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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Great Depression

Shmoop can make even the Great Depression fun.


Students may have lived through the Great Recession, but the Great Depression is a whole other ball of wax. You'll need to put the events of the Depression into perspective, and we have the lessons you need to give context to this catastrophic event.

In this guide you will find

  • modern resources showing how the Depression still has effects in place today.
  • activities analyzing statistics and historical quotes of the time period.
  • related biographies of important figures, both political and literary, like FDR and John Steinbeck.

There's no need to slip into a great depression yourself when you have this teaching guide.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

One of the discussion prompts following the Economy Lens asked how much statistics can actually tell us. Provide your students with these statistics and ask them to discuss the Depression’s impact on basic human decisions and relationships.

You might preface this discussion by asking them to place all of these statistics on a single graph or chart, of their design, that allows for better comparison and analysis of these statistics.

Unemployment Rates
in 1929: 3.2%
in 1930: 8.9%
in 1931: 16.3%
in 1932: 24.1%
in 1933: 24.9%
in 1934: 21.7%
in 1935: 20.1%
in 1936: 16.9%
in 1937: 14.3%
in 1938: 19.0%
in 1939: 17.2%3

Fertility Rates (per 100,000 women aged 15-44)
in 1928: 93.8
in 1929: 89.3
in 1930: 89.2
in 1931: 84.6
in 1932: 81.7
in 1933: 76.3
in 1934: 78.5
in 1935: 77.2
in 1936: 75.8
in 1937: 77.1
in 1938: 79.1
in 1939: 77.6

Average divorce rate (per 1,000 people)
1920-1929: 1.6
1930-33: 1.4
1934-39: 1.8
1940-46: 2.8
1947-64: 2.5

Suicide rates (per 100,000 people)
1920-1928: 12.1
1929: 18.1
1930-1940: 15.4

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade historical research, evidence, and point of view standard 4; historical interpretation standards 1, 2, 6; 11th grade American History standards 11.6, 11.6.3)

TEKS Standards: §113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 b1, c2A, c2B, c3B, c29B

Instructions for Your Students

One way to tell the story of an event like the Great Depression is through the use of statistics. Take a look at the four data sets presented here (unemployment rates, birth rates, divorce rates, suicide rates). Plot all four sets of data on one graph of your own design. What effect would you say the Great Depression had on the most basic human decisions and relationships?


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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