Unit / Topic Great Depression

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Unit / Topic

Great Depression

Lesson Title

Eating on a Shoestring

Lesson Author

Christy Barnes & Robert Harrison



Subject Area

FACS/ US History II




Identify the AOI that will serve as the primary lens for the lesson:

( ) Approaches to Learning ( ) Community and Service ( ) Homo faber

( X) Health and Social Education ( ) Environment

How the AOI will be presented:

Students will explore the realities of feeding a family on a very limited budget by comparing the cost of living in the 1930s to the cost of living today. Using primary documents and technology to make the comparison, the class will consider the impact of the economy on citizens’ health and welfare.


How do people and nations deal with adversity?


Middle School students are increasingly responsible for managing their own diet, and they are growing in their ability to manage financial resources and to understand the cost and relative value of goods and services. This lesson engages their natural interest in eating and provides them with real-world practice in budgeting and applied mathematics.

Many of the students at high-needs schools like Glasgow are familiar with the realities of very limited economic resources. This lesson draws on their life experience and helps them how to maximize nutrition while working within a tight budget.

The lesson connects what students know with the realities of life in the United States during the Great Depression. It also teaches about New Deal relief programs, the interrelated nature of community life (the tradition of helping out your neighbor), and American pragmatism (“make-do” spirit). It encourages the historical habits of mind of historical empathy (“perceiving past events and issues as they were experienced by people at the time”) and change and continuity (“comprehending the interplay of change and continuity”).

National Standards for History

Historical Thinking Standard 2 (Chronology)

A. Identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative and assess its credibility. 

B. Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage by identifying who was involved, what happened, where it happened, what events led to these developments, and what consequences or outcomes followed. 

C. Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses and the purpose, perspective, or point of view from which it has been constructed. 

National Standards for History

Era 8 : The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945


The causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American society. 


How the New Deal addressed the Great Depression, transformed American federalism, and initiated the welfare state. 

SOL, POS, MYP Objectives


USII.1 The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis, including the ability to

  1. analyze and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in United States history from 1877 to the present;

  2. make connections between past and present

USII.5d The student will demonstrate knowledge of the social, economic, and technological changes of the early twentieth century by identifying the causes of the Great Depression, its impact on Americans, and the major features of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.


7.1.9 Students will be able to identify and analyze the political, social, and economic impact of the Great Depression on the United States:

c. analyze the impact of the Great Depression on the everyday lives of ordinary Americans

d. evaluate the effect of the major features of the New Deal on American government and society

IBMYP Humanities (History)

Fundamental Concept: Continuity and Change (examination of the forces that shape history. These forces have interacted to make the world as it is today.

Aim: develop critical thinking and historical imagination through working with, and understanding, the fragmentary evidence of the past

Technology Types and Branches (How technology is used)

Information: primary source (FERA receipt); newspaper advertisements
Materials: calculator; PC lab
Systems: internet, internet grocery distribution service, U.S. agriculture

Assessment/Criteria for Technology & Subject Area

SUMMATIVE Identify summative assessment tools/tasks

( ) Oral Presentation ( ) Observation

( x ) Participation ( ) Performance

( ) MYP Criterion ( ) Class work

( ) Skills Test ( X) Written Test

( ) Task specific rubric

( ) Other

FORMATIVE Identify formative assessment tasks

( X ) Skills Test ( ) Other

( X ) Observation

Provided by instructor

( ) Attribute List


  • 1934 Relief Committee Receipt (primary source document)- 1 copy per student or student group (www.archives.state.al.us/teacher/dep/dep4/doc1.html)

  • transparency of typed list

  • selection of groceries listed on the receipt

  • soup kitchen poster, alphabet soup, bowls, spoons

  • alphabet soup worksheet and list of New Deal agencies

  • calculators

  • modern day prices (gathered from newspaper grocery advertisements or online services); grocery order worksheet (optional)

  • exit slip; homework/extension (budgeting exercise);

Itinerary, Procedures and Instructional Activities

Step 1 (5 minutes):

Engage student interest by displaying groceries from the 1930s and the Phoenix Soup Kitchen.

Instructional Strategy & Task:

Make predictions: Ask, “What are these things? What do they have in common? How much would they cost today? How much do you think they cost 70 years ago?” Record student predictions. (Optional: provide an incentive for the student whose prediction comes closest to the actual amount. The winner can be revealed at the end of the lesson.)


More advanced students can try to think of dishes or menus that involve this set of ingredients.


Step 2 (15 minutes):

Review and engage prior learning.

Instructional Strategy & Task:

Tell what you know: Ask, “What do we already know about the Great Depression?” Using vocabulary, review problems (Great Depression [not enough money or jobs], high unemployment rate, banking collapse, not enough food, Dust Bowl, poor old people) and solutions (FDR, New Deal, works programs, Social Security).


Advanced students could work in cooperative learning groups to brainstorm answers to a “Problems/Solutions” T Chart.


Step 3 (20 minutes):

Examine an historical document from the Great Depression.

Instructional Strategy & Task:

Make inferences: Ask, “What is this?” Assist students in answering “W” questions (who, when, where, why). Look for key words (especially relief). Compare the handwritten receipt with a typed version displayed by transparency projector.


Students with independent study skills could complete a guided reading worksheet about the document, or a generic document analysis form like the one available from the NARA (www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/analysis_worksheets/document.html) and transcribe the handwritten document for themselves.

Step 4 (25 minutes):

Find out how things have changed since the Great Depression by investigating the price of groceries today.

Instructional Strategy & Task:

Use resources: Students use the internet to determine the price of the 1934 Relief order groceries today. Go to www.peapod.com to search for grocery prices and build a modern-day grocery order. As the teacher assists students in their search, conduct an informal discussion of how economic hardship and prosperity affect diet.


To save time and frustration for students with limited language or technical ability, the internet search can be guided by a partial grocery list; alternatively, students may be supplied with the list and per item prices, with instructions to multiply across for line item totals, add down for a subtotal, calculate tax, and determine a grand total.


Step 5 (10 minutes):

Consolidate information and assess student learning.

Instructional Strategy & Task:

Summarize: Ask, “What is different between grocery prices in 1934 and grocery prices in 2004?” “How does the price of food affect people’s lives?” “How did the role of the government change during the New Deal?” Students complete an exit slip (Create graphic organizer).


Independent writers could write a Thank you letter from the recipient of the food relief to President Roosevelt that describes why they needed assistance and explains how they will use the groceries they received from the relief agency.

Extension homework: students complete budgeting assignment from American Journey textbook (p. 719).


soft: primary document

transcribed list

grocery order wksht a/b/c

exit slip

hard: alphabet soup wksht

budget assignment

list of New Deal agencies

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