How to Integrate the Arts - Reading with Purpose: Monologues

How to Integrate the Arts - Reading with Purpose: Monologues

If you're looking for authentic reasons to encourage your students to go back into a text and find evidence to support their thinking, we hear you. Monologue takes the skill of finding evidence to a new level. Students choose quotations, mine for details, reread and determine importance to create their very own passionate monologues from the perspective of the subject of study. Drafting a powerful monologue invites students to read across a set of texts that includes different sources about one subject in order to glean an understanding from multiple perspectives. We find our students return to the Library of Congress website time and time again to inform their monologues with primary and secondary sources of different modalities including oral histories, images, letters, videos, and more.



Why Monologues?

Monologue is a literary empowerment tool for students. Monologue is a literary empowerment tool for students. Because monologue is the art form of drama, it offers students a chance to find moments in which the subject is experiencing a dilemma or wrestling with a decision. Drama is fueled by conflict.


When you think of monologue, you might think of a dramatic scene in a famous movie in which the action pauses and the camera zooms in on the main character. Suddenly, she speaks, with passion-- revealing an inner struggle, a choice to be made, or a problem to be solved.


Student WritingUsing the topic of study, students can experience the impact of creating such a dramatic moment by speaking from the perspective of a character in a book, a historical figure, a scientist, a rock formation, or even a math shape. This kind of writing invites students to "get into the head" of a character or even inanimate objects. Exploring the internal landscape can get to emotion, choices, and the complexity of decision making. 


Using monologues from our book called, Integrating the Arts in Language Arts: 30 Strategies to Create Dynamic Lessons, we invite you and your students to explore a monologue written from the perspective of Georgia O'Keefe. Ask your students to notice the rise and fall of O'Keefe's thought process. Have them think about a time when they wrestled with something, playing it out in their heads. Invite them to think about how imagining what is happening in someone's thoughts can provide insights to their behavior, or approach to life. Consider the elements of drama presented in our book and how these elements help to create a monologue.

Click on the images to download.

Georgia O'Keefe's Monologue      Georgia O'Keefe's Monologue


For a helpful planner, see below and adjust to your classroom as necessary:

 Click on the image to download.
Monologue Planner


If you are curious about more samples, view our video podcast called Reading with Purpose: Creating Monologues in the Classroom  to learn about the process of creating a monologue written from the photograph Migrant Mother taken by Dorothea Lange.


In our video podcast, we deconstruct the process of creating a monologue based on the primary source photograph Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. By reading across interviews and field notes, we found evidence that shed light on different perspectives involved. 


Reading Across a Set of Texts to Create a Monologue

In order to create a well-informed monologue, we encourage students to read across a group of primary and secondary sources related to one topic, including texts of different genres and modalities. The Power of Text Sets allows students to steep themselves in a variety of sources that illuminate untold stories, varied descriptions of experiences, and circumstances. While a monologue focuses on one unique vantage point, it’s important to consider all perspectives while choosing which one to take on in developing a monologue. Educators appreciate the rich, diverse text sets provided by the Library of Congress website.


Work with your students to create an organizer that allows them to gather evidence from each source in the text set. This could include space for collecting direct quotations and other details that may be useful as they plan their monologue. Include space that encourages them to infer ideas based on the evidence (such as how a character or historical figure, etc. might have reacted to a situation).


We mined a set of texts that grounded us in the story of the Migrant Mother and drew from evidence in the texts about the time period, the migrant worker camps, and what is known about the life of Florence Owens Thompson. Primary and secondary sources included photographs, video interviews, documentaries and articles. The sample text set:

Click the image to download

The Great Depression Photo Card

Library of Congress Research Guides . n .d . “Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection .” Accessed August 9, 2021 . guides .loc .gov/migrant-mother/ introduction . 


Lange, D. (February 1960). The assignment I’ll never forget: Migrant Mother. Popular Photography, 42–43. 


Phelan, B. (2014). The story of the 'Migrant Mother.' Antiques Roadshow. Public Broadcasting System [PBS].  


Migrant Madonna (March 2002). Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from:

Video Documentary
Dotson, B. (March 4, 2013). 'Mona Lisa' of migrant workers' never lost hope.' Today. [Video] Retrieved from:


Interview with Katherine McIntosh and Norma Rydlewski for "The Great Depression."(December 23 2013). [Youtube]. Blackside, Inc. Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. Retrieved from: Retrieved from:


Drawing from multiple sources in the text set, we used evidence to imagine how Florence Owens Thompson might have reacted when she viewed the photograph again forty years after it was taken. The monologue probes how Thompson might have responded to the questions of the reporter who discovered her identity and what she might have revealed about the encounter with Lange, not only in terms of her perspective on what happened, but also showing the grit and resilience that interviews with her and her daughters reveal.

In her field notes, photographer, Dorothea Lange, described her subject as a migrant worker, a pea picker, and notes that her family is surviving on frozen vegetables and birds the children had killed. Yet, according to Ben Phelan (2014), Thompson’s car had broken down, which is why she was in the camp.


“One day in 1936, while driving from Los Angeles to Watsonville, Thompson's car broke down. She managed to get the car towed into the Nipomo pea-pickers camp, had it repaired, and was just about to leave when Dorothea Lange appeared. Thompson was not eager to have her family photographed and exhibited as specimens of poverty, but there were people starving in that camp, one of Thompson's daughters later recalled, and Lange convinced her that the image would educate the public about the plight of hardworking but poor people like herself. Within days, the photo was being published in papers across the country." (Phelan, B., 2014).


These differing perspectives raise the questions: What really happened? How did Thompson feel about the photograph? Why is her voice rarely brought forward despite the iconic status of the image? How is the story of history created?


We found conflicting ideas and powerful clues that both inform and inspire the monologue. Drawing evidence from a variety of sources stoked the fire of inspiration and provided interesting points of access into her mindset, motivation, reactions and emotions.


The evidence from the research provided dramatic tension that drove the need to know more…are there interviews with Thompson speaking for herself? What memories do Thompson's children have? How might Thompson have felt about the image looking back years later? An article, interviews and a documentary provided us with rich ideas with which to create the monologue. The evidence provided access to Thompson’s perspective and sparked an informed creative process of excitement and a sense of ownership.


Crafting the Monologue Using the Elements of Drama

We thought about the drama elements we list in our book, that are adapted from a variety of sources, including the "Drama Handbook" (International School Athens, n.d.), and the Drama Teacher and Windmill Theatre Company.


Roles: The characters (people, animals, objects, ideas, and more) in a drama

The monologue is written from the perspective of  Florence Owens Thompson, a 32 year old mother who Lange encounters in a pea picking camp during the depression.


Tension: Dramatic friction or opposition that emerges from a conflict, struggle, or juxtaposition of ideas or motivations; dramatic tension drives action and generates interest

Lange takes the photograph of a woman and her family to document the impact of the depression. It's published shortly after. As a result of this image, thousands of pounds of food are sent to starving workers but Florence Owens Thompson and her family have moved on. The photograph helps to establish Lange's career, it becomes an iconic image of the depression, but Thompson never benefits from the image.


Time: The pacing of how action moves as the drama unfolds

The timing of the monologue is set as a moment at the end of Florence's life. In fact she was rediscovered by a reporter with the Modesto Bee, and we're imagining the reporter handing Florence the image and asking her to reflect.


Dialogue: The words spoken by characters in a drama

There is no dialogue in a monologue-we hear only Florence's voice but she's clearly speaking to someome (the reporter) On the other hand thinking about word choice, rhythm and cadence of speech helped to capture the way in which Florence might have spoken.


Situations: The circumstances that frame the drama and identify what is happening and what the problem is

It's the middle of the depression. Migrant workers move from field to field barely making a living. This brief encounter yields a handful of photographs that have an impact over time. And Thompson and her family continue to move making ends meet.


Space: Where the drama unfolds or the use of the performance space; also the positioning of the body across levels in space (low, medium, and high)

The monologue is placed in Florence's small living room.


Migrant Mother Sample Monologue 

(Looking at the photograph, she looks away for a long minute and hands it back)

Oh….yes,  I remember (sighs).   I was in my early thirties. It was cold. We were hungry and we were struggling. Our car had broken down. Kids being kids was running around in tattered shoes, and it was muddy with bits of ice everywhere. I was feeding the baby in the tent….the flaps were pulled back and I saw her walking across the field, picking where she walked, all nice like to avoid the puddles. She had nice boots and was dressed warmly. Our eyes met and she headed towards me. The kids got scared and clustered around me grabbing and hugging real close but still taking peeks at her. I didn't say nothing. She stood there looking all around…kinda shocked like and asked if she could take a few pictures. I didn't think it was right at first but she said pictures could help. She said she was a photographer and she wanted to tell the story of the impact of the depression.


She stood there waiting and I….well, I needed to get on with it. So, I let her.

She took a bunch of pictures and left. She never asked my name. Never saw her again. We left right after that to find more work. I had to keep fighting to feed my kids ya know? It's job to job …as we do… to make ends meet.


I heard later that the picture was in some big newspaper and the government sent truckloads of food. Imagine that? And that photographer? She got an award (she laughs softly). Didn't help me though. Never got a penny out of it. Doesn't seem fair does it? It's hard to think about how easy it is for some people and how hard it is for others…I mean… seeing that picture again just brings it all right back.


(Shakes her head). Makes me look like….well now…. We did the best we could. That was then and this is now. I guess the picture did help the other workers at least in the moment. I can't help wondering why it takes so much. I mean…. there were so many of us going from farm to farm, pickin  from sun up to sun down. Barely surviving on the money we made. Why does it take some fancy woman with an expensive camera to get help?  


Oh I managed OK. I've got my family and they did right by me. I don't have regrets, I just wonder. Why does it takes so much to notice people are struggling?


As professors, we are passionate about helping teachers integrate the art form of monologue in your everyday lessons. Comment and tell us: What was your experience of integrating monologue into your learning experiences? Do you have any student samples to celebrate? 


Your partners in arts integration,

Jenn and Lisa


Reading with Purpose: Creating Monologues in the Classroom On Demand WebinarWhat's Next?

How to Integrate the Arts
Reading with Purpose: Creating Monologues in the Classroom

Video Podcast Presented by Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D. and Lisa Donovan, Ph.D.

Are you looking for ways to boost student engagement in language arts? Do you need help providing students with a purpose for reading? The arts offer powerful ways to spark curiosity, increase cultural relevance, improve classroom culture, and strengthen student achievement. In this session, we will explore how monologues will help your students read with a purpose.


In this video podcast, we will: 


  • Explore the benefits of using monologues in the classroom.

  • Discover how to create monologues by utilizing primary sources and multiple text sets to draw in diverse perspectives.

  • Learn how to keep students focused and engaged while also fostering a sense of ownership in what they are learning.


Register Now:

Watch the video podcast at your own pace.



Dotson, B. (March 4, 2013). 'Mona Lisa' of migrant workers' never lost hope.' Today. [Video] Retrieved from:

Interview with Katherine McIntosh and Norma Rydlewski for "The Great Depression."(December 23 2013). [Youtube]. Blackside, Inc. Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. Retrieved from: Retrieved from:


Phelan, B. (2014). The story of the 'Migrant Mother.' Antiques Roadshow. Public Broadcasting System [PBS].  


The power of text sets (n.d.). Student Achievement Partners. Achieve the Core



Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D.

Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D.

Title: Co-Author of ELA and Social Studies and Contributor of the Shell Education Integrating the Arts series

Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D., is an educator and author. She teaches courses in literacy and integrating the arts for Lesley University. Dr. Bogard taught elementary school and is a former literacy coach. She presents for schools and professional organizations and writes books, journal articles, and literature guides for educators. She also writes books for children, including The ABCs of Plum Island Massachusetts, described by Kirkus Reviews as "An unexpectedly soulful and absorbing chronicle of regional history in a scrapbook-style work."


Lisa Donovan, Ph.D.

Lisa Donovan, Ph.D.

Title: Co-Editor and Co-Author of the Shell Education Integrating the Arts series

Lisa Donovan, Ph.D., is a professor in the Fine and Performing Arts Department at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Previously, she served as Lesley University's Director of the Creative Arts in Learning Division. Dr. Donovan has published widely and presented across the country and internationally on arts integration, rural arts education, and arts integration assessment. She is the 2021 Recipient of the Massachusetts Arts | Learning Irene Buck Service to Arts Education Award.


Author bio

Jennifer M. Bogard, Ph.D. and Lisa Donovan, Ph.D.

For more about these authors, read their bios above.