Lesson Plan: Tobacco in North Carolina
Student Learning Objectives

• Students will examine several photographs of tobacco farms in North Carolina and discuss reasons for the artist's subject choice and how the subject relates to the history of North Carolina.
• Students will use cooperative learning skills to create a group visual and verbal persuasive argument in favor of or against tobacco farming as a major agricultural enterprise in our state, using opinion and research that supports the argument.
• Each student will research the political, economic, and social impacts of tobacco growth on North Carolina's citizens and reflect on his or her response to this information through journal writing.

English Language Arts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.1, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.5

Social Studies

4.G.1.1, 4.G.1.2, 4.G.1.4, 4.E.1.1, 4.E.1.3

Visual Arts

4.V.2.2, 4.CX.2.2 

Written by Jill Taylor, NCMA Educator
Essential Question: What role should tobacco have in the culture and economy of North Carolina?
Abstract: Students will examine the depiction of North Carolina tobacco farms in several photographs. They will then work in small groups to prepare a persuasive argument for a class debate and create promotional signs to advertise their point of view about whether farmers should or should not continue to produce tobacco.

1. Share the two tobacco photographs with the class as overheads. Discuss the imagery of the pictures and brainstorm reasons why the artist might have focused on tobacco farms as his subject.

  • What do the tobacco sticks remind you of?
  • Where do you think the family is heading? What makes you think that? Are they starting or ending their day? How do you know?
  • Why would someone take pictures of a tobacco farm, such as the one portrayed here?
  • What are the possible points of view that the artist might have about tobacco and agriculture? What are some common points of view about tobacco? How do groups for and against tobacco try to influence or persuade us to think of tobacco positively or negatively?

2. Talk with the class about how important the growth of tobacco has been to the state through the years by sharing figures about annual income and number of tobacco-related jobs (visit this link for information and tables on both of these topics). Explain how North Carolina was affected by class-action lawsuits that led to the passage of a 1999 law that governed the use of tobacco settlement funds and adversely affected farmers in many rural areas. For a detailed explanation of the 1998 tobacco settlement in North Carolina, check out this link.

3. Tell the students that they will be asked to adopt a positive or negative view of tobacco and must try to persuade their peers with reasoned arguments. Divide the class into six small groups (two "economic," two "political," two "social"). Assign each group to argue "for" or "against" tobacco production, based on its area of focus (that is, one group "for" tobacco production due to "economic" reasons, one "against" tobacco production for "social" reasons etc.). Provide students with copies of Internet articles or other documents to help explain the production of tobacco in North Carolina and its implications for the citizens of our state (helpful Web sites can be found at this link and this link).

4. Instruct each group to prepare an argument for its particular area of focus, based on the information provided. Encourage students to use the computer lab or library to locate additional resources to support their case, if necessary. Provide them with a graphic organizer to arrange their thoughts and provide main and supporting details that link opinion to reason.

5. Before the debate, ask each group to design at least one promotional sign to advertise its viewpoint. Each sign should include a catchy slogan and pictures/symbols that relate to the area of focus. Have students look at Rob Amberg’s photographs again.

  • How could these photographs be used to make a persuasive case for or against tobacco production?
  • What are some other images or words that relate to tobacco that could be used in a persuasive image?
  • What kind of emotional impact would these words and images have?

Have the students brainstorm images and phrases that could help persuade the audience to their point of view before creating their sign. Tell students that they should be prepared to discuss their images and question other groups’ images during the debate.

6. Combine all three "for" and all three "against" groups to allow them to prepare their argument strategies collectively. After both sides have had an opportunity to organize their cases, review the ground rules for class debate and tell the students how much time they will have to share their arguments.

7. Facilitate the debate about whether North Carolina's farmers should or should not continue production of tobacco in our state. Display the groups’ promotional signs during the debate, and allow discussion about the images during the debate.

8. As a concluding activity, ask students to reflect in writing on the political, economic, and social impacts of tobacco on North Carolinians. Have them fully explain their rationale for why we should or should not continue its production.

• Class discussion, student brainstorming on persuasive images and phrases, and the group’s image will be used to evaluate the students' understanding of the artist's rationale for subject choice and how to create a persuasive work of art.

• Observation will be used during small-group time to assess whether students are actively engaged in the research and brainstorming session and working cooperatively with their classmates.

• Review of each student's graphic organizer will be used to determine whether the student was able to find information to support the group's position regarding tobacco production in North Carolina and its impact on economics, politics, or social causes.

• The debate and reflective journals will provide insight into whether the students understand the political, economic, and social impacts of tobacco on the state's farming industry as well as the entire citizenry and, consequently, can make an informed personal judgment based on this information.

• The reflection journals will be assessed to learn more about each individual student's ability to make an informed personal judgment based on the group's research.


class-action lawsuit
tobacco settlement
cash crop

Lesson Plan Document

In his ongoing series Vanishing Culture of Agriculture, Rob Amberg documents the effects of change and technology on small family farms. For over 25 years, Amberg has visited small farms throughout the South and captured farmers and their families at work and at play. Jim Smyre and family planting tobacco shows a family riding a tobacco setter as they transplant seedlings into the field.

Natural Resources
A field of harvested tobacco marches in rows across the image and into the distance in Rob Amberg's photograph of a crop awaiting gathering for the curing process. Light filters through on the left side of the image and accentuates the top of the plants on the far side of the field. A layer of fog surrounds the farmhouse and the rising mountains in the scene's background. The burley tobacco plants are cut and tied or speared onto sticks, called tobacco sticks, that are about three feet long and can hold up to six tobacco plants each. An everyday scene to the Mountain tobacco farmer holds an aura of mystery for the outside viewer, expressed through the rhythmic patterns of the cut plants that are softly bathed in light.

How does photographer Rob Amberg choose his subjects?
Whether working on a series over a period of decades or doing freelance projects for nonprofit organizations and publications, Rob Amberg is concerned primarily with southern cultural traditions and communities. A field of cut burley tobacco is from the Sodom Laurel Album, a series that focuses on Amberg's relationship with Sodom Laurel residents Dellie Norton and her son Junior over two decades. Published as a book, Amberg's work incorporates stories from Sodom Laurel residents, his journal entries and recordings of traditional Appalachian music. More works from this series can be viewed at www.robamberg.com.

Why is tobacco an important natural resource in North Carolina?Entwined in the history of North Carolina, tobacco has been important since the first colonists at Roanoke took the plant to England in 1586. North Carolina remains the number one producer of raw tobacco in the United States. In 2002, $657 million was generated in cash receipts for tobacco in North Carolina. Most tobacco grown in North Carolina, especially in the Coastal Plain, is Virginia tobacco. The burley tobacco shown in this image is grown more in western areas, including the Mountains, and Kentucky and Tennessee.

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