Great Depression


Our Great Depression lesson plan teaches students about the Great Depression in the United States, which lasted from 1929 to 1939. Students learn about its causes and effects, its lasting impact on policy in the United States, and key vocabulary terms. They will also learn about some of the New Deal programs that helped the country recover, many of which still exist today.

This lesson includes some optional additions, found in the “Options for Lesson” section. One of these suggestions is to have students research the effects of the Great Depression on other countries and have them present their findings to the class.

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What our Great Depression lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Great Depression introduces students to the Great Depression in the United States between 1929 and 1939. Many students may not be aware of the depression and its impact on the country and its influence on the future decisions of the government. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to define the Great Depression, explain its implications for the United States, identify the programs developed to help citizens, and define key vocabulary related to the Great Depression. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the orange box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. For this lesson, the only supplies that you will need are the handouts. To prepare for this lesson ahead of time, you can pair students for the activity and copy the handouts.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. One optional addition is to invite someone who lived through the Great Depression to come to your class and speak about what it was like. You can find other optional additions and adjustments on the bottom right side of the Classroom Procedure page.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.


The Stock Market Crash & the Dust Bowl

This lesson includes four content pages. Students will first learn about the Stock Market crash, which happened in October 1929. People in the United States were buying less products than usual in the summer of 1929, which caused production to slow down while stock prices rose. Some people realized that stock prices would soon fall and began selling their stock. So many people did this — trading a record 12.9 million shares — on October 24th that it became known as Black Thursday. The next week, people traded even more stock (16 million shares) and that day became known as Black Tuesday.

Students will learn that these events were bad, because stock became worthless and investors who had put a lot of their money in stocks had lost all of that money. Millions of people lost their entire life savings in a very short period of time. People lost their jobs, stopped spending money, factories shut down, salaries went down, and people started losing their homes. Students will learn that this did not only affect the United States — the Stock Market crash spread throughout the world, hitting Europe especially hard. This event was the beginning of the period known as the Great Depression.

During this time, there was also a drought which caused the Dust Bowl. This was a 150,000 square mile area in the Great Plains with little to no rain, thin soil, and high winds. Roughly 60% of the people who lived in this area left due to the bad conditions.

More than Depressing & Life During the Depression

Next, students will learn that the Stock Market crash was not the only bad thing that happened during this time period. Excess crops caused food prices to drop, meaning farmers couldn’t make enough money. The Midwest had a drought that lasted for 10 years, turning the soil to dust. Farmers lost their farms. The invention of credit meant that many people were buying things with money that they did not currently have, and there were unable to make payments once the Stock Market crashed. 10,000 banks failed, and the government did little to help. People blamed Herbert Hoover, who was President at the time, for the Great Depression.

Students will then learn about what life was like during the Great Depression. 25% of the population had lost their source of income, and many people who still had jobs only worked part-time. 300,000 companies went out of business. Many children dropped out of school to work to support their families. The Great Depression hit rural areas the hardest.

People worked hard to save money during this time. They made their own clothes, cooked foods that would last a long time, grew their own food, had fewer children, and combined households. Interestingly, board games and card games became popular during this time, as people were staying home. The board game Monopoly was actually invented during the Great Depression!

Students will learn that things did not start to improve until people elected Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

The New Deal

The final section of the lesson describes the New Deal, including some of the programs that it created. The New Deal was FDR’s promise to end the Depression. He created 42 new agencies and laws during his first 100 days in office. This section of the lesson outlines some of these programs, many of which still exist today, in detail. These include the SEC, the FDIC, and Social Security.

Key Terms

Here is a list of the vocabulary words students will learn in this lesson plan:

  • Stock Market: a place where stocks (company ownership) and bonds (types of investments) are traded, bought, and sold
  • Black Thursday: October 24, 1929; when 12.9 million shares were traded on the stock market, a record
  • Black Tuesday: when 16 million shares of stock were traded on the stock market
  • Great Depression: began with the Stock Market crash of 1929, which spread throughout the world
  • Dust Bowl: the name given to the Great Plains during the Depression due to the drought
  • Drought: lack of rain
  • Credit: people could buy things and for them later
  • Shantytowns: places where homeless lived, mostly made up of shacks
  • Hooverville: what many people called shantytowns because they blamed Herbert Hoover
  • Monopoly: board game invented in 1933
  • New Deal: a promise made by Roosevelt to end the Depression
  • Social Security: funded retirement system for older adults and for those unable to work
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): prevented fraudulent activities on Wall Street
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC): insured bank deposits, prevent money withdraw, reduced failures
  • Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): hired 3 million people; planted trees, built dams, maintained roads
  • Securities Act: corporations had to share information with investors before issuing stock
  • Prohibition: the law that banned alcohol


The Great Depression lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet.


The activity worksheet asks students to work with a partner to look at photographs from the Great Depression and respond to specific questions about them. This allows students to use what they’ve learned during the lesson to place the photos into context. It also allows them to put themselves in the shoes of some of the people suffering during the Great Depression.

You can also have students work either alone or in groups for this activity, depending on your preference. You can also have your students discuss the pictures and their answers to the questions in a class discussion.


For the practice worksheet, students will answer two rounds of questions about the Great Depression. The first part of this worksheet asks them to answer questions grouped by topic — Stock Market, Black Thursday, Dust Bowl, Daily Life, and New Deal Agencies. The second part lists some miscellaneous questions, such as “Who was President when the Great Depression began?” The questions on this worksheet are strictly factual and require students to recall specific information from the lesson material.


The homework assignments includes three exercises. For the first exercise, students will describe how the Great Depression would have affected different groups of people, like homeless people, a 13-year-old-child, farmers, and investors. They must use vocabulary relate to the Great Depression in their answers.

The next exercise has students match New Deal programs with their descriptions. The final exercise has students answer a few basic questions about the Great Depression.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the activity worksheet, the practice worksheet, and the homework assignment. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies, Video

State Educational Standards


Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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