Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Martha Simmons


This is an introductory lesson on the Great Depression. Students discuss the Great Depression and the impact that it had on American Society and teens during that era.


The student knows the major events that shaped the development of various cultures (e.g., the spread of agrarian societies, population movements, technological and cultural innovation, and the emergence of new population centers).


-Basic information on the Great Depression and the stock market
-Letters to Eleanor Roosevelt from young people during the Depression era (See Weblinks)
-Space for a student-generated list
-Copy of novel. Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. New York, New York: Puffin Books, 1991.


1. Read the novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.
2. Research information on the stock market and the Great Depression. Prepare the notes you wish to give the students.
3. Print the Roosevelt letters from the website and copy the necessary amount for the students to have. You may wish to read these letters to the students so only one copy would be necessary.
4. Prepare the space for the master lists of teen problems.


1. This lesson occurs after students have started reading the novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in their language arts classes. Discuss some of the ideas of the book. For example: the setting, characters in the book, some of the problems all ready encountered.

2. Ask students what major historical event took place in the U.S. during this time period. Discuss with the class the stock market and how its crash caused the Great Depression. Your discussion of the stock market can be as detailed or as general as your class needs, depending on their learning levels. This discussion should probably take an entire 50-minute class period.

3. On Day 2, have the students begin by making a list of problems facing American teenagers currently. After the individual lists are completed, make a master list on the board or chart paper of the problems they came up with. Discuss why the students see them as problems.

4. Next have students read or read to them letters written to Eleanor Roosevelt by teens in the 1930ís. After reading the letters, have the students make another individual list of problems that teenagers in the 1930ís might have faced. They may put this list on the same sheet of paper as the 90ís list.

5. Again, make a master list on the same sheet of chart paper or on the board. Discuss why the students believe these were problems faced by 1930ís teens.

6. Students then make comparisons between the present and the 1930ís. Discuss what organizations might be available to help young people today and what organizations might have been around in the 1930ís to help teens. Discuss how these teen problems and the Great Depression shaped American society in the 1930ís.

7. End the lesson by asking the students to look for some of the teen problems that they listed in the novel as they continue to read.


This a formative assessment for the purpose of insuring that each student understands (1) the Great Depression and how it affected American society and culture and (2) how the Depression affected the characters in the novel and shaped their reactions to certain events and situations. You should be able to determine each student's level of understanding through class discussion and their responses to questions from the teacher and other students. If you cannot determine this through observation during the whole class discussion, ask those students who are lagging extension questions to draw them into the discussion and focus them on the intended learning.

Alternate: For a more formal assessment, have each student write a paragraph or two responding to each of the two points listed above. These can be scored commendable, acceptable, or needs improvement based on the depth of understanding exhibited.


An extension might be to have students research the different help organizations that are available to teens today. They could report what the organization does to help and if it existed in the 1930ís. They could also research the organizations that were available in the 1930ís to help teens and others.

Modifications for ESE and lower performing students:
These students can be given a copy of the notes from the lecture and discussion of the Great Depression and the stock market. These students would be reminded of the appropriate procedures for successful whole class discussion. For example: raising your hand and waiting to be recognized, being respectful of others opinions and ideas, etc.

Web Links

Web supplement for Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
Letters to Mrs. Roosevelt

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