapted from this guide.

If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

For ideas on how to use SnapThought with this game and for specific prompts to provide students with during game play, read Up from the Dust: SnapThought Prompts

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Great Depression Causes, Great Depression, New Deal, Debt, and Droughts

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Build background by showing the BrainPOP movie Great Depression on the whiteboard or other display.  Pause, if necessary, at the part where Tim describes why farmers in the Great Plains were hit particularly hard by the Great Depression.
  2. Prior to playing  the game, you may also want to share Top 5 Things to Know Before You Play Mission US: Up From the Dust with your class. This printable provides information about this era that may be helpful for students as they play the game.
  3. Now display the Mission US game Up from the Dust  on the whiteboard. Play the Prologue “The Great Plow Up” to introduce the setting, the characters, and the premise of the game.  
  4. After you play the Prologue, ask students one or more of the following questions to make sure they understand the history embedded in this game:

    Before much of Texas and the Midwest became wheat farms, what different groups of people lived on the land? What happened to these groups?

    Why did farmers call wheat “liquid gold”?

    What is the climate like in the Texas Panhandle? How does Ginny know when springtime is coming?

    Pa tells Frank, “Farming is always a gamble.” What does he mean?

    What does it mean to leave land fallow?

    During the farming game, what factors affect the price your wheat harvest?

  5. Provide students around 20 minutes to play Part 1 “Boom to Bust” either individually or with a partner. Explain that in this part of the game, they will need to make farming decisions and have an opportunity to explore the town where Frank and Ginny live. Encourage students to use the Snapthought button (the small camera) at the bottom of the screen to reflect on their game play, and decisions they make. See Up From the Dust: SnapThought Prompts for sample reflection prompts, or come up with your own.
  6. After students play Part 1, have a class discussion about what they learned. Have them share their SnapThought reflections. If time allows, have students complete one or more Activities for Part 1 provided by Mission US.
  7. Over the next several class periods, provide time for students to explore the other parts of the game, experiencing how the dual catastrophes of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression affect the Dunn family, their neighbors, and the whole country. Continue to have students use the SnapThought tool for written reflection and to respond to the activities and prompts provided by Mission US for each part of the game.
  8. As students navigate through the game, connect their learning with the Primary Source documents, also provided by Mission US. Encourage students to analyze one or more of the resources, including photos, advertisements, articles, and more. Challenge them to compare these primary resources to the ones they saw in the game. Invite students to reflect in partner or small group discussions, or in writing using the Snapthought tool.

Extension Activities:

After completing all five parts of the game and the Epilogue, print out the Character and Location Printables and distribute them to pairs or small groups of students. Have them use the printables to share what they learned from this experience. They may use the images to create a multimedia presentation in which they re-enact an important experience from the game or that illustrates an important understanding.