The New Deal programs and agencies, created under the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had a powerful impact on the relationship of government to the people of the United States. Yet a study of New Deal programs often leaves the student with a disconnected list of 'alphabet soup' programs and no real grasp of the impact of the New Deal.
This lesson takes a student through a process of examining primary sources, both photographs and life histories, to develop a sense of the profound impact the Great Depression had on real people’s lives. Then after studying New Deal Programs, students learn how the WPA programs helped to improve the situations of those people, whose life history interviews they have read. They synthesize the information gathered into an essay which has both an expository and a creative component.
Before beginning this lesson, take time to plan with your librarian to see what print and non-print resources are available to support student research on the New Deal. Students may need some guidance in locating information on the New Deal independent research component.
These materials are needed for the lesson (listed in order used):
For more photographs, search in America from the Great Depression to World War II, 1935-1945
You have studied photographs and read the life histories of Americans who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, and have learned about the New Deal agencies created to help these people.
You have researched some of these New Deal agencies that might have offered help to the person/family whose life history you read.
With this collection of information on the person/family and the New Deal agencies that could help them, it is now your job to pull this information together. Write an essay that is both creative and informed to demonstrate your understanding of the effect of the New Deal on private citizens.
Imagine that you have found that person/family after the Great Depression ended. Conduct a second, imaginary, interview with them asking which New Deal agencies were the most helpful and how the agencies helped them.
Using an interview format, provide both questions and answers that reveal the following:
Students can be prepared for critically viewing photographs. Analyze with students the first photo from the set of photos in Photographs from the Great Depression, selecting questions to prompt discussion, closer observation and deeper analysis.
NOTE: Before launching students into the life histories, be aware that:
Read about people who lived during the Great Depression by choosing from the life histories below. These life histories are from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1940 in the Library of Congress digital collections. After you have read several life histories carefully, answer the questions on Reading Oral Histories.
For more life histories, search the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1940
Read the questions below and keep them in mind as you read and study your selected Life History. Then, answer the questions below based on your reading.
Students research New Deal programs to assess which programs or agencies might have improved the life of the person whose interview was read in Activity Two.
Students use the New Deal Essay Guide to help them write an explanation of the New Deal programs they selected and create a follow-up interview with the person whose life history they read. This writing will make clear how the New Deal programs affected the life of the person interviewed.
This lesson merges the content area of the Great Depression with important information literacy skills. Students interpret and construct meaning from the photographs and life histories and apply the information in a new context. They evaluate the quality of primary sources and learn independently as they research the New Deal programs. Finally, students create a quality product synthesizing information and meaning from several sources.
Student products include:
Rubrics for these products should be designed in a teacher-student collaboration.
Marilyn Swan and Elaine Kohler