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Ten Lessons
For Teaching About
The Great Depression

The anniversary of Black Tuesday is the perfect opportunity to teach your students about the causes and the effects of the Great Depression. Education World offers a dozen great Internet-based activities. Included: Ten activities for use across the curriculum and across the grades!

October 29 is the anniversary of "Black Tuesday" -- the day the stock market crashed in 1929, sending the United States and the world into a bleak era known as the Great Depression.
The immediate effects of the Great Depression, along with the efforts of the federal government to spur recovery and to prevent a repeat of that disaster, changed forever the U.S. political, economic, and social scene. You can help your students understand the causes and the effects of the Great Depression as well as the impact that event has on their lives today. Introduce them to the people who lived it with the following activities from Education World.


History -- It happened in the 1930s.
Invite students to view brief video clips from PBS's The Great Depression: Stories of a Generation's Struggle for Democracy. Then students can work individually or in small groups to create timelines of the major social and economic events related to the Great Depression.

Writing -- It's news to me!
Encourage students to explore headlines from Black Thursday (October 24, 1929 -- The Crash. (Alternate source: N.Y. Times Web Special: The Crash of 1929.) Then ask each student to write a news story that covers the events of the period. Students might find additional information at The Crash of 1929 or 1929 Stock Market Crash. Don't forget the headline!


Language arts -- Read all about it!
Invite students to read the personal accounts of life during the Great Depression at The Great Depression (and its linked page, First-Hand Accounts); "I Remember:" Reminiscences of the Great Depression; American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940; and Great Depression 1930's: Firsthand Accounts. Then encourage them to conduct their own video or audiotape interviews of family members or friends who lived through the Great Depression.

Language arts -- You are there!
As a follow-up to the previous activity, have students read Christmas During the Great Depression, a first-person account of one child's Christmas during the Great Depression. Then ask each student to write about his or her most memorable holiday.

Writing/critical thinking -- Canada! Oh Canada!
Invite students to explore The Great Depression and read about the years of the Great Depression in Canada. Then ask them to compare the causes and effects of the Depression in Canada and the United States.

Geography -- From sea to shining sea.
Ask each child to choose a state and explore that state's photographs at America from the Great Depression to WWII. Have students choose one photograph and write a diary entry from the point of view of one of the photo's subjects. Encourage students to include information about their states in the 1930s, as well as information about the lives of the residents. Display the diary entries and a map of the United States on a classroom bulletin board. Have each student use a piece of string or yarn to connect his or her diary entry to the correct state.


Arts -- Signs of the times.
Point out to students that a country's culture often reflects its political, economic, and social conditions. Invite them to explore the music of the Great Depression through songs such as

  • It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
  • Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
  • Whistle While You Work
  • Happy Days Are Here Again
  • and the photographs and paintings at A New Deal for the Arts. Ask each student to choose a song and an artwork he or she thinks best depicts the era. Have students present their choices, along with a brief explanation for them, to the class.


    Math -- What did it cost?
    Have students explore Then and Now: Prices, complete the table, and answer the questions about costs and wages. Then ask students to use the Inflation Calculator (or the Inflation Calculator: Moneys Real Worth Over Time) to find out how much each item on the list would have cost in 1929 based on today's prices. Have them create a second table to show that information. As a follow-up to this activity, ask students to make a list of common household items and jobs that did not exist in 1929.

    Social studies -- The 20th-century family.
    Have students read The Great Depression Changed Family Values, Lifestyles. Then cover a bulletin board with butcher paper and ask students to create a mural depicting the history of the American family during the 20th century. Encourage students to illustrate how such aspects of family life as clothing, jobs, education, and social roles changed throughout the century.

    Social studies -- It's the law!
    Ask students to read about the New Deal Acts that resulted from the Great Depression. Then arrange students into pairs and have each pair investigate the causes and effects of one piece of legislation, both in the 1930s and today. As they research the legislation, encourage students to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of government intervention. Ask each pair to present their findings to the class in the form of an oral report or a debate.



    American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library
    This site contains multimedia collections of documents, photographs, sound, movies, and text from the Library of Congress Americana collections. Search for resources on the Great Depression.

    Lesson Ideas for the Great Depression Gallery
    The study of the Great Depression in Michigan provides lessons across the curriculum.

    Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum: The Great Depression
    A Gallery of words and pictures.

    The Economic History of the Twentieth Century: The Great Crash and the Great Slump
    In his analysis of the Depression, University of California at Berkeley associate professor of economics Brad De Long includes graphs depicting the economic history of the Depression years.

    Why Was the Great Depression a Disaster Waiting to Happen?
    This site contains a list of causes of the Great Depression from a history course at the University of San Diego.

    America in the 1930s
    This project, developed by the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia, allows visitors to view the 1930s through films, radio programs, literature, journalism, museums, exhibitions, architecture, art, and other forms of cultural expression. The site itself is best for students in high school and above; however, it contains excellent resources, such as audio of 1930s radio programs, that teachers can use with students of any age.

    The New Deal Network
    This educational Web site, sponsored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College/Columbia University, provides lesson plans and an extensive list of links to on-line resources.

    Hard Times: Coping With Life During the Great Depression
    The purpose of the project is to interview individuals who remember life during the Great Depression (1929-1941) throughout the world. Students will use supplied interview questions, gather responses, and summarize data to reflect the life styles of people who lived during this time period. (Note: This project is no longer live online, but the resources here provide ideas for a classroom project that you might initiate.)


    Article by Linda Starr
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2010 Education World


    Originally published 11/08/1999
    Last updated 10/14/2010


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