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The Great Depression Lesson Plans

The Great Depression: A Curriculum for High School Students

The curriculum begins with a message from Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and an introductory essay, “The Great Depression: An Overview,” written by David C. Wheelock, a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and an expert on the Great Depression. The essay is incorporated into many of the lessons, as students are asked to read and refer to various sections of the essay.

Following the essay, the curriculum includes six stand-alone lessons, allowing the teacher to pick and choose the lessons most appropriate for his or her students. Although each lesson is written to stand alone, the lessons are sequenced for instruction so that a teacher can use the entire unit.

Lesson Format

Each lesson includes:

  • a list of economic concepts taught in the lesson,
  • the economics and history content standards and the social studies strands addressed in each lesson,
  • learner objectives,
  • estimated time required,
  • a list of materials required,
  • a detailed set of procedures,
  • an assessment,
  • blackline masters for visuals,
  • handouts for the teacher to copy and distribute, and
  • an interactive whiteboard application.

Alternate Lesson 1 with Primary Sources: Measuring the Great Depression

This lesson describes how we measure the economy’s health with tools such as gross domestic product (GDP), the unemployment rate, and the consumer price index (CPI). Developing an understanding of these concepts is critical to understanding the magnitude of the economic problems during the Great Depression. This lesson also illustrates the differences between these modern economic measurements and the measurements available at the time through primary source materials from FRASER®, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis digital library of economic history. Students work in groups to examine excerpts from primary source documents and create relevant definitions of economics concepts in their own words. In an optional extension, students may read and answer questions on an essay that provides an overview of how economists understand the Great Depression.
Alternate Lesson 1 with Primary Sources aligned to C3 Standards (.pdf)

Alternate Lesson 3 with Primary Sources: Family Budgets and the Great Depression

In this lesson, students work in groups to “experience” the effects of the Great Depression in one of three scenarios: a construction worker, railroad worker, or teacher who makes budget choices during the Great Depression. Students examine a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics primary source document from FRASER®, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis digital library of economic history, to evaluate price change data and make the connection between deflation and unemployment.
Alternate Lesson 3 with Primary Sources (.pdf)

Lesson Content

Full Curriculum
Download the Full Curriculum (.pdf)

Lesson 1 – Measuring the Great Depression
Lesson (.pdf) | Whiteboard (.notebook) | Whiteboard (.pptx)

This lesson introduces tools—such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the unemployment rate and the Consumer Price Index (CPI)—that are used to measure the economy’s health, through an analysis of simple bar charts and graphs. Developing an understanding of these concepts is critical to understanding the magnitude of the economic problems that took place during the Great Depression.

Lesson 2 – What Do People Say Caused the Great Depression?
Lesson (.pdf) | Whiteboard (.notebook) | Whiteboard (.pptx)

There are many suggested causes for the Great Depression. It is important for students to understand that occurrences such as the stock market crash—and other events that affected particular sectors of the economy—were important, but not significant enough to cause the Great Depression. By reading fictitious letters that reflect actual problems and people’s concerns during the Great Depression, students begin to identify with the people of that era and to uncover the problems that people experienced during the Great Depression.

Lesson 3 – What Really Caused the Great Depression?
Lesson (.pdf) | Whiteboard (.notebook) | Whiteboard (.pptx)

Through participation in two simulations, students determine that bank panics and a shrinking money supply were the primary causes of the Great Depression. Through an additional activity, they see how the many other factors they have discussed, such as problems in the agricultural sector and the stock market crash, exacerbated the situation.

Lesson 4 – Dealing with the Great Depression
Lesson (.pdf) | Whiteboard (.notebook) | Whiteboard (.pptx)

Students learn about programs initiated through the New Deal. By comparing and categorizing New Deal programs, they recognize that the value of most of these programs was their effects on the confidence that U.S. citizens had in the economy. Students also identify the impact that these programs had on the role of the U.S. government in the economy.

Lesson 5 – Turn Your Radio On
Lesson (.pdf) | Whiteboard (.notebook) | Whiteboard (.pptx)

Students use excerpts from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” to identify his plans for restoring the economy. They determine that using available technology to communicate was important to FDR’s effort to restore consumer confidence.

Lesson 6 – Could It Happen Again?
Lesson (.pdf) | Whiteboard (.notebook) | Whiteboard (.pptx)

Students learn about the roles and functions of the Federal Reserve System. Through a simulation, they learn how the Fed manages the money supply through open market operations. They identify what central bankers have learned about implementing monetary policy as a result of the Great Depression. Furthermore, they recognize the steps the central bank has taken to respond effectively to financial crises since that time.


Appendix

The appendix of the curriculum includes:

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