The Great Depression

The Great Depression
Eleanor Roosevelt: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One week


After Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio, Eleanor Roosevelt became his inspector of the nation.  In 1933, she traveled 40,000 miles and examined projects of the Presidents’ New Deal; projects established to reverse the grip of the Great Depression. Upon returning from each inspection, Franklin Roosevelt would ask her detailed questions.  On one of her first inspections she returned with a menu from an insane asylum and Franklin Roosevelt asked her if she looked in the pot to see if they were being served what was on the menu.  Questions such as this helped Eleanor Roosevelt become an expert inspector.


In this lesson students will gain an understanding of the causes and effects of the Great Depression and participate in a simulation that will help them gain a personal perspective on this historic era.

Materials Required:

Student access to the Internet.


1. Together as a class create an inspection sheet for students to take home to inventory their lives.  The inventory should be divided into two categories: necessities and pleasure items.  Begin the brainstorming process by putting into the necessity column the furnace and putting into the pleasure column toys.  During this portion of the activity allow students to determine what a necessity is and what a pleasure item is with little scrutiny on the part of the teacher.  If the students disagree, take a class vote to determine where to put an item.

2. Direct the students to use this inventory to inspect their homes and to return the next day with the completed inspection sheet, which will include their lists of necessities and pleasure items.

3. The next day have students investigate the websites below to gain an understanding of the causes and effects of the Great Depression.

4. Once students have gained an understanding of the Great Depression, review the inspections sheets, giving particular scrutiny to what students labeled as necessities and what were labeled as pleasure items.  Repeatedly ask students if they could survive without items in the necessity column.

5. Explain to students the concept of inflation.

6. Have students use the inflation calculator to determine the difference in the cost of items on their list from the time of the Great Depression to now.

7. Have students examine the history of unemployment figures and the difference between wages and salaries during the Great Depression and now.

8. Using their future career choice, have students create a personal budget that they would need to live by if they lived during the Great Depression and were fortunate enough to be employed; and also create a budget for today.  Of note, students might be particularly surprised by the differences in wages of professional athletes then and now.  Hence, do not discourage any future career choice.  Some of the items that should be included in the budgets are housing, heating, transportation, food, clothing, and entertainment.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson have students create collages of what their life would have been like during the Great Depression and what their lives might be like in the future using photos from Google Images.

Sources & Resources:

The Great Depression, Inflation, Wages and Salaries – Juvenile: 
   Armstrong, Louise and Basso, Bill.  How to Turn Up Into Down Into Up: A Child’s Guide to Inflation, Depression, and Economic Recovery.  New York: L Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. 
   Burgen, Michael.  The Great Depression.  Minneapolis: Compass Books, 2002. 
   Ruth, Amy.  Growing Up in the Great Depression 1929 to 1941.  Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2003.
The Great Depression, Inflation, Wages and Salaries – Adult: 
   Bernanke, Ben S.  Essays on the Great Depression.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. 
   Gowland, David.  Money, Inflation, and Unemployment.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. 
   Markham, Jerry W. A Financial History of the United States.  New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2002. 
   McElvaine, Robert S. (ed.). Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man.  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1983.
Eleanor Roosevelt - Juvenile: 
   Freedman, Russell. Eleanor Roosevelt, a Life of Discovery. New York: Clarkion Books, 1993.   (Newberry Award) 
   Rosenburg, Pam. Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Compass Point Books, 2003. 
   Winget, Mary. Eleanor Roosevelt. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2003.
Eleanor Roosevelt - Adult: 
   Embridge, David (ed.). My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Newspaper columns, 1936-1962. New York: first Da Capo Press, 2001.  
   Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick.  Eleanor Roosevelt, a Very Special Lady. Brookfield: The Millbrook Press, 2003. 
   Mattern, Joanne. Eleanor Roosevelt, More Than a First Lady.  New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003. 
   Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961. 
   Roosevelt, Eleanor. You Learn By Living. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960.

The Great Depression:
Wages and Salaries:
Inflation Calculator:
Inflation Calculator:

This lesson was adapted by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.