The Great Depression in America

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett

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The Great Depression Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Great Depression Include:

The Great Depression is notorious period of American history. A formative time in 20th century America, the Depression came about after the riotous exuberance of the roaring twenties, and lasted nearly a decade. Precipitated by a complex bundle of factors, the crash of economies worldwide and the enduring poverty that followed make the Great Depression an essential component of American history. Its legacy on the country’s identity, laws, and economy is still readily apparent to this day.

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The Great Depression Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Rise and Fall of the American Economy in the 1920s

The Great Depression - The Rise of the American Economy
The Great Depression - The Rise of the American Economy


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This activity will examine the economic culture of the 1920s. This context is fundamental to understanding the causes and effects of the Great Depression. Students will be able to identify and explain the many reasons for economic success that occurred following the first World War, and lasting through the 1920s. With a strong stock market, expanded employment, exploding industries, rising credit, and a technological boom, citizens in 1920s America experienced tremendous prosperity. However, this same prosperity would eventually become a major cause of America’s Great Depression.

1920s American Economy

Technological Advances

Throughout the 1920s, America experienced tremendous technological advances. Refrigerators, washing machines, and the availability of electricity were just some of the major examples in newer products. Along with this, growths in medicine, transportation, and luxury aided the rise in consumer products.


Consumerism is the economic term to define individuals spending their income on goods and services, or consumption of products. For America, this was, and still is, the driving force behind our capitalist economy, as the consumer powers the market and businesses.

The Stock Market Boom

As businesses experienced more success, so did the stock market. Stock values soared to over $87 billion in 1929. Many became rich quick by investing their own new-found wealth in the market. However, the already wealthy prospered most from this boom, as big business corporations dominated the economic landscape.

Buying on Credit

As consumerism grew, so did Americans' desire for material goods. However, many new products were simply too expensive for most middle class citizens. A great surge in buying on credit resulted, as consumers could now pay back big purchases on installment plans. Soon, many Americans became entrenched in debt.

Rise in Productivity

To meet the massive need for products demanded by the American people, productivity rose greatly. Any and every industry, from cars to vacuums, began mass producing their products to meet this demand. From 1921 to 1929, the GNP, or Gross National Product (the total value of a country's production) rose 6% a year.

Expanding Industry

Many industries expanded greatly during the 1920s. With new technologies and high demand, many companies and businesses experienced tremendous growth. Inventive methods, like Henry Ford's assembly line to make cars, also aided this major spike in industrial growth. With this growth, employment also rose.

Extended Activity

Have students identify the major economic factors of today’s markets. Students can identify and explain modern technological improvements, the nature of the stock market, improving and expanding industries, and employment figures. Students should grasp what America’s economy is like today and why it could both continue to boom, or eventually bust.

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The Causes and Effects of the Great Depression

Causes and Effects of The Great Depression
Causes and Effects of The Great Depression


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With a T-Chart storyboard, students will explain and connect causes and effects of the Great Depression. By analyzing several factors that led to the depression, students will be able to summarize and articulate what led to the major economic downfall and the resulting effects. Students should identify the major causes including, but not limited to, the stock market crash of 1929, cuts in production, the backfire of mass consumerism, the failure of banks and their distribution of risky loans, and the rise of unemployment.

Causes of the Great Depression

Consumer Borrowing

Banks had made money on loans they gave to consumers. They would lend money freely to those who wanted to purchase new goods or products. As consumers borrowed money, they purchased goods on credit, which also resulted in heavy individual debt.

Bank Failures

A combination of unpaid loans and bank runs led to the failure of many banks. As banks ran out of money, they soon dug into personal savings accounts to pay back depositors looking to withdraw their money. However, this proved disastrous to those who had their savings stored in banks.

Cuts in Production

As unemployment rose and savings were wiped out, production dropped dramatically. Overproduction increased this drop, as products were not being purchased and there was no need to keep producing. Companies then began cutting back on production to make up for this gap.

Stock market Crash of 1929

Over-speculation in stock prices soon proved to be detrimental to what had been major success in the market. After reaching an all-time high of 381 points on September 3, 1929, the Dow Jones average began to decrease. Finally, on October 29, or "Black Tuesday", the market crashed as 16.4 million shares were sold off and the Dow Jones average fell to 198.7 points.

Effects of the Great Depression

Backlash of Borrowing

Soon, consumers found themselves in tremendous debt. As more and more Americans were laid off, they could not pay back their loans to banks. As a result, loans went unpaid, and banks failed. Production also slowed as more and more people stopped consuming.

Savings Wiped Out

As people rushed to take out their savings from banks, the banks then had to recall loans from borrowers. However, more and more borrowers could not pay back their debt. As a result, many Americans' savings were wiped out by banks' last ditch efforts to prevent failure, leading to further poverty.

Rise in Unemployment

As production decreased, so did businesses' need for labor. Cuts were made, and unemployment increased greatly. With few goods being purchased, and many Americans experiencing a weak buying power, production halted, further hurting the economy.

The “Great Crash”

With the crash of the stock market, many investors lost everything. The economy had reached its peak of contraction, and thrust the American economy into depression. The ripple effects soon hit businesses and average Americans alike. Businesses lost out, and through their losses production, employment, and savings failed.

Extended Activity

Have students identify the causes and effects of the “Great Recession” of 2008. Students should examine what caused this economic recession, including unemployment, corporate bailouts, toxic financial assets, and a damaged stock market. Connections to today’s economy are imperative and readily apparent when looking at and learning from the Great Depression.

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The Role of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression

The Great Depression - The Dust Bowl
The Great Depression - The Dust Bowl


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The Dust Bowl of the 1930s hurt not only farmers, but the American economy in general. Crop failures caused great stress on the trade and sale of many consumer goods. This in turn caused even greater stress on the economy as a whole. Using a spider graph, students will be able to identify and explain the 5 Ws using a spider map that defined the Dust Bowl and its role in the Great Depression. This will provide further insight into how many average American workers and farmers were affected by it.

Example Dust Bowl 5 Ws

WHO did the Dust Bowl Affect?

The Dust Bowl mainly affected farmers in the Midwestern United States. Major agricultural states such as Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma were some of the hardest hit. Farmers in this region were ruined economically. Effects of the dust were even felt as far away as New England.

WHAT was the Dust Bowl?

The Dust Bowl was an environmental disaster that eradicated all arable topsoil from the largely agricultural Midwestern United States. Farming practices, along with severe drought, caused the Dust Bowl. About 60% of Dust Bowl victims lost their farms entirely.

WHERE did the Dust Bowl Take Place?

The Dust Bowl affected many regions of the United States. Farmers in the midwest and Great Plains experienced the worst loss. "Black Blizzards" ruined farms and farmers livelihoods, wreaking havoc on the already low priced farm products. From Texas to North Dakota, millions were affected.

WHEN did the Dust Bowl Occur?

The Dust Bowl began in 1931, and wreaked havoc even through 1941. For a decade, farmers and farmland was ruined, and the industry was greatly hurt. It wouldn't be until the beginning of World War II, and the much needed rains of the early 1940s, that farms and farmers begin to recover.

WHY does the Dust Bowl Relate to the Great Depression?

The Dust Bowl had a major ripple effects on the Great Depression. Farmers already suffered from low farm prices and overall poverty. Post World War I, farmers saw a dramatic decrease in productivity. This, coupled with the major crop failures of the Dust Bowl, resulted in ruin for hundreds of thousands of farmers.

Extended Activity

Have students research and identify the 5 Ws of another major market failure. It can be any event or market failure, whether related to farming and food production, or to the failure of a technology or business. Students should draw connections between the Dust Bowl and the failure or crippling of this modern market.

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The Election of 1932: Herbert Hoover vs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The Great Depression - Hoover vs. FDR: The Election of 1932
The Great Depression - Hoover vs. FDR: The Election of 1932


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Using a T-Chart, students will compare and contrast the policies and political selling points of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Election of 1932. By analyzing and investigating the campaigns and ideas of both candidates, students will be able to contrast how each candidate attempted to solve the issues of the Great Depression. Students will better understand why FDR emerges victorious and the policies he put forth in his New Deal initiatives.

Hoover vs. FDR: The Election of 1932

Herbert Hoover Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Who They Were Herbert Hoover had held cabinet positions for previous Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. A Republican, Hoover ran programs during World War I to help ease hunger abroad and was a well-respected business man. He was a conservative protestant that promised to continue the prosperity of the 1920s. However, he lacked political leadership and skill. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran on the Democratic ticket in 1932. FDR had served twice as a New York Senator, as well as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. However, FDR contracted polio in the 1920s and never fully recovered. His struggles led him to develop a compassion and earnest caring for the ordinary people and their struggles. He was also ready to take drastic measures to solve the depression.
Economic Policies Hoover was a successful business man. This influenced his economic policies throughout his short tenure during the depression. His idea was to let business conduct themselves without government interference. Hoover believed the economy would right itself, and that government influence contradicted the capitalist economic policies in place. This, however, would backfire immensely. FDR was willing to apply governmental influence to the failing economy. FDR's new ideas and initiatives became known as the "New Deal". Items like public works programs, revitalizing banks, insured savings, and reforming business practices structured his plan to reinvigorate not only the economy, but America's confidence.
Public Initiatives Hoover took many steps to stabilize the economy, but most proved to be failures. He attempted to regulate and relieve farmers through the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, however it only drove farmers into greater debt. Hoover also created and funded public works programs, which had some success. In addition, Hoover also attempted to protect domestic industries, but inadvertently hindered world markets. FDR took great steps forward with public initiatives that put Americans back to work, and revitalized their confidence in the economy. He established public works programs such as the Civilian Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. By doing so, people were put back to work through the government on public projects. Furthermore, FDR aimed to protect and assist farmers and fair wages.
Philosophy Hoover's political and ideological philosophy was to remain true to the capitalist, traditional economic values held for years by Americans. Government should not interfere, and the economy would eventually right itself. Also, Hoover's take on the issues at hand were passive, and as a result, many people blamed Hoover for the increasing depression. His ideas of voluntary assistance proved to be his downfall in the Election of 1932. FDR's philosophy and ideologies rested in his desire to bring immediate, and drastic, change to the economic landscape, to help push Americans out of the depression. Many saw his ideas as socialist, but for FDR, federal government regulation and aid was necessary. FDR's regulations and changes in federal government permeated for years to come, even to today. For believing this, FDR won a sweeping victory in the presidential Election of 1932.

Extended Activity

Have students further analyze the “Great Recession” of 2008 by comparing and contrasting the policies and ideas of Barack Obama and John McCain. Have them analyze the initiatives each candidate put forth to solve the issues of the recession and how they compare to those put forth by the candidates of the Election of 1932. This will build connections to current events.

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FDR’s New Deal Initiatives: An Attempt to Solve the Great Depression

The Great Depression & New Deal FDR
The Great Depression & New Deal FDR


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With a spider map, students will outline in detail the major initiatives that made up Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. FDR’s New Deal was comprised of several different initiatives to help tackle the many different problems that existed during the Great Depression, from unemployment to the failure of banks. By focusing on the New Deal programs, students will be able to state the parts of FDR’s New Deal and summarize how they attempted to solve the most prevalent problems of the Great Depression.

FDR: The New Deal

Public Works Programs

FDR initiated many public works programs to help ease unemployment and reinvest in the American economy and infrastructure. With the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Workers Progress Administration (WPA), citizens found work and a wage. This also increased buying confidence.

Stabilizing Banks

FDR wanted to restore the public's confidence in banks. To do so, he passed the Emergency Banking Act, which allowed the government to inspect banks' "health". It was determined over two-thirds of banks were healthy, restoring people's confidence to save their money again and make bank deposits. This helped restore banks and their lending powers.

Regulating the Economy

To regulate the economy, FDR instituted the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933. This act helped regulate wages, competition amongst businesses, production, and prices. The act also allowed workers to negotiate working terms. However, such regulation was met with opposition, and many businesses fell back into depression.

Assistance to Farmers

Farmers and the agriculture industry were hit hardest by the depression. To assist them, FDR attempted to help farmers manage their mortgages, although this proved to be difficult. In addition, FDR set up the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to regulate farm prices and production, to bolster sales and hopefully rise prices.

Extended Activity

Have students create a spider graph to detail the initiatives taken by President Barack Obama in 2008 to solve the recession crisis. Students should state how the president attempted to solve many of the same issues that existed during the Great Depression, including unemployment and the revitalization of businesses. This will help connect the politics of the 1930s with that of the 2000s.

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A Timeline of the Great Depression

The Great Depression Timeline - 1929-1941
The Great Depression Timeline - 1929-1941


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Students will create a timeline of the major events leading to, taking place during, and following after the Great Depression. There are many events that signify depression, so students can pick those events they deem the most important, or the teacher can pre-determine which events the students should include. By chronologically organizing the events of the Great Depression, students will be able to summarize and explain what led to and constituted this turbulent period of American history. This will also help give them a timeline of the major political changes of the time.

Example Great Depression Timeline

September 8, 1929

Stock Market Hits Peak

The Dow Jones Industrial stock price average reached a peak 381 points. The price average dominated the news and media. However, the real value of many stock prices soared far above their real value, leading to over-speculation and risky investments.

October 29, 1929

Black Tuesday: Stock Market Crashes

The stock market plummets. After days of downed averages, the Dow Jones Industrial stock average fell to 198.7 points. Many began selling their stock in a panicked, last-ditch effort to make out on their investments. However, many lost their entire life savings. The American economy entered a depression.

November 1, 1932

FDR Elected President

After multiple failures to resolve the depression on President Hoover's part, Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated the incumbent in a landslide. FDR's ideas about a "New Deal" brought hope and determination to an already defeated, impoverished American population.

March 4, 1933

FDR’s Inaugural Address

FDR gives his first inaugural address on a rainy, cold day to hundreds of thousands of listeners, reminding them that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Immediately, in his first hundred days in office, FDR pushes through a tremendous amount of public works initiatives and attempts to save banks across the country.

August 1, 1935

Introduction of Social Security

FDR passes the Social Security Act, which will be financed through a payroll tax. The act is met with opposition, as for the first time in history, the federal government has a strong hand in the welfare and security of its citizens. It is one of many initiatives that alter perception on government interference with people's wealth and economics.

November 1, 1936

FDR Elected for Second Term

Despite controversy surrounding FDR's New Deal initiatives, he is elected in a landslide to a second term. Public works programs, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, keep people working and earning wages. Banks are more secure. The Dust Bowl is in full swing, ruining the agricultural industry. The depression is far from over.

November 1, 1940

FDR Elected for Unprecedented Third Term

At the dawn of a new decade, FDR is elected to an unprecedented third term. With trouble brewing in Europe regarding Nazi Germany, many support FDR's war policies and continuation of government aided programs. Eventually, the US will be swallowed up into WWII with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, leading to an economic boom.

Extended Activity

Have students create a timeline of the major events leading to the recession of 2008. Students can start at any point within the decade (this can also be teacher led), and end with how the recession was finally resolved. This again will provide a comparative analysis with what occurred in 1930s America, during the Great Depression.

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The Great Depression

Throughout American history, the economy has experienced booms and busts. As a capitalist society, the country likes to believe that everyone can achieve the dream of wealth and happiness through work ethic and skill. However, in many instances, this capitalist economy expands, peaks, and eventually contracts. During the 1920s, many citizens enjoyed the spoils of a peaked economy. The combined effects of World War I, evolving consumerism, and easy credit, all promoted purchases and grew industries exponentially. But this rise in consumerism, credit, and the American market would soon lead to the biggest economic depression on record.

The Great Depression of the 1930s had many symptoms. Banks failed, unemployment skyrocketed, and the stock market plummeted. As credit was distributed, and goods were purchased, over production soon became the enemy of the economy. Workers were laid off, they lost their income and, therefore, their buying power. Fewer goods were bought. More workers were cut and debts were never paid back. Soon, banks were left without a liquid monetary source and failed, robbing many of their life savings.

The result was a major impact on all citizens from all walks of life, from farmers to stock brokers. As the government tried to prioritize and solve the many issues at hand, people struggled throughout the nation. It would not be until the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 that people began to see hope in what was a certainly bleak time. With his New Deal initiatives, FDR eventually pulled the United States out of the Depression, a decade long endeavor. In these storyboard activities, students will be able to identify and explain the causes of the Great Depression, the many effects of it, and the eventual attempts to solve one of America’s darkest economic periods.

Essential Questions for The Great Depression in America

  1. What were the major causes of the Great Depression?
  2. How did the sudden rise of a consumer economy backfire?
  3. How and why did the stock market suddenly crash? What were the effects of this crash on the American economy?
  4. How did Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempt to solve the economic crisis? How did both succeed and/or fail, and what criticisms were brought against their actions?
  5. How did FDR change the role of the federal government in a democratic, capitalist society? How were these actions supported and opposed?
  6. What made up FDR’s New Deal initiatives? What were the major outcomes and consequences of these initiatives?
  7. What caused the Dust Bowl? What lasting effects did it have not only on the American economy, but farmers in general?

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•   (English) The Great Depression   •   (Español) La Gran Depresión   •   (Français) La Grande Dépression   •   (Deutsch) Die Große Depression   •   (Italiana) La Grande Depressione   •   (Nederlands) De Grote Depressie   •   (Português) A Grande Depressão   •   (עברית) השפל הגדול   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الكساد الكبير   •   (हिन्दी) अधिक अवसाद   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Великая Депрессия   •   (Dansk) Den Store Depression   •   (Svenska) Den Stora Depressionen   •   (Suomi) Suuri Lama   •   (Norsk) Den Store Depresjonen   •   (Türkçe) Büyük Buhran   •   (Polski) Wielka Depresja   •   (Româna) Marea Depresiune   •   (Ceština) Velká Hospodářská Krize   •   (Slovenský) Veľká Hospodárska Kríza   •   (Magyar) A Nagy Depresszió   •   (Hrvatski) Velika Depresija   •   (български) Голямата Депресия   •   (Lietuvos) Didžioji Depresija   •   (Slovenščina) Velika Depresija   •   (Latvijas) Lielā Depresija   •   (eesti) Suur Depressioon