The Great Depression

“Buddy, can you spare a dime?”


Ann Elmborg

Last Updated: November 29, 2000

Introduction | Task | Resources | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion


What do you do when your parents and grandparents tell you stories about how much tougher their lives were “in the old days”? Do you roll your eyes as you think to yourself, “Here we go again.  Now I have to listen to one of their old stories about how they had to walk five miles to school, in the snow, uphill--both ways!”

Well, if that’s your response, and the person talking to you is talking about a time in the last century called the “Great Depression,” then maybe all those stories of hardship and challenge are true. 

And maybe those stories don’t even begin to capture the widespread suffering and misery, or the enormous victories and joys of the human will, that characterize one of the most amazing times in the history of our country.

Let’s find out together.

Log entry #1.  Examine the pictures in the frame to the right.  As you do so,  think about the fact, during the Depression, thousands of Americans lived as this family is living—without homes and with hope fading fast.  Read Lange’s explanation of the situation in which she took these pictures.


On the left side of your log, write the details from the pictures and Lange’s description that strike you in some way.  On the right side, make some personal response to those details.  Write a summary or a poem; pose questions; draw a picture; make some kind of personal connection to the visual and verbal information.


Listen to the sound file below as you write.  The song you hear, “Hard Times” describes a feeling of the time that we are going to learn lots more about in the next few weeks.





Dorothea Lange took these pictures in March of 1936 when she encountered this migrant family in Nipomo, California.  In 1960, Lange recalled this event as follows:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).



The Task

The Project Goal for this class is to create a Depression Alive! Fair for your classmates in Team 74.  This Fair will provide your peers a window through which your peers can learn about the hardships, the joys, the challenges, failures, and incredible triumphs of normal human beings who rose to meet the nearly unimaginable challenges of extraordinary times.

In order to gather as much information as possible about this enormous topic, each of you will research a different facet of American life during the Great Depression.  You will have two kinds of tasks to fulfill—Required Tasks for Everyone and Final Presentation Options.



The Process


1.   Formal Proposal--In this document, you will propose (set forth) the area and purpose of your research.  What aspect of the time period will you be investigating, and what, at least initially, do you think you can do with this topic.

2.     Annotated bibliographyIn this required part of your project, you will make a list of your sources in which you briefly describe those sources and their use.

3.     A double-entry journalIn this journal your will record the facts you gather in your research and their sources, your responses to them, and the plans you are making for your final presentation.

4.     A final presentation of your information--This presentation can style can come from one of the options listed below, or you may propose your own presentation format, an option that I would need to approve.


1.     A dramatic presentation of your research findings in the persona of someone who actually lived—or a fictional character who might have lived—during the Great Depression.

2.     A PowerPoint presentation that presents the information you have found.  This presentation should be accompanied by your own oral presentation of the information.

3.     A demonstration or performance of how something necessary or popular was done during the Depression.

4.     A filmed interview or a recreation of an interview with someone who actually lived through the Depression and would be willing to share his or her experiences with you.

5.     A multi-media presentation that captures sights and sounds of the Great Depression.

6.     A collection of artifacts from the Depression, accompanied by explanations of their use and value or the memories connected to them.  This explanation may be in either written or oral form.

7.     A web page designed to present your topic to an audience of your peers.



The Depression:  Twelve Historical Documents

The Depression Hits Home:  Photo Collection

Surviving the Dust Bowl—PBS Video

Riding the Rails—PBS Video




Describe to the learners how their performance will be evaluated. You can link to a separate rubric document from here, or you could briefly summarize your criteria on this page. Also specify whether there will be a common grade for group work vs. individual grades. Make sure the evaluation of your students evaluates the accomplishment of the objectives listed in the lesson.



Put a couple of sentences here that summarize what they will have accomplished or learned by completing this activity or lesson. You might also include some rhetorical questions or additional links to encourage them to extend their thinking into other content.


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