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Lesson Plan #1: The Role of Government and the New Deal

During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated the far-reaching legislation of the New Deal that extended the federal government’s arm deep into the economy, the policies of individual states, and the lives of many Americans. The programs faced fierce opposition at the time, and many of those same arguments — including limiting the role of government as a whole — have resonated throughout United States history in the political battles over the economy, health care, unemployment, and other volatile issues.

Length of Lesson: 4-6 days


  • Understand the different positions on the role of the federal government.
  • Analyze the reasoning behind President Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal.


  • Discuss the role of the federal government in the United States.
  • Hold a senate debate on the merit of the government’s increased level of economic and social intervention during the New Deal.


Part 1: The Role of Government

1. Individually answer and then discuss as a class the following questions:

  • What role should the federal government play in our day-to-day lives?
  • What are our expectations of the federal government?
  • How should the federal and state governments balance their authority?
  • How much control should the federal government exert over the economy?

2. As a class, discuss the Role of the Government article from and continue talking about any points that were already mentioned in the first discussion and any new relevant ideas.

Part 2: The New Deal

1. Review the main ideas of the Great Depression and the New Deal. Then discuss whether a government should actively work to end a severe economic crisis.

2. Show the selected segment on the events leading up to the stock market crash. Should the government have intervened in the months before the crash? Do you think it could have averted the looming crisis?

3. Show the selected video segments from the Great Depression that depict the government involving itself in the economic recovery of the United States. After each clip, discuss the value of that specific program and whether or not it was necessary.

4. Research the arguments for and against the New Deal.

5. Individually or in small groups, prepare a speech defending or opposing the New Deal. Include philosophical arguments and historical facts to defend the selected position. Additionally, use the beliefs and the role of President Roosevelt in the argument.

6. Hold a Senate legislative session, allowing each individual or group to present their position.

7. As a class, discuss the merits for and against the New Deal. Link those arguments, as appropriate, to current events.

Part 3: The New Deal and 2009 Stimulus (Optional)

1. Review the provided 2009 Stimulus links.

2. Using the position determined in Part 2 as a foundation, develop an argument for or against the 2009 governmental efforts using the following criteria:

  • Economic comparison between the Great Depression and the 2009 recession
  • Types of stimulus instituted
  • Perceived role of government

3. Write a second senate speech defending or attacking the 2009 stimulus package, drawing facts from 2009 and the New Deal.

4. Have each group or individual present their opinion in a second senate session.

5. As a class, compare and contrast the federal government’s reactions to the economic conditions during the 1930s and in 2009. Do they merit the same type of response? Did the government overstep its role in one or both situations?


New Deal Links

2009 Stimulus Links

Lesson Plan #2: 1930s Conservation


The federal government had long sought to protect the environment through the creation of National Parks and Forests. However, during the 1930s, the idea of environmental conservation took on a new meaning, which spread into mainstream America. The Dust Bowl forced farmers and legislators around the nation to confront the need for soil conservation. In addition to opening up America’s wilderness for tourists, the Civilian Conservation Corps instilled a new understanding that the environment needs to be maintained and purposefully conserved. Finally, the federally funded Hoover Dam sought to control nature itself.

Length of Lesson: 1-2 Days


  • Understand the successes and failures of environmental policy during the 1930s.
  • Examine the conservation movement during the 1930s.


  • Write a news article as if living in the late 1930s and reporting on the CCC, the Dust Bowl, or the building of Hoover Dam. Discuss environmental issues of the time and any impact of these projects on their surroundings.


1. As a class, discuss the nature of conservation and environmentalism in modern times, including global warming, pollution, recycling, and the green movement.

2. Review Radford University’s timeline, conservation history from 1890 – 1920, noting the Progressive Era movement and contributions of President Theodore Roosevelt.

3. Select one of the following topics: The Civilian Conservation Corps, the Dust Bowl, or Hoover Dam. Research the selected topic using the provided resources, answering the following questions:

  • Name a specific issue or problem that was addressed during the 1930s.
  • Why did it need addressing?
  • Was the solution successful? Why or why not?
  • How was it implemented? Did it go as planned?
  • Write the news article, following the basic news article format from the Media Awareness Network.


Lesson Plan #3: The Human Cost, in Pictures


The photographers and writers of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) documented the poverty, suffering, and dire conditions faced by thousands of Americans in the 1930s. The images and stories recorded at this time have become symbols of one of the most trying eras in United States history.

Length of Lesson: 2-3 Days


  • Examine primary source images and firsthand accounts of the Great Depression.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the struggles faced by Americans during the era by analyzing and interpreting photographic images.


  • Select images taken by WPA photographers and use them to tell the story of the tragedy of the Great Depression and the triumphs of the American spirit.


1. Individually or in small groups, review the provided resources, noting the types of hardships faced by Americans across the nation. Topics to be addressed include:

  • Poverty
  • Environmental hardship
  • Family and personal struggles
  • Movement, including migration from the Dust Bowl to California

2. Select three images that best epitomize the student’s understanding of the time.

3. Analyze each picture, closely examining all parts of the photograph and any provided captions.

4. Write a summary explaining how the images depict the suffering of the Great Depression. In the explanation, include related facts, quotes, the topics listed in step number 1, and interpretations of what the photographer may have intended.

5. If possible, publish images in VoiceThread or Glogster.


Lesson Plan #4: A 1930s Museum


The events of the 1930s dramatically reshaped all facets of life in the United States. The turmoil of the stock market crash and the proceeding economic depression forced millions of people into dire economic times. In reaction, the people of America elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who promised recovery with his New Deal programs. The implementation and success of the New Deal during the 1930s helped redefine the role of government in the United States.

Length of Lesson: 4-6 Days


  • At the end of a 1930s unit, review the major events of the 1930s.
  • Select the most important social, political, environmental, and economic events of the decade.


  • Create a museum to the 1930s addressing the social, political, environmental, and economic highs and lows of the era. Select two items in each category, one representing the suffering or failure of times and the other a triumph of America during the 1930s.


1. At the end of the unit on the 1930s, review the significant events of the era.

2. Individually or in small groups, create a chart with the following categories: social, political, environmental, and economic. Each category should have a negative and positive column.

3. Review the provided resources and other materials from the unit. Place potential topics in the chart. Select one positive and one negative topic from each category.

4. For each topic, include the following:

  • An object, image, or document that will represent it in the museum
  • An explanation for its inclusion in the exhibit

5. Present all items in a virtual museum, using a wiki, blog, or other multimedia online application. (If a virtual medium is unavailable, create a museum display using posterboard.)

Video Resources:
The five AMERICAN EXPERIENCE films in The 1930s Collection provide valuable information on the social, political and cultural aspects of the decade. Refer to chapter descriptions for a sense of what content is included in each chapter.

Other Resources:

Lesson Plan #5: The Life of a Worker, in Words and Pictures


During the Great Depression, many members of the working class suffered significantly. As the rate of unemployment grew to unprecedented highs, men and women faced more strenuous working conditions and increased competition for the limited number of available jobs. Often, workers traveled long distances across the nation in hopes of finding a job.

Length of Lesson: 3-5 Days


  • Examine the life of a worker from the Great Depression era.
  • Compare the employment experiences of different types of people during the 1930s.


  • Select an individual worker from the Great Depression and write a narrative of his/her life during the era.
  • Publish the narrative in a blog or other multimedia application, utilizing images and other assets, if available.
  • Share finished products and compare the experiences in each of the stories.


1. Individually or in small groups, select one of the following job types:

  • Dust Bowl Farmer
  • Migrant Framer
  • Hoover Dam Worker
  • Civilian Conservation Corps or Works Progress Administration Worker
  • Industrial Worker

2. Using the provided resources, research the working conditions and possible daily life routine of the selected worker.

3. Outline a story based upon the historical events and conditions that a worker or farmer in the Great Depression might have faced.

4. Develop a persona for your main character, including family members and background.

5. Write a story or narrative about what the person and his/her family might have endured during this time. The story should draw strongly from the research in Step 2. Do not exaggerate the suffering or create an unrealistic storyline.

6. Find and include images that complement the storyline.

7. If possible, publish the story online using a blog (WordpressEdublogsBlogger,) VoiceThreadEverLater, or other online application.

8. Share stories and compare the different experiences of laborers across the nation. How were the experiences the same? How were they different? Are there similarities to the lives of today’s laborers? What lessons can we learn from those experiences?


General Information



Hoover Dam

Lesson Plan #6: A Popular Culture Time Capsule


While the economic foundations of the nation were shaken during the Great Depression, popular culture continued to evolve and grow. Movies, radio, fashion, music, literature and sports became even greater parts of American life.

Length of Lesson: 1-2 Days


  • Examine 1930s popular culture and identify ideas, people, or objects that might interest a teenager.


  • Create a time capsule of what you think would best represent the interests of a young American during the 1930s.


1. Discuss as a class that, while the Great Depression greatly affected millions of Americans, for many others, life did not change significantly. As a group, answer the following question: Why did many entertainment and other industries related to popular culture continue to do well and even thrive?

2. Review the provided resources and identify four objects that a young American living in the 1930s might have put into a time capsule.

3. For each item, write a description of what it represents, its importance in the 1930s, and a justification for its inclusion in the time capsule. If available, include images with each description.

4. Publish your selections on VoiceThread or Glogster, including appropriate images.