The Great Depression Essay Introductions For Middle School

Esperanza Rising: Introduction to the Great Depression



Esperanza Rising is set during the 1930's, which overlaps the period in U.S. history known as the Great Depression. Below are several ways in which I suggest would be most appropriate for introducing the story of the Great Depression to a group of Middle School students.


Subject: Social Studies


Grade: 7-8



  • Students will examine the causes and analyze the effects of the economic depression of the 1930's.



  • Strand I - U.S. History
    • Sub-strand I - A World at War, 1030's-1945.
      • Standard - The student will understand and analyze the economic, social, and political transition of the United States before, during, and after World War II.
        • Benchmark I - Students will examine causes and analyze the effects of the Great Depression and the impact of the New Deal.




Key Vocabulary:



  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • The following reference materials (as indicated by the links below)
  • Student Journals




1. A Photographic Essay of the Great Depression



They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Personally, I feel that the beauty of photography is that it provides the viewer with the opportunity to formulate their own interpretations, unrestrained from the dictates and biases of the written word. These photographs provide a wonderful overview of the Great Depression, and would certainly be a great place to start in approaching this historic topic.


One classroom follow-up activity that I feel would really help to enhance the student experience is as follows:


Have students spend 5 minutes or so writing their reactions and interpretations of the photographs in the video. The purpose of this exercise is primarily to assist students in digesting what they just witnessed and to formulate a general conception of the era. It may be helpful to provide a series of prompts, such as:


- How do these images make you feel and why?

- Based on these photographs, how do you think life was like during the Great Depression era?


After students have written their reflections, have students pair up with a classmate and generate a list of 10 adjectives to describe the Great Depression based on the photographs (for instance, poor, depressing, gloomy, etc.)


Once students have come up with 10 adjectives, make a collaborative list on the white board as a class. Have each student group present one of their adjectives to add to the list, and explain why they choose that particular word. The rule is that no word can be added twice.


2. The History Channel: The Great Depression



After completing the above activity I would probably follow it with this introductory video of the Great Depression wonderfully produced by the History Channel. It provides a series of insights from celebrities such as Tom Brokaw, Jimmy Wales (co-founder of Wikipedia), David Baldacci (author), Sheryl Crow, and more. It's brief, it's to-the-point and way more interesting than almost any other introductory video on the topic available on the net. If you are looking for a video that can attractively present this dark era of our nation's history in a way that students will pay attention to, look no further.


While the photographic essay activity can help students to generate a mental framework regarding the mood of the era, this video provides a deeper analysis.


3. About The Great Depression


Next, I would guide students to the above link's webpage, which offers a brilliant overview of the Great Depression without "dragging on" endlessly over details which students may lose interest in. It not only provides a great description of the economic impact and effects on American soil, but also its global impact. There are several charts and graphs, which really help illustrate just how devastating its effects really were. Ultimately, this was the best textual overview on the topic I could find.


Have students pair up and complete the following learning guide (printable w/ answer key):



After completing the learning guide, correct it as a class and discuss the answers in greater depth to enhance comprehension of the topic.


5. What's the Difference Between a Recession and a Depression?


Today, it is difficult to turn on the television or open a newspaper without hearing of our current economic crisis. Many students will be able to point out similarities between what was happening in the 1930's in Esperanza's world with what is currently happening in our economy today. However, the terminology is different, which indicates that there must be some distinctions between today and the Great Depression era. But what exactly is the difference between a Depression and a Recession? Most of the information that tries to explain this distinction gets very complex. What I love about (a sister company of the Discover Channel) is that they take complex topics such as this and simplify them into easily digestible articles. The link above will relay you over to an article written by Josh Clark, one of my favorite contributers of the staff. This article should help bridge the topic of the Great Depression into something relevant to the lives of your students.


One activity that I suggest is to create a Venn Diagram highlighting the similarities and differences between the Great Depression and today's "Great Recession."


6. After providing students with some background information on the Great Depression, begin introducing students to the Tier I & II vocabulary terms. The link will guide you to the vocabulary page, or you can click here to be taken directly to my Vocabulary Activities page, which will provide you with specific activities designed to teach the vocabulary. The method is formulated around Dr. Marzano's 6 step process. At this point, go ahead and teach Tier I and II vocabulary terms up through step 3.


7. Now let's pull it all together. The students should now have general background knowledge of the topic of the Great Depression, and an understanding of some of the basic vocabulary terms that are essential not only to understanding the era, but also the book Esperanza Rising. At this point, have students read from p. 1-80 (chapters 1-4).


In their journals, have students write a 1-page response to each of the following topic questions:


  • On the train, Hortensia asks a poor women if she is able to support her large family by simply raising hens and selling eggs. The women responds, "I am poor, but I am rich. I have my children, I have a garden with roses, and I have my faith and the memories of those who have gone before me. What more is there?" (Ryan, 76). In what ways would you consider yourself "rich?" In what ways would you consider yourself "poor?" How important is money in comparison to other aspects of life?


  • Miguel states that, "The rich take care of the rich and the poor take care of those who have less than they have" (Ryan, 79). Is this true? Based on what you know about the Great Depression and your experiences in your own town, would you say that this is an accurate statement? Explain and defend using specific examples.


Now go back to the Lesson Ideas page or go directly to The Dust Bowl & The Great Migration to the West.




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Бедняга. Сердечный приступ. Беккер безучастно кивнул: - Так мне сказали.

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