What Caused the Whole Mess? -
Causes of the Great Depression

A WebQuest for 11th Grade U.S. History

Designed by

Mark W. House

Introduction | Task | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion | Credits


The year is 1932 and Franklin D. Roosevelt has just been elected President.  FDR has come to you and four of your colleagues asking a huge favor.  "I promised the American people a New Deal as a reaction to the depression, but I have a problem.  Before I can make plans to fix the depression I have to know what caused the depression and frankly I have no idea!  Can you help me out?  I need to give the American people something fast.  I need you to tell me what caused the depression." 

So there it is: you need to report back to the President of the United States on the causes of the Great Depression.

The Task

Each group is responsible for submitting a report to the President detailing the causes of the Great Depression.  The President is not just looking for a list but rather a report that details the causes and why your group thinks that the cause(s) you present are legitimate.  Your proposal should include a well crafted introductory paragraph to act as a road map for the reader as well as an introduction to the topic, a body paragraph for each cause with a strong topic sentence and a smooth transition sentence, and a concluding paragraph that succinctly brings your argument to a close.  Each team should also rank order the causes in their report from most to least important and give supports as to their decision on the ranking.

Your report may include any graphics that you think would help the President understand the situation.  Remember you are going to help millions of Americans, but only if you can convince the President of your argument, so do your best.

The Process

All right. Let's get down to business...

  1. First you will be assigned to a response group containing three other students.
  2. Each student is responsible for choosing a role.  Here are your choices, read about each role carefully and pick the one best suited for you:
  3. Once you have chosen your roles you need to have a brain storming session.  (Here is a link to a good site to give you a few hints for brainstorming Brainstorming Basics ) What do you already know about the Great Depression and it's causes?  Remember that in brain storming any idea is fair game.  it is important not to bash anyone's contribution.
  4. After you wrap up the brain storming you need to gather information.  This stage can take some time.  You need to compile a list of possible causes of the depression and why they are important.  Remember a good project includes all the causes.  It may work best to divide up the web sites between members of the group and then report back.
  5. Once you have compiled what you think is a comprehensive list you need to rank each reason and list supports for including the cause as well as supports for your ranking.  For instance if you think that fire ants were a possible cause then support it.  Likewise if you think that fire ants were the most important cause then you need to back up your decision.  (Hint: fire ants had nothing to do with the Depression.)
  6. Now it is time to step back and take a deep breath.  Do you have enough information?  Do you have enough supports?  What else would help your argument? 
  7. Once you are sure your ready then you need to outline your paper.  Since you are doing this in a group I would recommend using a large sheet of newsprint to write the outline on so everyone can see the process and contribute.
  8. Once the outline is complete it is time to complete the rough draft.  How you divide it up is up to you.
  9. After the rough draft is complete you need to edit your paper.  Look carefully for smooth transitions, grammar, and spelling.  It will be a fast turn off for the President if the product has careless errors.
  10. When you have your rough draft well revised then you need to complete the final draft for submission.  this is the time to add the extras.  Graphics, report covers, etc.
You have five days from beginning to end to complete this project.  That may seem like a long time, but it will go by extremely quickly so be careful. 

The following sites have been chosen to help you gather data to base your analysis on:


Each group is responsible for turning in one completed report and each group will receive one grade for the project.  If you are running into difficulty with your group that must be brought to my attention early in the project.

Note to AACPS teachers

  • Indicator: The student will assess the impact of market theory of economics on government policy.
  • Indicator: The student will explain how the new deal changed relationships among the three branches of government.
The following is your grading rubric.  Take a few minutes through your project to make sure that you are creating a project that will receive an acceptable grade.
Brainstorming Session
Students wrote a few nonsensical ideas on a sheet of paper. Students recorded some of the main causes of the depression  Students had a substantial number of potential causes that demonstrated some upper level thinking Students had a large list of potential causes.  The list demonstrated high level synthesis.
Ranked Causes Students wrote numbers beside the causes of the Depression. Students gave some consideration to their ranking.  Listed a few supports for the ranking. Students ranked all the causes and gave supports for each cause. Students ranked each cause and gave a strong support for its' position.
Well Written Report There were numerous misspellings and grammatical mistakes throughout the report.  Paragraphs were poorly designed.  No transition sentences.  There were a few misspellings and grammatical mistakes in the report.  Paragraphs were elementary in structure.  Weak transition sentences. There were no misspellings and no grammatical mistakes in the report.  Paragraphs were well constructed.  Acceptable transition sentences.  There were no misspellings and no grammatical mistakes in the report.  Paragraphs were well of excellent quality.  Smooth transition sentences.
Overall Appearance of Report Rough looking reports. Report looked fine, no major problems.   Report had some degree of polish.  Stylish and classy looking report.


You should have gained an advanced understanding of the causes of the Great Depression.  In addition you should have gained valuable experience working in a group setting and creating a top notch report. 

Here is a question that is well worth considering given your new found expertise: Could we have another Great Depression in the United States?

Credits & References

Lange, Dorethea. http://www.loc.gov "Migrant Mother" February, 1936.

Wolcott, Marion Post. http://memory.loc.gov "Abandoned Shack" June, 1939

Special thanks to Kim Champagne and Jan Weller for their guidance and encouragement.

Last updated on April 3, 2002. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page