Debating the Depression

Online Lesson Plan
Debating the Depression


This Lesson Plan was submitted to the Wessels Living History Farm project by Brent Toalson, 12th Grade Current Issues teacher at Southeast High School, Lincoln, Nebraska. Get Published. You can also submit your own lesson plan based on this Web site to us by clicking the button at right. We will review the plan and publish it for you.


The student will learn how to debate important social issues in a civil manner. Students will learn the importance of knowledge in public discourse.


The Issues class debate lesson is a great way to get students to learn about important current issues through a debate format. Students will engage in spirited pubic debate in a way that is both respectful and civil.

Many issues that were important during the Great Depression of the 1930s are still challenging us today. Economic justice, destruction of the environment by unwise farming practices, crime, alcohol use and abuse – these are just some of the events and issues that people in the 1930s stuggled with, and that we still face today. This Learner Resource is designed to use the Wessels Living History Farm site as a starting point for for research and debate of historic and current issues.


The Resources

Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn about specific issues facing people who lived during the 1930s. Invite students to think about the public policy questions that still face us today. Be sure to point out the “Then & Now” buttons that link to stories about today’s issues.

Book: Current Issues, 2nd Edition (Close*UP Publishing)
Handouts: Current Issues Unit and Class Debate; Current Issues Worksheets from the TeacherÕs Edition of the Current Issues book; Student Debate Worksheet


The Process

Day 1:

  1. Introduce the lesson by giving students a copy of the Current Issues book and the Current Issues Unit handout.
  2. Read through the handout with the students and give them a general overview of the lesson.
  3. Have students look through the book and table of contents. Each chapter addresses one issue topic. For example, one chapter is called Crime and Drugs. Ask students to select five chapters (topics) and rank them by which topic they are most interested in learning more about. Students write down their choices and ranking and give their rankings to the teacher.
  4. The teacher groups students according to their interest in the topics. Teachers should try to give students their first or second choice of topics if possible. Try to have no more than 5 or 6 students in a group.
  5. Put students in their groups and ask them to look over the material in the chapter that corresponds to their topic. Ask each group to come up with an issue from the chapter and to phrase it in the form of a debate question. For example, if the topic is Crime and Drugs, the debate question could be Ð ÒShould Nebraska eliminate the death penalty?Ó
  6. Give each group a file folder and ask them to record their names and the debate question on the folder. Pick up the folders.

Days 2 and 3: Your students will need about 2 days to research their debate question. They are to locate research and information that supports and opposes the issue question. Students will need to print a paper copy of any relevant research they find online or make a copy of print material. The research goes in their issue folder.

Homework: Students should continue to do research on the topic. Select one of the issues to debate and assign the class the worksheet that corresponds to the chapter from the Current Issues book.

Day 4: Spend the class period going over the worksheet and discussing the topic. Try not to spend too much time on the specific debate question because students will have an entire class period to debate that issue.

Day 5:

  1. Ask the students who did the research on the debate question to step to the front of the class.
  2. Divide the rest of the class into two groups. Begin by asking for a show of hands from students who support the debate question and for a show of hands from those opposed. The teacher may have to ask some students to switch sides to equal out the numbers. Separate the two groups so they can begin to prepare for the debate. If possible, send one group to another room or have them work in the hall.
  3. The students who did the research will prep the groups for the debate by going over the relevant research with each group. Students in the debate groups should record their debate notes on the debate worksheets. If possible have students record the source of the information.

Homework: Students should do additional research on the debate question. The more information they have the better they will do in the debate.

Day 6: Divide the students into the two sides and ask them to face the other groups. The students who did the research will be the timers and scorers (see the CI class debate worksheet). The teacher should be the moderator. Begin the debate and follow the rules on the worksheet. Students may refer to their debate notes.

Learning Advice

The more students go through the debate process, the better they will get at debating issues in a civil manner. Teachers may want to modify the activity and focus on one issue, especially if time is an issue. Try doing an issue debate between each major unit as a way to break up the curriculum.


Ask students to reflect on the debate by journaling or through class discussion. Possible questions:

  1. Did you learn any new information about the topic? Explain.
  2. Did you change your position as a result of the debate? Why or why not?
  3. At any point during the debate did you get frustrated or upset? Explain what happened.
  4. Do you have any questions about the issue that were not addressed during the debate?

Assessment Activity

Teachers can assess the lesson by grading the topic worksheet from day 4 and the debate worksheet. Teachers may want to give students a participation grade as well. See the Current Issues Unit handout for additional assessment ideas.

General Notes

Teachers may have to modify the worksheets and time allotments to fit the needs of the class.



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