Walking in Their Worn Out Shoes:
Life and Times of the Great Depression
How did the social and political institutions respond to the widespread economic depression and emotional reactions during the 1930s?
What coping mechanisms did the people of the Great Depression use when facing hardships?
How does hearing the voices of the people, by reading letters and listening to music, help us to better understand the experience of living in the United States during the Great Depression?
Life Skills: Complex Thinking: How does learning about events through several perspectives enhance understanding about history?
Historical Fiction: The Child’s Perspective
What if It Were Me?
Letters to Roosevelt
Glamorizing the West
All That Jazz
Historical Fiction: The Child’s Perspective
Subject: Language Arts
Objectives: Language Arts Objective 1.3 Increase reading and writing vocabulary through:
- wide reading.
- word study.
- word reference materials.
- content area study.
- writing process elements.
- writing as a tool.
- examining the author’s craft.
Language Arts Objective Objective 2.9 Listen actively and critically by:
- asking questions.
- delving deeper into the topic.
- elaborating on the information and ideas presented.
- evaluating information and ideas.
- making inferences and drawing conclusions.
- making judgments
Lesson length: approximately 15 days, 3 weeks total. Students will be responsible for reading out-of-class as well.
Materials: Copies of all 3 novels, enough for each student to get their preference. Literature circle sessions will last approximately 30 minutes, copies of think mark
Classroom set-up: Pillows, reading areas, headphones with instrumental music available should all be ready for student use during reading time in order to ensure comfort and productivity
Activity: Students have choice in reading several books: A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, or Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Students should be accustom to literature circles at this point in the school year. After a brief introduction and reading of each of the three books, students will be able to select the novel they are most interested in reading. The students will be on a rotational schedule, spending one day with the teacher in conversation about the story, one day reading silently, and another day reading together in groups or pairs. During the literature study, when students have group discussion, the teacher will participate, but not facilitate. The students will be responsible for coming together with ideas of things to discuss. Students should have used their think marks (see attached) to mark places in the story that they found useful. Students will be responsible for filling out think marks during their solo reading time. During pair reading students may generate discussion questions for those group discussion days. Students should be allowed to move to any position in the classroom during reading time, so long as they do not disturb other students. Students may use headphones and listen to instrumental music if desired. They may use pillows, sit by the window, under the desk, or stand depending on their personal preference.
Conversations and discussions may focus on literary elements such as sequence of events, characterization, or author’s voice. Discussion may also center on how information in book relates to information learned about the time period of the 1930s. Discussion should also focus on allowing students to make connections between their experience in the year 2004 and the experience of children in the 1930s (as is the case with each of the 3 books).
Students are responsible for reading two chapters per day. They should also use their writing notebooks to write one journal entry to the teacher per week. This journal entry should communicate where they are in their reading, how they feel about the story, responses to teacher –solicited questions, and connections with other reading or life experience. Students may elaborate on earlier discussions. This is an opportunity for the teacher to really gain perspective on each student’s comprehension level and to deepen students understanding of story, give advice on reading strategies for students to employ, and as a source for determining what future instruction is necessary (i.e. what future mini-lessons should focus on).
Multiple Intelligence: Verbal /Linguistic Intelligence is addressed through the reading and Interpersonal / social is addressed through the discussions in literature circles. Intrapersonal / Introspective Intelligence is addressed through the thoughtful reflection in the letter writing.
Fountas, I & Pinnell, G. (2001). Guiding Readers and Writers. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Curtis, C. (1999). Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Dell Yearling.
Hesse, K. (1997). Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic Inc.
Peck, Richard. (2000). A Year Down Yonder. New York: Puffin Books.
What if it Were Me?
Subject: Social Studies, Language Arts
Objectives: Social Studies Objective 3.2 Examine how changes in the movement of people, goods, and ideas have affected ways of living in the United States.
Social Studies Objective 4.2 Explain when, where, why, and how groups of people settled in different regions of the United States.
Language Arts Objective Objective 4.6 Compose a draft that elaborates on major ideas and adheres to the topic by using an appropriate organizational pattern that accomplishes the purpose of the writing task and effectively communicates its content.
Language Arts Objective Objective 4.7 Compose a variety of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama using self-selected topic and format (e.g., poetry, research reports, news articles, letters to the editor, business letters).
Lesson Length: 4 lessons, approximately 30 – 45 minutes in length each
Materials: Internet access (IBM preferred) with individual computers, preferably one per person or one per group (groups of 2 or 3 students)
Activity: Students will gain a broader base for there understanding of the historical time period of the Great Depression through the investigation of resources applicable to the perspective of various people. Through the web quest (see attached for homepage of web quest) students work in groups of 2 or 3 and each person adopts the perspective of either a factory farm worker, a farmer struggling to keep the farm, or a migrant worker from Oklahoma. As part of the web quest students access various sources to gather information from their historical perspective and then write letters to other group member under the guise of the person whom they are researching. The first day will require ample time to review the overall project and to allow students to engage in meaningful research. Subsequent lessons will involve several rounds of letter writing. The students will first write letters about their life as the person they chose. The letters should be written in draft form and exchanged with group members for the second letter writing event. The second letter writing activity involves a response to group members letters and providing more information about the role they have adopted. Letters are exchanged again in the final fourth lesson as students respond to letters with advice for group members. Students should have access to the Internet throughout the days working on the letter writing in order to flesh out perspectives in detail. At least twenty minutes should be spent on letter writing, although it is not necessary for letters to be in polished form. The goal is to communicate ideas about the Great Depression and for students to adopt the mindset of someone living in this era.
Multiple Intelligences: Verbal/Linguistic addressed through ability to compose written products, working together cooperatively is another element of this activity, although most of the communication is written
Madison Media Center (n.d.). Life During the Great Depression. Retrieved December 3, 2003
Letters to Roosevelt
Subject: Language Arts
Language Arts Objective 2.3 Interact with the text before, during, and after reading, listening, and viewing by:
- making predictions.
- formulating questions.
- supporting answers from textual information, previous experience, and/or other sources.
- drawing on personal, literary, and cultural understandings.
- seeking additional information.
Lesson length: 2 lessons – 1 lesson to read information and organize groups, other lesson to work out skits and perform
Materials: Graphic organize (see attached), copies of letters (see attached), sticky notes, and paper, markers. etc. available for students to create props for their skits if desired
Pre – Activity: Students will need to review previous knowledge about government, the role of the federal government, the branches of government, etc. from earlier units. Review should take place using a graphic organizer such as a web (see attached organizer) for students to activate prior knowledge about government, more specifically the role of the President.
Activity: Students will read selections of primary documents, letters from people during the time period of the Great Depression to President Roosevelt. Students will be given a packet of letters from which they can choose 5 to read. Prior to reading, the teacher should discuss how letter writing is an important part of influencing our government, who is supposed to be representing us, the people. Students should be able to connect the letter writing campaign during the time of the Great Depression to that of Sarah Hale in Thank You Sarah, a book read to the students in November concerning Sarah’s letter writing campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Students should use sticky notes to help them as they read to locate important information that will aid in their understanding of the perspective of the writer. After they read the letters they will be given the chance to work in groups according to one of the following perspectives: “I need help Mr. Roosevelt”, “You are giving people too much help Mr. Roosevelt”, “You are an awful leader Mr. Roosevelt.” Students organize into group depending on the perspective that matches the letters they decided to read and create a role-playing scenario. The skit should involve people of the time period discussing with each other or the President about their personal situation. Students will then perform skits in front of the class in order to better understand how different people viewed the Great Depression and the actions of President Roosevelt differently.
Skits should be short, but to the point. The children should be able to translate the sentiment of the letters into the spirit of the skit. Students should be allowed to be creative, yet still reflect the nature of the times and people within that era, the Great Depression.
Multiple Intelligences: Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence will be addressed through the opportunity to role-play, Visual/Spatial learners will benefit from graphical organizer in pre-activity
McElvaine, R. (1983). Down and Out in the Great Depression. Chapel Hill: UNC Press.
Anderson, L. (2002). Thank You Sarah. New York: Scholastic Press.
Glamorizing the West
Subject: Social Studies, Music
Social studies Objective 3.7 Describe art, music, and craft forms in the United States and compare them to various art forms in Canada, Mexico, and selected countries of Central America.
Music Education Objective 1.6 Sing expressively with appropriate dynamics, phrasing, and interpretation.
Music Education Objective 1.8 Blend vocal timbres and match dynamics while singing in a group.
Music Education Objective 1.9 Sing music representing diverse styles, genres, and cultures.
Music Education Objective 9.5 Show respect for music from various cultures and historical periods
Lesson Length: 1- 2 lessons, approximately 30 minutes in length each
Materials: Copy of “Happy Trails” with Dale Evans, access to computer with Internet and sound capabilities
Activity: This activity is in conjunction with a lesson about the singing cowboy. Teacher will introduce the 1930s Singing Cowboy phenomena, which was a time around the Great Depression, where businessmen became the villains and the culture glorified the freedom of cowboys, particularly the cowboys out west. The romancing of the west could be seen in music and film with the explosion of westerns (popular star: John Wayne).
Discuss how popular the singing cowboy image became, people dealing with hard times harkened back to good times in the past through the glorification of the old west and the image of a carefree cowboy. Heavy financial burdens faced during the hard economic times of the 1930s led to nostalgia of better days in the past. Background information on Great Depression and the singing cowboy can be found in text Country Music, U. S. A (pgs145-183) and personal essay (see attached).
Singing Cowboys usually dressed the part. They wore white cowboy gear and were often pictured on horseback. Dale Evan, representing the female cowboy girl, was married to singing cowboy Roy Rogers. The lyrics often contained imagery closely tied with the West as in the song “Happy Trails.” Pictures can be found on Roy Rogers and Dale Evans official website, along with lyrics, and sound for tune “Happy Trails.”
This background information leads to the singing of “Happy Trails” with Dale Evans.
Multiple Intelligences: Addresses students with preferences towards Musical Intelligences and auditory learners
Other Singing cowboys songs that may be of interest:
Tumbilin’ Tumbleweeds (1933) sung by Gene Autry
Back in the Saddle Again (1939) sung by Gene Autry
Get Along Little Doggies (1935) sung by Tex Ritter
Malone, B. (1985). Country Music, U. S. A. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Paper written in MUSC 44 – History of Country Music Course taken at UNC-CH under professor Jocelyn Neal.
Roy Rogers Jr. (2003). The Official Roy Rogers and Dale Evans website. Retrieved
December 3, 2003 from http://www.royrogers.com/happy_trails-index.html
All That Jazz
Subject: Social Studies/ Language Arts/ Computer Skills/ Music
Objectives: Social studies Objective 3.7 Describe art, music, and craft forms in the United States and compare them to various art forms in Canada, Mexico, and selected countries of Central America.
Language Arts Objective 4.3 Make oral and written presentations to inform or persuade selecting vocabulary for impact.
Language Arts Objective 3-6 Conduct research (with assistance) from a variety of sources for assigned or self-selected projects (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people, libraries, databases, computer networks).
Computer Skills Objective 3.5 Create modify a multimedia presentation citing sources of copyrighted materials. (Multimedia/Presentation)
Music Goal 9 The learner will understand music in relation to history and culture.
Lesson Length: 4 lessons, each should be approximately 45 minutes in length
Materials: Access to resources such as Internet Access or time in a media center to examine books, reference materials, newspapers, magazines, etc. Students will also need at least one 45-minute session to work on presentations using any drawing software (Microsoft Word is sufficient) to create handout. Teacher will need to have access to copier in order to make copies of student-created handouts for each child in class.
Activity: Students will gain a deeper appreciation for interaction between music and culture by researching a jazz musician from the 1930s and 1940s. Jazz music was also gaining mainstream popularity around the 1930s. Music again provided a sense of escape, but was also an opportunity for expression. Jazz music often depicted the everyday man, relating to the joys and sorrows of every day life. Students should listen to several jazz songs (see list at http://www.apassion4jazz.net/timeline.html) to get the feel for the varying degrees of emotion expressed in jazz music. Background information on the role of jazz in American culture can be found at http://www.pbs.org/jazz/time/time_depression.htm.
Students will then be instructed on assignment of creating a handout to educate other students in the class about an influential person who lived during the 1930s. The students will work in groups of 3 to 4 and will be responsible for researching their person, creating a handout that addresses the basic information about their person and giving an overview of their person to the class. The research can be done during time in the media center and through the use of classroom computers. The handout should be one page, although both sides may be used. Students will be responsible for providing a creative graphical display, biographical information, a reference section, and any other information that they find intriguing. The speech will be brief and should highlight the information depicted in the handout.
This project should be worked on in cooperative groups and students may choose roles among themselves. Although everyone is responsible for all aspects of the project the roles are as follows: Head Research (this person organizes the search for information about person chosen and will help coordinate what information should be included in the handout), Graphic Designer (this person is responsible for the layout of the handout, making sure that the presentation is creative and aesthetically pleasing), and Orator (this person will be responsible for speech in front of class after the completion of the project as well as communicating with the teacher on the progress of the project). If there are more than 3 people working on the project, roles may be divide up further or shared.
Teacher example of handout will be provided on Ella Fitzgerald (see attached), a jazz singer who was just starting out during the 1930s. Students can use example to help guide their work on the handout.
Multiple Intelligences: addresses students with high Visual/Spatial intelligences through the graphical design on handout, addresses Interpersonal/Social intelligences through the encouragement of group discussion, planning, and sharing, music listening also helps students with a
high Musical intelligence
The Great Depression, History in the Key of Jazz (n.d.). Retrieved December 3, 2003 from
A Passion for Jazz (1998). Retrieved December 3, 2003 from