Life During the Depression—Stories

9, 10, 11, 12

Students will view life during the depression through primary source interviews with individuals who lived during these hard times.

PrintTwo Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • interpret interviews as primary sources.
  • describe how the difficult economic conditions during the Great Depression changed American life.
  • analyze Americans’ motivations for giving and sharing during the Great Depression.
  • Problems/Solutions Chart (Attachment One)
  • Depression Stories (Attachment Two)
  • Multiple copies or online recordings of Studs Terkel’s Hard Times or one copy of each story to be used. Teacher Note: The following stories are short, easily read and show various views of the depression:
    • A. Everette McIntyre
    • Pauline Kael (Hard Travelin’)
    • Kitty McCulloch
    • Dawn, Kitty’s Daughter
    • Louis Banks
    • Emma Tiller
    • Peggy Terry, and Her Mother Mary Owsley
    • Cesar Chavez
    • Martin DeVries
    • Dr. David J. Rossman
    • Clifford Burke
    • Daisy Singer
    • Robin Langston
    • Dorothe Bernstein
    • Dawn, Kitty McCulloch’s Daughter
    • Doc Graham
    • Buddy Blakenship
    • Orrin Kelly
    • Emil Loriks
    • Clyde T. Ellis
    • Emma Tiller
    • Pauline Kael (Campus Life)

Terkel, Studs. Hard Times: An Oral History of the Depression. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Begin class with a journal entry: “ What comes to mind about life during the Great Depression when you think back to the pictures we looked at yesterday?” Choose whether or not to discuss the question.

  2. Ask the class to divide into the same groups of three from yesterday, reminding them of the three roles they filled. Tell students to switch roles this time. Pass out one copy of Problems/Solutions Chart (Attachment One) and Depression Stories (Attachment Two) to each group. The teacher should decide before class whether students should read more than one story. Distribute the necessary stories or books to the students.

  3. Inform students that today they will accomplish two tasks in their groups. They will read the story and answer the questions about the story. Using Problems/Solutions Chart (Attachment One) they will list the problems of the depression and either find solutions for the problem in the story or decide on solutions themselves. Give the students about forty minutes to accomplish both tasks.

  4. Once the tasks are completed, request that the narrator from each group discuss some of the group’s problems and solutions. If an item has already been stated by one group, any other group that has that item listed should check it so they know that it has already been said. If the group has another solution, however, the group should immediately inform the teacher. As this process is on-going, the teacher should record the information. The students should include enough information to allow the rest of the class to understand the interview read by the group. This may go into the next day. Regardless, the teacher should be ready for the next part of the assignment using this prepared sheet.

  5. Day Two: Begin the lesson with a journal question: “List two problems from the depression and two solutions that the class discussed the previous day.” The journal should remind students of yesterday’s assignment, and prepare them for the lesson today.

  6. The teacher should have the cards ready of the groupings that students created yesterday, and they should be posted on the board for students. As a class, the students will organize the solutions they suggested by placing them under one of the four sectors of the economy they fit. Government For Profit Business Nonprofit Business Families

  7. Once all the groupings are completed, discuss with the students why they have placed certain items in certain places, and why they feel those groups would best solve the problems. Ask if these are the only options. Tell students that they will return to the list in the future when we discuss the creation of the actual solutions, how those solutions have affected our society today, and why those solutions allowed our nation to survive the depression.

  8. Depending on the stories selected for use, ask students to identify how different groups and families demonstrated giving and civic involvement. Explain that the giving of one’s time, talent or treasure is called philanthropy. Which actions in the stories represented examples of philanthropy? What motivated the persons in the stories to do what they did even when it meant sharing meager resources or risking trouble with the law? What factors shaped Americans’ thinking about sharing limited resources during those “hard times?”


Attachment Three: Group Grading Rubric from Lesson One: Life During the Depression—Pictures may be used to evaluate the group work completed in this lesson’s Problems/Solutions Chart (Attachment One) and Depression Stories (Attachment Two).

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify how subgroups and families in society demonstrate giving, volunteering, and civic involvement.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.13 Give examples of how philanthropy has reallocated limited resources through giving and citizen action.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.7 Identify contemporary factors in society that can shape or affect how society views philanthropic giving.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.


Hi Molly, The images from the Great Depression can be found through a Google Search. If you look at lesson one in this unit (Bibliography) there is a link for good pictures. The handout called "Depression Pictures" is a handout with questions about the photos students are looking at. They can be any Depression pictures. The stories come from a Studs Terkel book referenced in the Materials. Let me know if you still need help. Thanks for asking! Betsy