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The Great Depression

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Students will examine and interpret statistics to help them learn about the hardships many Canadians faced during the Great Depression. Students will work in groups and use information from the Canada Year Book 1937. They will role-play as members of families with different incomes and needs and attempt to set up family budgets. Students will come to respect the challenges, experiences and frustrations of families who had to struggle to survive in the Great Depression.


  • To locate and use relevant information from historical sources.
  • To analyse, classify and interpret information from historical sources.
  • To read a variety of graphs, charts and tables for specific purposes.
  • To use vocabulary specific to the topic.
  • To make inferences and draw conclusions.
  • To understand and appreciate some of the economic and social hardships experienced by many Canadians during the Great Depression.
  • To demonstrate computer skills for research, statistical analysis, interpretation and application.
  • To demonstrate co-operative small group skills, such as decision making, negotiating, participating, following directions, managing materials, encouraging, listening, summarizing and staying on task.
  • To use imagination to play simulated roles as members of families at different socio-economic levels as they face the hardships of the Great Depression.
  • To develop a consensus for solutions to difficulties faced in the activity.
  • To appreciate the concepts of limited resources and unlimited needs and wants in setting up family budgets.

Suggested grade levels and subject areas

History, Economics, Family Studies, Geography


30 to 50 minutes for the introduction (steps 1 to 7)
One 50-minute period to research the information and complete the worksheets (step 8)
One 50-minute period to share findings (step 9)

Vocabulary (as used in the context of this lesson)

Budget – money management process in which one lists total income and total expenditure, with the goal of keeping income greater than expenditure.
Compensation – money received in place of another source (e.g., workers' compensation is paid to an injured worker replacing some of the money not earned by working at a job).
Expenditure – money spent.
Incidental – having a minor role in relation to other items or events.
Mother's allowance – money paid to mothers by a government to help support children.
Pension – money people receive from governments or other institutions after they retire. People pay into pensions during their working years.
Salary – employment income earned at a flat rate for a period of time (an amount per week, month or year).
Wages – money paid for work, usually calculated by the hour or week.


Canada Year Book resources

1937 (PDF)

Classroom instructions

  1. Review the following outline with the class:
    1. We will be working in co-operative small groups in a role-play situation.
    2. We will attempt to create a budget for our families in 1936, during the Great Depression.
    3. We will be using statistical information about challenges faced by our families as we try to meet their budgetary needs.
  2. Brainstorm problems that families typically faced during the worst years of the Great Depression.
  3. Explain the concept of the family profiles and describe what is expected of each family group and individual student.
  4. Divide the class into small groups of three or four students each.
  5. Distribute a family profile (student worksheets 1 to 4) to each group.
  6. Distribute the Evaluation rubric (printer-friendly format) and discuss your expectations for each category.
    1. The major task of each group is to identify problems, discuss possible solutions and make decisions for the greatest benefit of the family as a whole.
    2. Each family will hand in their completed family profile after information from it has been recorded on the Master profile (printer-friendly format).
    3. Encourage each family group to present their budget in an engaging manner, using their imaginations as they role-play family members.
  7. Have students chose roles for their group members.
    1. There is no boss or leader in these groups—each member has a role to perform satisfactorily in order that the group completes its budget.
    2. Roles should enable groups to get their job done. The group roles are reader, recorder, time manager, clarifier and data checker.
    3. No group should have more than five members, but all roles should be performed. Some students may have more than one.
    4. Have the data checker assign each member the tasks of finding the required information. For example, Father's weekly wages as a miner in Nova Scotia will be found by one person in the group while another looks for the rent owing. The recorder will note their findings after the checker has checked their accuracy.
  8. Supervise the groups as they find the information, record and check it, and use their findings to prepare their budgets and presentations.
  9. Discussion: Ask each group to share its problems and solutions with the rest of the class. Use the Master profile with a projector to record and discuss major points from the exercise.


Evaluate the student worksheets using the Evaluation rubric (printer-friendly format).


For further studies, students can complete a comparison of efforts by the federal, provincial and municipal governments to provide relief and to reduce the stress felt by many Canadians during the Great Depression.

Also, students could brainstorm the question "Could a situation similar to the Great Depression happen again?"

Students could be encouraged to set up a budget for themselves.