What Caused the Great Depression? — US History LP

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US History Activity: Causes of the Great Depression

This is a 2  day lesson plan that I did with 10th Grade U.S. History classes in an IB school. It took place after students had read in their textbooks  several possible causes to the Great Depression (chapters 2.5 and 2.6).  The textbook explanations were adequate, however I felt that they required a deeper understanding of economic themes then the students had. Therefore I designed this lesson to bolster students understanding of these arguments through  a group activity investigating and interpreting historical sources. This was also the first time their textbook introduced historical economic statistics as a source and I wanted the students to practice analyzing them.

Objectives:   To understand various causes of the Great Depression

–  Identify & explain 3 possible causes of the Great Depression

–  Analyze primary and secondary historical sources (narrative, visual,eyewitness accounts, advertisements, and statistical data) using IB’s OBVL methodology

–  Place historical evidence in the context of a causal argument

–  Understand the economic circumstances of the early years of the Depression

I began the class with powerpoint slides on the economic statistics of the 1920s-1930s (textbook p.48).  My intention was to model economic analysis using statistical charts.   Next we brainstormed about what caused the Great Depression. Identify the main causes discussed in the book and elicit any additional student ideas. (Intro: 10-15 mins)

–  Stock market crash of 1929

–  People not spending enough money/ People spending too much money

–  Faulty Banking System/Money supply

–  Income Inequality: Rich people receive most income, while poor go into debt

–  International Economy: The define in trade income; decline in WWI reparations

–  Poor government economic policies (e.g. Laissez faire policies, trade, taxation)

Then I divided the students into groups of three and assigned roles (Administrator, Recorder, and Spokesman).  Groups were given a set of critical questions and several data sources.  I first had the students inventory their data sources. Each group examined one of the main causes of the Great Depression. I had them quickly identify the origin and purpose of each data source (15-30mins). Then after I checked off their inventory to make sure that they had done it correctly I had the groups write brief answers the critical questions.


The next day groups finished answering the critical questions and then prepared a  Then they will present their sources to the class and explain how their study area contributed to the Great Depression.

For this exercise I condensed the possible causes into these four principle themes:

Wall Street Crash – This group must explain what the stock market is and how market crash contributed to the Great Depression.

The International Economy – This group must explain how international trade affects economies and how its decline contributed to the Great Depression.

Banking System – This group must explain to the class how banks work, and how the limitations of the 1920’s banking system contributed to the Great Depression.

Underconsumption/Debt/Income Inequality – This group must explain how underconsumption contributed to the Great Depression.

I designed so that it could work for a small class or a large class, therefore I chose to condense the possible causes into these four themes.   I taught it to 4 classes which ranged in size between 12-24 students.  For the class of 12 I simply did the four basic groups, for the larger classes I assigned overlap for Under-consumption with one group focusing on income inequality and one group on consumerism.  For the very large class I also  assigned two groups to cover the banking system.

This is the presentation I used and below are the critical questions and data sources that I used divided by groups.  I have documented where i have downloaded the images form.  (You will note there are a few sources where students did not have enough information to access the true origin).

Group 1 – Wall Street Crash

Group 2 – International Economy

Group 3 – The Banking System

Group 4 – Under-Consumption

Causes of the Great Depression Sources (Complete)


Please note: I referenced–and borrowed ideas–from these two lesson plans:

What Caused the Great Depression? (From the St. Luis Federal Reserve)

Laura Kingston’s truly excellent Why did the Great Depression Happen inquiry lesson plan.

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