Lesson Plan: Hunger during the Great Depression

The Great Depression: Background

Iowa State University Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg explains the state of the country during this time.


Iowa State University Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg talks about hunger conditions around the country during the Great Depression, what various groups of people experienced during this time and how they managed.


  • STEP 1:

    Ask students to look up the definitions of the vocabulary terms listed to the right. This can be done for homework in advance of class or assigned to students individually or in pairs at the start of class.

    Discuss the meanings of the terms to prepare for the video content below.

  • STEP 2:

    View the following videos and use the questions included with each video to guide class discussion.

    Students may use the handout below to take notes while watching the video clips.

    Handout: The Great Depression: Hunger (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip 1: Background (8:21)

    Iowa State University Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg explains the state of the country during this time.

    1. Explain the effect the Great Depression had on employment in the country.

    2. Describe the impact this had on families, banks, charities and businesses.

    3. Who were considered the "worthy poor?"

    4. Explain the term "relative deprivation" as it relates to the Great Depression.

    5. Explain the significance of "shame" during this time.
  • Video Clip 2: Effects on Families (9:04)

    Iowa State University Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg explains how families were impacted during this time including the changing roles of women, jobs for young children, how families shared costs and housing and how young men left home.

    • Explain the role of women and their work experiences during this time.

    • Describe some of the challenges women faced as they considered getting a job outside the home.

    • What kinds of jobs did children have?

    • Explain other methods through which families managed during this depression.

    • Why did young people leave home during this period?
  • Video Clip 3: Seeking Assistance (8:17)

    Iowa State University Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg talks about the process of receiving aid during this period.

    • According to Prof. Riney-Kehrberg, why was receiving aid such a personal, yet public, process during this time?

    • Describe the kinds of items people were prohibited from purchasing with relief. How did some communities manage the distribution of relief?

    • Who was eligible to receive aid?

    • Explain the land plot program that was established.

    • How did people stretch their meals?
  • Video Clip 4: Hunger (3:04)

    Iowa State University Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg describes the hunger conditions among various groups of people in the U.S. during this period.

    • Describe the experiences with hunger that tenant farmers, land owning farmers and people who lived in cities with their families endured during the Great Depression.
  • STEP 3:

    Have students complete one of the following activities to demonstrate what they have learned.


    Imagine that you are living in a household during the Great Depression and your family is experiencing great loss.

    Choose a family perspective from which to write a journal entry or a detailed letter to a family member in another state, a friend or an elected official describing what you are experiencing and the relief you would like to receive.

    You may consider the following information to include:

    • Describe the area where you live (rural, urban), your community (neighborhood, neighbors, stores, banks), your family life (family members, home, employment, income).

    • Explain how you arrived at your present circumstances, what you are currently experiencing and the relief you have received or are seeking.

    Work with a partner or small group to write and perform a short skit that illustrates what your family is experiencing during this period.

Additional Resources

  • Bell Ringer: The Great Depression Documented in Photographs

    Library of Congress curator Beverly Brannan talked about the images taken by photographers working for the U.S. Government’s Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression.

  • Bell Ringer: The Bonus Army, Hoovervilles, and the Great Depression

    Historian Richard Norton Smith discussed the Bonus Army and Hoovervilles during the Great Depression.

  • Bell Ringer: The Great Depression and Public Policy

    Author Amity Shlaes talks about the various public policy attempts to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression.

  • Bell Ringer: Life as an Unemployed Person during the Great Depression

    Michael Golay talked about the effects of the Great Depression in New York city during the periods of 1931-1933, including a first person account of life as an unemployed person during that time.

  • Lesson Plan: The Great Depression

    The Great Depression was a severe economic depression that began in the United States following the stock market crash in October of 1929 and lasted into the late 1930s. The depression had widespread effects across the entire country with many bank failures and record high unemployment as the government struggled on the proper methods to intervene. In this lesson, students will learn about the causes and impact of the Great Depression as well as the significance of governmental policies on the crisis.

  • Lesson Plan: The New Deal

    In 1932 the United States was in the depths of the Great Depression with the government struggling on the best way to intervene when Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide victory in the presidential election, promising a "new deal" for Americans. The New Deal was a series of government programs and financial reforms meant to put many Americans back to work, stabilize the economy, and give people hope that the depression would end. In this lesson, students will learn about the creation of the New Deal, its impact on the Great Depression and the economy, as well as its legacy on the role of the government in the lives of the American people.


  • Bootlegger
  • Child Labor Laws
  • Drought
  • Dust Bowl
  • Malnourished
  • Poverty
  • Prohibition
  • Resistant
  • Rickets
  • Social Convention
  • Tenant Farmer
  • Transient
  • Tuberculous
  • Underemployment
  • Vengeance
  • Welfare


U.S. History


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