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From The Great War To The Great DepressionFrom-The-Great-War-To-The-Great-Depression

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • Discuss what the nation was like during the 1920s, highlighting changes in its economy, society, politics, and arts and culture.
  • Create a list of important figures from the 1920s who are featured in the program.
  • Research the life and significance of a famous person from the 1920s and develop a creative work that portrays an event in that person's life.



  1. After watching From the Great War to the Great Depression , discuss what the United States was like in the decade following World War I, known as the "Roaring Twenties." Ask students to describe changes in the nation's economy, society, politics, and arts and culture. During the discussion, note key terms and phrases that describe the era on the chalkboard. The following list provide some examples, which you may want to use to guide the discussion.
    • Economic prosperity
    • High quality of life (hot and cold running water, electrical appliances)
    • Growth of big business and industry
    • Mass-produced automobiles
    Arts and Culture
    • Movies with sound
    • Radios in most homes
    • Birth of jazz
    • Harlem Renaissance
    • Increasing rights for women; changing role of women (19th Amendment, Women's Trade Union League)
    • New, carefree style of fashion and behavior (flappers)
    • Prohibition (18th Amendment, Temperance Movement, speakeasies)
    • Rise in organized crime (bootlegging, gangsters)
    • Racism (KKK)
    • Isolation from rest of world; focus on issues at home
    • Distrust of foreigners
    • Red Scare (fear of Communism)
  2. Next, ask students to discuss why the decade was called the "Roaring Twenties." Then have them name some of the significant people from the 1920s who were featured in the film. Brainstorm a list of names of famous-and infamous people-from the decade. You may want to refer to your earlier chalkboard list to help students remember individuals from all aspects of society, such as:
    • Warren Harding
    • Louis Armstrong
    • Duke Ellington
    • Bessie Smith
    • Benny Goodman
    • George Gershwin
    • F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Langston Hughes
    • Marcus Garvey
    • Al Capone
    • James Cagney
    • Texas Guinan
    • George Raft
    • Mayor Big Bill Thompson
  3. Explain that students will be working with a partner to explore the life and significance of one person from the list. Their assignment is to research the events in that person's life as well as his or her accomplishments and role in society. Then, they will develop and present a creative work that portrays an important event in that person's life. Encourage them to be creative in their presentation-for example, they could write a newspaper article, compose a radio news story, give a mock interview, storyboard a movie scene, or even write and perform a fictional scene.
  4. In addition to any available print resources, have students use the following Web sites for their research.
  5. Have students perform or present their works to the class. Then discuss the different people they learned about. How did each one reflect life in the 1920s? Do we see similar people in society today? If so, who? If not, why not? What was unique about the Roaring Twenties?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:  Students were active in class discussions; provided several examples to describe the nation during the 1920s; developed a thorough, engaging creative work about a famous person from the decade.
  • Two points:  Students participated in class discussions; provided some examples to describe the nation during the 1920s; developed a clear, complete creative work about a famous person from the decade.
  • One point:  Students did not participate in class discussions; provided few or no examples to describe the nation during the 1920s; developed a vague or incomplete creative work about a famous person from the decade.

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Definition: Agreements between countries; the two main alliances formed before World War I were the Central Powers and the Allied Powers.
Context: Alliances were intended to create powerful combinations that no one would dare attack, but they increased international tensions even more.

Definition: The illegal importing of alcohol, which became widespread during Prohibition
Context: The largest groups of bootleggers were organized crime gangs.

Harlem Renaissance
Definition: A cultural movement in New York during the 1920s during which African-American arts, music, literature, and politics flourished
Context: The Harlem Renaissance thrived during the 1920s and '30s, until the Great Depression forced many artists to abandon New York in search of jobs.

Definition: A sense of extreme pride or loyalty to a particular country
Context: In 1914, economic rivalries, imperial competition, and rising nationalism were spreading across the continent.

Definition: A period in U.S. history during which the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol were illegal; Prohibition began in January 1920, with the ratification of the 18th Amendment.
Context: Although it remained a law throughout the Twenties, Prohibition became increasingly difficult to enforce.

Definition: Hidden saloons and night clubs that sold liquor illegally during Prohibition
Context: Jazz was particularly popular with young people, who flocked to nightclubs and speakeasies to dance the Charleston.

Definition: Total abstinence from alcohol
Context: Supporters of temperance called Prohibition "a noble experiment."

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Academic Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • U.S. History: Era 7-Understands how Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption; Understands the changing role of the United States in world affairs through World War I; Understands how the United States changed between the post-World War I years and the eve of the Great Depression

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has developed national standards to provide guidelines for teaching social studies. To view the standards online, go to
This lesson plan addresses the following thematic standards:

  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Production, Distribution, and Consumption
  • Science, Technology, and Society

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