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Lesson Plan The Great Depression in North Carolina: Experiences of the People

This lesson plan will result in imaginary Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviews similar to those found in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 of the Library of Congress that demonstrate students' interpretation of the question, "Was the New Deal North Carolina's 'Reconstruction'?" All background knowledge on the Reconstruction era should have been completed prior to the introduction of this project.

A written WPA report on an imaginary North Carolina resident who lived during the Reconstruction and Depression eras is the product of this assignment. Students must complete research of the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, select an occupation for future research, and explore additional print and electronic sources. The "interview" must be historically accurate, support a thesis that answers the question, and include an appropriate sensory illustration.


Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the degree to which the Depression/New Deal amended the economic destruction of the Civil War.
  • Use the American Life Histories, 1936-1940 as both a primary resource and a model for student-written interview documents.
  • Identify point of view/bias in historical documents, both text and pictorial.
  • Provide historical support for a thesis through the use of creative writing.

Time Required

Three weeks

Lesson Preparation


Lesson Procedure

Step 1: Introducing the Project. 1-2 class periods

  1. Classroom teacher will introduce the question "Was the Depression North Carolina's 'Reconstruction'?" for initial reaction from students and to review the Civil War/Reconstruction Era.
  2. Students will receive the assignment.
  3. The instructor will explain the project in detail, stressing the importance of research, drawing conclusions, and answering the question.
  4. Opportunities will be provided for individual and group questioning.

Step 2: Researching the New Deal. Time will vary

  1. Students will research the impact of the Depression and New Deal programs on the social, economic and/or political life of the individual in preparation for the writing assignment.
  2. Students may interview individuals who were living during the Great Depression.
  3. Students should search for a specific illustration for the assignment.

Step 3: Introducing American Life Histories, 1939-40. 1-2 periods

  1. Introduce and demonstrate use of the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.
  2. Read the introduction to the collection and the work of the Federal Writers' Project.
  3. Work with the media specialist to identify other online sources as well as print sources from the school library collection.

Step 4: Exploring American Life Histories, 1936-40. 1-5 periods

  1. Students will explore the collection, American Life Histories. They should read a variety of interviews, observing point of view/bias and format of questioning.
  2. The following questions will serve to guide students as they research the American Life Histories, 1936-1940: "How did the Depression affect different social, economic, geographical, and political dimensions of North Carolina?" and "If you were going to interview someone from North Carolina during the Depression, what kind of person would you look for?"
  3. The student should select a specific occupation as the basis of further research and for the "interviewee" in the imaginary Life History report. Suggested occupations include artist, banker, bootlegger, farmer, lawyer, merchant, mill worker, preacher, sharecropper, and sheriff. The occupation request form should include the following: occupation; sex, race, state geographic location, designated name.

Step 5: Creating the "Interview". 1-2 periods

  1. Guide student writers in format, style, and tone of the project.
  2. The following life histories from North Carolina provide a contrast in writing styles that will be useful to students as they begin their original interviews: Stella WallAline CaudleAllen TeavisMary Allen.
  3. Students will link reports to images and print or text citations.
  4. A bibliography will accompany the report.

Lesson Evaluation

Assess "interview" answering the question "Was the New Deal North Carolina’s ‘Reconstruction’"? Consider research and preparation, as well as the content and other criteria you identify.


Jackie Brooks and Deborah Pendleton