For history teachers, teaching students about the Great Depression can be a challenge, especially when you are trying to have middle school students gain a deeper understanding of what people endured during this time. Through videos, pictures, readings, and more, students will gain a further understanding of what life was really like during the Great Depression in the United States. Students should be able to describe what the US looked like in the 1930s and know what was done to correct it and these activities will help them achieve just that!
1. Cinderella Man
Movies are a great way to get students interested in learning and give them a better idea of what specific historic events were like. This movie does a great job of showing family experiences in dealing with the loss of employment during this era.
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2. Poster Project
This is a great project to wrap up your unit. It includes a rubric and checklist of requirements so you can just print, copy and assign it to your class. Depending on your class time, you might want to have students work on it in class rather than at home.
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3. Build a Hooverville
Using some basic materials, students can build their own Hoovervilles. I love hands-on activities that show them how people took whatever scraps they could find in order to create some form of shelter.
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4. Simulation Dice Game
This game reminds me of the Oregon Trail game I played as a middle schooler. Students will work in groups and take turns rolling dice. Depending on what they roll, they’ll record what happens to them. It’s a great way for kids to learn about what happened to individual families’ daily life.
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Stations are always a great way to have students work independently. This one happens to come with the Google version, which is great for a digital classroom. The station activities give students multiple ways to learn about the Great Depression using multisensory approaches.
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These worksheets can be used for homework, early finishers, or those that need some extra resources. Some should take 15-20 minutes to complete, while others may take more time.
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7. Interactive Notebook Pages
Interactive notebook pages are a great way to help students creatively organize notes in your Social Studies classroom. These will help students understand what American life was like during the Great Depression.
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8. Primary Source Reading
Primary sources are always an important part of learning about American history. This book is a collection of memories from the Great Depression that shows what daily life was like for many families during this time. It shows how they survived with the bare minimum and what they did to make it through.
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9. Ration Cakes
I’m a baker, so naturally, I would want to give my students this activity. It may not be possible to bake them at school, however, it would be a homework assignment that most students would enjoy. This will truly give students a hands-on way to learn how American families survived during the Great Depression.
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10. Whatdunnit? The Great Depression Mystery
This lesson goes more in-depth with what caused the 1930s Depression and will help students better understand how the Federal Reserve was established. It also shows how this period impacted the economy, as well as depicts the initial effects of rising unemployment that led to the Great Depression.
Learn More: Whatdunnit? The Great Depression Mystery
11. BrainPop Game
This game gives students events to place on a timeline. It’s a great way to review the order in which some events unfolded in American history. It’s great for visual learners and perfects to use in the digital classroom.
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12. Photo Analysis
By analyzing photos, students will be able to take a more in-depth look at ordinary people during the Great Depression. This activity lends itself to class discussions based on what they see in the photos.
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13. Walk the Plank Game
This game is great for reviewing a unit before tests or the final exam. It asks questions about the era, and for each incorrect answer, your avatar gets closer to the shark-infested water. Kids will love trying to stay on the plank!
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14. Up from the Dust Game
This game demonstrates what children had to do in order to help their families in the Dust Bowl. It makes learning about American History more exciting and gives kids an insight into what things were like in the Midwest.
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15. Of Mice and Men
If you have the time to read this in class, or an opportunity to collaborate with your English teacher, then this novel is just what you need. Steinbeck captured what migrant workers’ lives looked like and portrayed it in a way that is still engaging for kids today.
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16. Great Depression Lesson Plan
This is great for class discussions. It would most likely take more than one class period, depending on how long they are. Included are reading passages, discussion questions, and other follow-up activities. It also lists the American History standards addressed- making it the complete passage!
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17. Surviving the Depression
Here’s another simulation activity to teach students what it was like to live during the Great Depression. I like this one because you can edit it, and it encourages you to use it throughout the unit rather than as an isolated activity. I think that reinforces the toll taken on families.
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18. Study.com Resources
Study.com has lessons for the entire American History unit here with videos and activities for each section. There are 44 lessons in total, but you can pick and choose which you use. They are great to post in Google Classroom for virtual learners or can even be used as enrichment activities.
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19. Lessons from The Great Depression
Here students will look at a timeline for the era and see how it applies to our lives now. There are many lessons that we can learn from our ancestors in order to prevent future economic depressions, which are made evident on this site.
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20. New Deal Programs
Here students will learn all about the New Deal programs and how they impacted the lives of Americans. The site suggests it will take about two weeks to complete all the activities, so you may want to select some parts to use rather than the whole thing.
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