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The Great Depression
Causes, Consequences and Recovery

by Cheri Beus
Idaho State University

Grade: 5-8
Time Allotment: Four 50-minute class periods
Subject Matter: Social Studies and United States History.

          When the New York Stock Exchange crashed in 1929, Americans' confidence in the economy was severely shaken. During the years following 1929, many banks and businesses failed. Many Americans lost their savings and their jobs, some people no longer had money to buy goods and products. Fewer customers meant more companies and factories had to close. By the early 1930's the United States was in the Great Depression. This period of doomed businesses and vast unemployment would last for most of the 1930's.
          The government of the United States did little to try to ease the Depression. The early response of the President Herbert Hoover was not to intervene and wait out the economic cycle. The citizens of the United States were not happy with this decision and began exploring alternative forms of government.
          Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for President, his main platform was to help America overcome the Great Depression. He was elected and become President in 1933. He created the "New Deal" in an attempt to break the Depression. Roosevelt used new technology in the form of radio, to reach the American people.

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • Relate to an event from the early 20th century using their prior knowledge and personal history.
  • Compare prices of popular items of the late 1920's to the cost of those same items presently.
  • Acquire analytical skills to determine which companies are best to invest in and discover the consequences of those decisions.
  • Identify different points of view and frames of reference.
  • Analyze the causes and consequences of the stock market crash of 1929.
  • Evaluate the significance and legacy of the New Deal.
  • Explain the effect of technology on the popularity of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

From the National Standards for History, grades 5-12 and State of Idaho Achievement Standards for Social Studies, grades 5-8.

  1. Distinguish between past, present, and future time. Students will work backward from some issue, problem, or event to explain its origins and its development over time. (NSH 1A and 1C) (Idaho Standards 473.01.c)
  2. Analyze the causes and consequences of the stock market crash of 1929. (NSH Ear 8 1A)
  3. Acquire critical thinking and analytical skills. Identify different points of view and frames of reference. (Idaho Standards 446.01.e)
  4. Understand significant conflicts in U. S. History. Describe the major contributions of significant United States Presidents. (Idaho Standards 451.01.e)
  5. Evaluate the significance and legacy of the New Deal. [Evaluate the implementation of a decision] (NSH Era 8 2C)
  6. Understand the political, social and economic responses to industrialization and technological innovations that have occurred in the United States. Explain the consequences and technological inventions and changes on the social and economic lives of the people of the United States. (Idaho Standards 477.01.a)

Media Components :

1929: Breadline (People's Century I) Episode 7, Produced by David Espar. Videocassette Dist. By PBS Home Video, 1998
Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
Web Sites:


For each student:

For each group of four students:

Introductory Activities
Setting the Stage

The following activities will prepare students for lessons on the Great Depression and provide them with a chronological sense of this event in history.

Connecting Prior Knowledge to New Information to be presented.
Explain to students that we will be discussing the Great Depression. Ask students to raise their hands and share what they already know about the Great Depression. Use a graphic organizer to record their responses. (10-15 minutes)

Establishing a Personal Context for History.
Create a Family Timeline - This will help students determine how many generations students have to go back to find a relative that lived during the depression. (10-15 minutes) (Students may need to take this home to get more accurate dates.)

Establishing an Economic Context for History.
Ask students how they think life might have been different in 1929 than it is today. What do students understand about the price of goods then and now?

Divide student into groups of three or four, giving each group a copy of a current catalog and a Then and Now: Prices worksheet. In the left column is a list of women's clothing, men's clothing, games and toys and household goods. In the middle column, the price of each of these items is listed based on advertisements from 1932. Look through a current copy of a catalog to find out what it would cost to buy the same item today. Write that amount in the right column. Each group will record the current cost of listed products on the sheet and compare to prices in the early 1930's. (15-20 minutes)

Ask students, "How do prices compare between then and now?" "Did anything stand out to you?"

Establishing an Economic Context for History.
Ask students what they know about the stock market. List responses on board.

Explain to students that corporations need money to run their business, so they sell off shares (pieces) of their business to people wanting to invest their money in businesses. Various news releases by a corporation affect the stock price; new products and good earnings are indications that the stock value may increase.

Ask students to think about what kind of news may indicate a possible decline in a company's stock price. List these responses on board.

Explain to students that people decide what companies to invest in by learning about how the company has performed in the past, current business practices, and what the company is presently doing to increase profits.

Learning Activities
Provide students a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, inform them they each have $100,000 to invest and can leave a portion of this money in the bank to earn 4.5%. Ask the students to read the company profiles and to decide how many shares of each stock they will purchase. Have students advance two weeks at a time and make periodic buy and sell decisions. After they have advanced enough to have invested for 1 year (52 weeks) have them record their portfolio value. (20-25 minutes)

Ask students to log on to Play a Virtual Market @

Review instructions on the website and have students click on Trade Traditional Stocks in the bottom right hand corner of the explanation box to proceed.

Ask for students to call out their ending portfolio value to compare to each other.

Ask students, "What did this activity show you about how the value of a stock fluctuates?"

Establishing a Social Context for History
Ask students to listen to the CD recording of Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask each student to listen and write down a phrase in the song they believe describes conditions during the depression.

Discuss the student responses and possible meaning of various phrases. (10 minutes)

Ask students to log on to Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Museum, and Digital Archives Students will examine photographs taken during the Great Depression.

Provide students a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, ask them to examine one of the nine photographs at this website and record in a short paragraph their impression of what they think is happening in the photograph. (15 minutes)

Ask students to share their impressions of life during the depression.

Second Class Period:
Explain to your students that we will be looking at life just prior to and during the Great Depression. Insert 1929, Breadline, into the VCR.

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to watch for and write down three immediate effects of the stock market crash.

START the tape when the screen shows people riding a roller coaster and the sound track has their screams. PLAY the tape until the footage of the man closing the gates on the factory and the narrator says, "Which individual governments were powerless to control." STOP the tape.

Ask students to name some of the effects of the stock market crash as you list their responses on the board.

Show students the overhead of the following stock prices and have them determine how many dollars per share would have been lost from September 3, 1929 and November 13, 1929. Have students calculate the losses of an investor holding 100 shares of one of these stocks.

Ask students, "How would you have felt losing this amount of money in 1929?"

Stock Prices Sep. 3, 1929 Nov. 13, 1929 1932 Low
American Telephone 304 197 1/4 70 1/4
General Electric 396 1/4 168 1/2 34
General Motors 72 3/4 36 7 5/8
New York Central 256 3/8 160 8 3/4
Radio 101 26 2 1/2
U.S. Steel 261 150 21 1/4

FAST FORWARD the tape until the tape is filled with men digging up wooden blocks from the street with music playing in the background. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to listen for and write down two of the consequences of the Great Depression mentioned in the video.

PLAY the tape, until the screen is filled with John Takman who is wearing a red sweater as he says, "There was a huge destruction of food in the United States at the same time millions were starving. . .millions and millions starving." STOP the tape. Ask students to name the consequences of the Great Depression they discovered while watching the video.

FAST FORWARD the tape until the screen is filled with tall building in the background with shacks in the forefront. Bing Crosby is singing, "Once I built a railroad." Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to write down one reason forms of government other than democracy became attractive to some of the citizens of the United States.

PLAY the tape until the screen is filled with Bill Bailey being interviewed saying, "The only way we are going to reconcile it is to dump capitalism." STOP the tape. Ask students to name a form of government that emerged in popularity during the depression and what was attractive about that government.

FAST FORWARD the tape until the screen is filled with the scene of Washington, D.C. smoldering and President Franklin D. Roosevelt saying, "Give me your help. . ."

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to write down three things President Roosevelt did to help the United States during the Depression and to consider why the Roosevelt administration was referred to as the "alphabet administration".

PLAY the tape, until the screen is filled with the family listening to the radio and the dad says to his son, "Here's a dollar for you." STOP the tape. Ask students what is the significant about the statement, "Here's a dollar for you." What does this indicate about the country as a whole? Discuss why the Roosevelt administration was referred to as the "alphabet administration?" Ask, "What are some of the programs that President Roosevelt instituted after he was elected and how did these programs help the country and its citizens?"

Display the following chart on the overhead and ask students how President Roosevelt used these statistics to his advantage as president.

Number of radios  
1900 18 per 1,000 people
1910 82 per 1,000 people
1920 123 per 1,000 people
1930 163 per 1,000 people

Culminating Activity

Students will synthesize new knowledge gained by creating entries in a diary of a student that would have been their age when the Depression began.

Give students a set of directions for the diary assignment and discuss the assignment as a class.

Students will use the following websites as resources, as well as information gathered during the previous lessons.

Ask students to log on to the New York Times website @ The articles at this site give coverage of the stock market crash from October 28, 1929 to November 1, 1929.

Provide students a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION asking them to examine the newspaper articles for new information about the Great Depression, information that will assist them in their diary entries.

Ask students to log on to the New Deal Network website @
Students will search by subject to locate information about New Deal Programs.

Have students research one of the New Deal Programs they learned about from the previous lesson. Through their diary entries, have them explain how this particular program affected the community where they lived.

Students will spend the remainder of the class time creating their diary entries.


Visual Art
Alphabet Agency Posters
Students investigate the purposes of one of the agencies created by the New Deal.
Students design and create a poster that explains the agencies role to the American people.

Language Arts/Social Studies
Oral History
Conduct oral history interviews with individuals who lived during the Great Depression. Students get the opportunity to become historians themselves by gathering facts about a historical event and then writing the story.

New Deal Debate
Divide class in half, one team of students will defend the New Deal; the other team will criticize it. This project encourages students to use facts to support their conclusions, to listen to ideas expressed by other people and to work cooperatively.

Great Depression Drama
Students can demonstrate their understanding of the impact of the Great Depression on the American people. Possible dramatic settings can include the following:

  • Members of a family and their lives in a "Hooverville"
  • A public meeting where local government officials and citizens discuss New Deal relief proposals
  • Life on the road or in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp

Fireside Chat
Individual students visit and read one of FDR's Fireside Chats. Students then write, perform and audiotape a "fireside chat" of their own, designed to explain and "sell" a New Deal reform proposal to the American public.

Community Connections

Contact the local public library and research how New Deal projects benefited the local community.

Contact a local stockbroker and arrange for a visit to discuss how the stock market works. As an alternative activity, go online to students can view the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, as well as watch a broker in action. Students can read an online brochure about investing, You and the Investment World @

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