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Lesson Ideas for the Great Depression

The study of the Great Depression in Michigan can provide lessons across the curriculum:

  • Students can improve communication skills, gaining experience in interviewing and reporting the results of an interview when they do the What Was Life Like During the Great Depression? activity. This exercise also provides an opportunity to use audio or video recording equipment (optional).
  • Read the I Remember... reminiscences with the class as background for the "What Was Life Like During the Great Depression" activity. Talk about the different memories each person represented there had of life during the Great Depression. Which memories were of happy occasions? Which were of sad events? Talk about the ways people try to find ways to have happy, positive experiences in spite of hard times. How do activities such as sports, movies and family gatherings help during hard times?
    • Also read historical fiction about the Great Depression with the class. In Bud, Not Buddy (Christopher Paul Curtis, NY: Delacorte Press, 1999) and Duffy's Rocks (Edward Fenton, Pittsburgh, PA: Golden Triangle Books, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999), boys set out to find their fathers against the backdrop of the Great Depression in Flint/Grand Rapids (Bud, Not Buddy) and in Pittsburgh/New York City (Duffy's Rocks). Compare the authors' portraits of the era with those of first-person sources.
  • Study the different homes people make for themselves in social studies, comparing today's housing to the 1930s bungalow using the Bungalow Floor Plans activity. Discuss the variety of today's housing options including single family homes, apartments and condominiums and advantages of each for different life styles. Practice math and measurement skills completing the floor plan drawing exercise.
  • Use the Then and Now: Prices activity to compare purchase prices and wages in math class. How many hours or weeks of work did it take to buy the listed items in the 1930s? At the present time? Use local newspaper advertisements to study advertisements to find current prices. Which of the items on the price list might people put off buying during the Great Depression when cash was scarce? Students can use critical thinking skills to rank the items from most to least necessary for daily life.
  • Do the Create a Great Lakes Fantasy Trip activity for map study of the Great Lakes. Learn as much as you can about the cities shown on the routes of the cruise ships. If students were cruising and stopped at each port in the 1930s, what would they see if sightseeing (e.g., the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island). What types of souvenirs might they purchase at each stop and why (e.g., copper objects in Houghton because of the copper mining industry in the Keweenaw peninsula)?
  • Learn about the lives of the young men who joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Michigan between 1933 and 1942. Find out how they fought forest fires, built bridges, improved state parks and sent money home to help their families during the Great Depression. Read Roosevelt's Tree Army: Michigan's Civilian Conservation Corps with your students. Ask students what kinds of job challenges they expect to fact today. Discuss how those challenges differ from the problems of the Great Depression. In what ways are they similar? Talk about how young men and women can get training for the future today.

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 08/18/2010

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