The Depressing Depression

Author: Tanyan Avendano
School: John Adams Elementary School
Grade Level: Middle School
Time Estimated: 9-11 days (50 minute periods)

This unit is designed to teach about the causes and effects of the Great Depression, and provide an introduction to the use of primary sources in the study of history. This historical discovery approach will emphasize the role of the historian as detective using such skills as observation, discrimination, analysis, and synthesis to research and record history. Students will explore primary sources including photographs, poems, song lyrics, documents, maps, cartoons, as well as, secondary source texts in print and online.

This unit works well when students have learned about U.S. history through the early 20th Century including World War I, the “Roaring Twenties,” and basic economic events and psychological attitudes that helped lead to Black Tuesday and the Crash of 1929. Students will link their knowledge of the barter system during colonial times to the bank failures of the 1930s that resulted in the currency crisis of the Great Depression (there were no banks in the colonies and very little currency and as a result, most people depended upon bartering to meet their economic needs). In recalling this information, students will compare the similarities and differences to the colonial era. They will learn about the effect of the Great Depression on families, the response of government to the crisis, and how this event changed views on the role of government in economics, the arts, the environment, and social services. The students in the class are approximately 25% ESL, 30% LEP, 30% African/ African-American, 30% Latino, 8% Caucasian, and 30% is on free or reduced lunch. There are no talented and gifted (TAG) students.


Historical Background:
Great Depression Fact Sheet


Major Understanding:

The Great Depression was a cataclysmic historic and economic event that changed the lives of millions of people and resulted in the policies of the New Deal, a shift in the role of government in the lives of its citizens. There is still a debate today about the proper extent and nature of that role.



Students will:

  1. Gain an understanding of the causes and effects of the Great Depression
  2. Examine the major programs of the New Deal
  3. Identify and interpret primary source documents
  4. Compare and contrast data with previously learned information


Standards of Learning:

USII.1 The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis, including the ability to:
a) analyze and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in the United States history from 1877 to the present;
b) make connections between past and present events;
c) sequence events in United States history;
d) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives.


USII.5 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the social, economic, and technological changes of the early twentieth century by:
d) identifying the causes of the Great Depression, its impact on Americans, and the major features of the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.