HM - December 2018 - Great Depression Lesson

Classroom Applications


From Great Depression to Great Recession: Fireside Chats, Speeches, and Ideology in Times of Economic Turmoil in the United States

by Emmett Wilson, Mission Hills High School, San Marcos Unified School District, California

Economic crises have occurred during every century of America’s existence. The Panic of 1792, Panic of 1819, Panic of 1893, the Great Depression, the Savings and Loan (S&L) Crisis, and the Great Recession are just a few of the economic calamities that have impacted the development of the United States. Every economic crisis is different; that being said, it is important to critically analyze economic crises across different time periods to understand the similarities and differences across these developments. It is valuable for students to connect past and present economic afflictions and to better understand how these afflictions impact American society throughout different eras of American history. At the same time, the teaching of American history in a linear, chronological fashion sometimes fails to emphasize sufficiently the economic experiences of our nation’s past and may neglect connections between historical and contemporary economic crises.1

This lesson focuses on the similarities and differences between the Great Depression (1929-1939) and the Great Recession (2007-2009). Students analyzed available primary source documents which allowed them to contextualize and synthesize similarities and differences between these two economic crises. The lesson deviated from a linear teaching of American history and instead had students evaluate factors that resulted in detrimental economic transformations within the United States. The lesson advocated analyzing the past with a critical perspective and recognizing recurring themes over different time periods.2
Background and Lesson Development

This lesson was conducted in a co-taught Southern Californian high school in a social studies classroom that was led by both a general and special education teacher. This particular class was a 10th grade, college preparatory, world history class. The class was comprised of 12 students who received special education services and were assigned an individualized education plan (IEP) and of 30 additional students who did not receive special education services. The class was a block period and approximately two hours long.

The lesson objective was to have students understand similarities and differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession; the co-teachers of the lesson desired for students to understand the philosophical arguments for and against government intervention into the economy during these two distinct economic crises. The essential question guiding the lesson was, “What are the similarities and differences in the ideological support, and ideological opposition, to government intervention in the Great Depression and the Great Recession.” Students began the lesson by listening to a fireside chat from President Roosevelt.3 Next, students used their Chromebooks to engage with an interactive timeline tracking events related to the Great Recession.4 Once students listened to the fireside chat and evaluated the interactive timeline, the students worked together to discuss the content and complete a graphic organizer that summarized similarities and differences between the two events (e.g. bank failures, government intervention into the financial sector, etc.).  The graphic organizer can be found in the appendix.
The second half of the class had students read primary source documents. The 42 students in the class were separated into groups of four students each (one group only contained two students). The groupings allowed students to work in pairs to analyze the primary source documents that were presented to each group; furthermore, the groupings allowed students to engage in academic conversations regarding the content of the lesson. Each group in the classroom was given salient excerpts from four different documents. The first document given was an excerpt from President Hoover’s inaugural address which demonstrated an ideologically conservative point of view towards government intervention.5 The second document given was the 2009 Republican Response to the State of the Union, opposing then President Obama’s interventionist policies into the economy.6 The third document provided was President Roosevelt’s inaugural address outlining his support for government intervention into the economy during the 1930s.7 The fourth and final document was President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009 which outlined his support for government intervention during the Great Recession.8

Students were provided with a graphic organizer for this lesson (see appendix). The graphic organizer served as a scaffolding tool for students to organize their thoughts surrounding the lesson content itself. Students were able to contextualize the main ideas of each document with the aim of identifying similarities and differences amongst the different documents. Once groups reviewed the document excerpts, the groups then completed a poster comparing and contrasting both Hoover’s inaugural address and the 2009 Republican Response to both Roosevelt’s inaugural address and Obama’s 2009 State of the Union Address. The creation of these posters allowed students yet another avenue to contextualize and demonstrate their content mastery to their teachers and peers.
A gallery walk exercise followed the creation of the group posters; students were then asked to list any main ideas, similarities, or differences on the back of their graphic organizer that other groups may have listed on their posters that they had not initially included. The creation of the posters served as tools for students to share what they had learned (e.g., main ideas, similarities, differences) with their fellow students and as a manner in which to reflect on their own analysis and contextualization of the content at hand. The utilization of the graphic organizer, poster creation, and gallery walk also allowed students to engage with the content from multiple perspectives outside that of just a teacher-led class lecture. Students were able to develop interpersonal and intrapersonal skills as a result of the academic conversations imbedded within the group work in this lesson; furthermore, the lesson allowed students to develop and engage with the similarities and differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession from a student-centric learning perspective.
Student Learning Experiences

The majority of the students in the class were able to properly interact with the primary source documents (i.e. highlight, annotate, summarize) and synthetize the information from the documents within a group setting with their peers. Student engagement in academic conversations surrounding the similarities and differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession was also productive. The fireside chat and interactive timeline allowed students to quickly compare and contrast the crises of the two eras and students grasped that credit issues and institutional banking problems led to both crises. The use of primary source documents from different eras (the 1920s/1930s and the early 2000s) allowed students to understand the inherent ideological differences regarding the role and function of government held by different politicians and political parties spanning different eras.

The creation of the posters and the gallery walk posed a challenge for some students; some students struggled to stay on task during the creation of the posters. Furthermore, not all students found many differences between their own posters (e.g., main ideas, similarities, differences) and the posters of their peers on the gallery walk. Teachers, at times, had to ask redirecting questions to facilitate engagement during the gallery walk itself, but overall the lesson was a success when implemented as described.

Co-teachers present for the lesson felt that the majority of students interacted with the content, had productive academic conversations, and met the objective of the lesson. The essential question of the lesson was readily answered by most students within this inclusive classroom setting and students understood various similarities and differences between the Great Depression and the Great Recession by the end of the lesson. The student-centered nature of the instruction allowed teachers to serve in advisory roles and for students to work through most of the lesson within their own small groups. Students benefitted from carrying the cognitive load of the lesson and students were actively engaged in the task at hand.

[1] Frederick D. Drake and Lynn R. Nelson. Engagement in Teaching History: Theory and Practices for Middle and Secondary Teachers, 2nd Edition. New York: Pearson, 2009.
[2] Wineburg, Sam. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts – Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
[3] C-SPAN. “President Franklin Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat.” (accessed October 10, 2018).
[4] History Channel. “Great Recession Timeline.” (accessed October 10, 2018).
[5] Yale Law School. “Inaugural Address of Herbert Hoover.” Law.Yale.Edu. (accessed October 10, 2018).
[6] New York Times. “The Republican Response by Gov. Bobby Jindal.”    (accessed October 10, 2018).
[7] Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. “First Inaugural Address.”    (accessed October 10, 2018).
[8] CNN. “Transcript: Obama’s first State of the Union speech.”    (accessed October 10, 2018).
Media Graphic Organizer
Fireside Chat Interactive Timeline
Main Ideas Main Ideas
Similarities Similarities
Differences Differences
Primary Documents Graphic Organizer (Front)
President Hoover Document Republican Response Document President Roosevelt Document President Obama Document
Main Ideas Main Ideas Main Ideas Main Ideas
Similarities Similarities Similarities Similarities
Differences Differences Differences Differences
 Primary Documents Graphic Organizer (Back)
Main Ideas From Other Groups
Similarities From Other Groups
Differences From Other Groups
Download a PDF of Lesson Plan

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