The New Deal

This page contains post-show discussion questions and classroom exercises pertaining to the New Deal.

Exercise: People are People – Differing Support During the New Deal

Download a PDF of this exercise

Subject(s): History, Theater 

Goals: Students will be able to: 

  • Use examples from their knowledge and experience to support the main ideas of their oral presentation. 
  • Exercise their agency as members of the classroom community. 
  • Use verbal techniques including, but not limited to, appropriate tone, diction, articulation, clarity, type and rate. 
  • Apply civic virtues and democratic principles to make collaborative decisions. 
  • Evaluate the evolving and changing role of government. 

Show Connection:  

In Here’s the Deal, students in a high school theater class are asked to create theatrical pieces that find contemporary relevance in the New Deal. One of the groups creates a piece exploring treatment of people of color during the New Deal. As they create these pieces, they strive to find ways to empathize with the people they are researching.  

Additional Resources to Explore:

Exercise: People are People – Differing Support During the New Deal 

Supplies: Living New Deal Inclusion Links 

African Americans and the New Deal 

Asian Americans and the New Deal

Disabled Americans and the New Deal

Indigenous People and the New Deal

Women and the New Deal

Older Americans and the New Deal

Hispanic Americans and the New Deal

Jewish Americans and the New Deal


  • Divide the students into groups of equal sizes in breakout rooms that will take place later in the lesson. (We recommend dividing groups ahead of time for efficiency, an ability to focus on the exercise and to get to the fun as quickly as possible.) 
  • Create a Padlet for use in the “Empathy” portion of the lesson. The Padlet should feature at least three questions / scenarios that the students will be encouraged to respond to regarding empathy. (If your students aren’t familiar with Padlet, you’ll be able to adapt to any other virtual brainstorming platform.) Possible questions could include:  

Imagine you are a student and a friend in your class has just failed a major test or exam. Your friend is distraught because she studied a lot and still failed. Even though you got a good grade on this test, you remember what it is like to fail. How do you demonstrate empathy?  

In the restroom at school, one student gets teased and pushed into a stall by other kids. Imagine you’re a kid watching this interaction. How do you demonstrate empathy? 

Your co-worker has a mountain of work to do and will need to come in over the weekend to finish. You don’t do the same kind of work, and there’s no way for you to offer practical help. How do you demonstrate empathy? 

Part 1: Opening Discussion

Ask students to pick one of the following questions and to free write a response. After a few minutes, discuss their thoughts and responses.  

  • How does a society honor difference among its people, yet work, live, and thrive as one? What could unity look like?  
  • How does a society care for its most fragile: the elderly, the very young, the differently abled in effective and equitable ways?  
  • What challenges arise when serving a large population with many different types of individuals making up said population? 

Teach and Discuss:

There have been many different moments of crisis and tension throughout the history of the United States of America. (World War 2, September 11th and the Cuban Missile Crisis to name just a few from the last hundred years.) Each crisis has generated numerous ways to respond. Reception to each response has been mixed.  

The Great Depression, one of America’s most harrowing periods, resulted in many different attempts by the government to ease the burdens set on Americans by it. Some of those attempts remain controversial today. 

Part 2: Exploration

Put students into their pre-assigned breakout rooms after giving them the following instructions:  

Each group will be assigned one of the following resources to explore. Groups will unpack how their assigned group of Americans benefitted and were harmed (whether intentionally or unintentionally) by programs instituted as a part of the New Deal to combat the Great Depression.  

  • African Americans and the New Deal  
  • Asian Americans and the New Deal  
  • Disabled Americans and the New Deal  
  • Indigenous People and the New Deal  
  • Women and the New Deal  
  • Older Americans and the New Deal  
  • Hispanic Americans and the New Deal  
  • Jewish Americans and the New Deal  

In breakout room groups, groups are given time to read, discuss and explore their assigned materials. Ask them to discuss the following in their groups: 

  • How were these people treated during the Great Depression/New Deal era? 
  • What images come to mind as you read about the treatment of these people? 
  • If you were in their situation, how would you have felt? What would have been difficult for you? What would have given you hope? 

Part 3: Empathy

Once students have been given sufficient time to read, discuss and explore, bring them back and ask for initial impressions. What surprised you? What did you learn? 

Discuss and define empathy. A piece from University of California, Berkeley defines empathy as: “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.”  

Share the Padlet created with the students. Encourage students to explore and respond to each of the questions asked. 

Discuss why empathy matters. We cannot be helpful without imagination. We are limited until we recognize that others around us may be suffering. Empathy is an important part of everyday life but it’s also an important key to studying history. These were real people! We can come to better understand why people did what they did and how we can help rectify problems from the past if we take the time to imagine what others might be feeling. Conflicts at school and at home could be resolved in more satisfying ways if we cultivated moral imaginations that gave us permission to try to imagine what others might think or feel. 

Obviously, empathy has limitations. No matter how hard we try, we can never fully imagine the experiences of others but the trying will always pay off.  

We’re now going to ask you to practice empathy with the groups of Americans you were studying. You will be tasked to create an artistic response that explores the question: “How would I have felt if I were in their situation?”  

Groups will create an artistic response to their materials that teaches what they learned to the other groups. Suggested modes of presentation: 

  • A series of poses (or tableau) with narration. 
  • A piece (or pieces) of visual art. 
  • A physical piece of theater with narration or musical accompaniment. 
  • A piece of spoken poetry or other written word. 

Feel free to create additional guidelines here that match the artistic goals you have for your students. 

Whatever mode of presentation they select, the pieces must effectively explore the following:  

  • How the assigned group of Americans were treated or viewed in America at the time of the New Deal.  
  • How this group of Americans may have felt at the start of the Great Depression. 
  • What successes for this group of Americans may have experienced during this time period. 
  • How this group of Americans may have felt about how Neal Deal legislation addressed (or didn’t) their collective problems.  

Part 4: Rehearsal and Performance

Send groups back to breakout rooms and give them sufficient time to discuss and prepare. Once groups have had sufficient time to create their performance pieces, bring the groups back together to present their pieces. 


  • What are some equitable shortcomings you are aware of in your day to day life and those of people you care about? 
  • Have any groups in particular that were explored in these pieces “progressed” any faster than the other? Have they received more attention than other groups? 
  • What ways do you think diverse ranges of people can be better served by those in power? 

Exercise: Perspectives on a Crisis

Download a PDF of this exercise

Subject(s): History, Theater 
Goals: Students will be able to: 

  • Use examples from their knowledge and experience to support the main ideas of their oral presentation. 
  • Distinguish one’s own ideas from information created or discovered by others.  
  • Assess the impact of presentations, including the effectiveness of verbal and nonverbal techniques. 
  • Demonstrate nonverbal techniques including, but not limited to, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and stance. 
  • Evaluate the evolving and changing role of government. 

Show Connection:  

In Here’s the Deal, the students explore just how wide a range of people the New Deal affected. To better understand just how varied the people of the United States and their needs were, students explore Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s attempts at outreach. 


Additional Resources to Explore:

History of Fireside Chats


  • Divide the students into four groups of equal sizes in breakout rooms for an exercise later in the lesson. (We recommend doing this ahead of time for the sake of saving time, focusing on the exercise, and having fun with the students.) 


Part 1: Listening as a Class  

  • Share FDR’s first fireside chat text with students. 
  • Share the audio with students and play the original audio recording of his fireside chat (If time is short, you can begin a shorter cut by listening from the 10:15 mark.) Encourage students to just listen to the recording for now. 

Part 2: Listening and Responding as a Citizen  

Divide the students into the four equally sized groups. Each group will represent a different type of citizen that is currently listening to this radio address: 

  • Factory - Out of work factory worker from an urban center. 
  • Youth - A young child or the student’s current age. 
  • Farm - A farmer who has been unable to sell their product. 
  • Wealthy - A member of the upper class / business owner. 

Once they are in breakout groups, send them the audio file and ask them to listen to it one more time. As they listen, they should imagine themselves as their assigned citizen type and take notes as to how they would feel if they were that person listening to this speech.  

  • Would you be happy, frustrated, feel validated, be concerned, etc? If FDR was directly in front of your saying these things how would you respond? What would you say to him and how would you say it? 

Once they have listened to it and taken notes, they should discuss with each other. How did you feel as you listened to FDR’s radio speech with your assigned perspective? Is there a consensus for your group on how you feel about the message FDR put out? 

Each group should then create a rehearsed scene that shows their assigned citizen group responding to the piece. Maybe it’s a group complaining about it, celebrating it, listening in stunned silence, etc. They should use their own words (or none at all!) to express how they would feel hearing those words as those people. The scene should be at least one minute long and should an appearance by each member.  

Bring the groups back together to present their pieces. 


  • What techniques and methods of communication does FDR use in his speech to the American people?
  • What do you think he hopes to achieve by delivering this speech to people over the radio during a time of such economic uncertainty? 

Exercise: New Deal Movers and Shakers

Download a PDF of this exercise

Goals: Students will be able to:  

  • Use examples from their knowledge and experience to support the main ideas of their oral presentation.  
  • Apply narrative techniques, such as dialog, description, and pacing to develop experiences or characters.  
  • Distinguish one’s own ideas from information created or discovered by others.   
  • Demonstrate nonverbal techniques including, but not limited to, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and stance.  
  • Analyze, compare and contrast multiple texts for content, intent, impact and effectiveness.  

Show Connection:   

In Here’s the Deal, the students of Mrs. Day’s class delve into some of the figures from the 1930s who really left their mark on the New Deal. They explore these figures over the course of their presentations to show just how much these individuals did for American citizens back then as well as now.  


People of the New Deal
New Deal Programs
Smiles of the New Deal

Supplies: New Deal Figure Info Sheets


  • Divide the students into six groups of equal size in breakout rooms sessions that will take place later in the lesson. (We recommend doing this ahead of time for the sake of saving time, focusing on the exercise, and having fun with the students.)  
  • Each group should be given a New Deal Figure Info Sheet. We recommend giving these in advance, with an assignment for them to study them before the exercise date. Giving them time to familiarize themselves with their assigned figure, and to do additional research if necessary, will not hurt!   


Part 1: Warm-Up   

  • As a class, select a film genre (science fiction, horror, sports, action adventure, comedy, drama, musical, etc.)  
  • Using the chat feature (or a Nearpod collaboration board or a Padlet board), list out tropes, patterns, expectations and rules that are commonly associated with the chosen film genre.  (Ex. Science fiction/action: Monochromatic design, metallics, automatic doors, speculative, aliens, spaceships, lasers, empires, etc.)   

Part 2: Project   

  • Explain to the class that today they will be working with different genres to explore the New Deal figures they were assigned to learn about.   
  • At this point, give each group a genre (Children’s show, new program, Western, cooking show, reality TV, exercise). Send group into breakout rooms and give them three minutes to list the tropes, patterns, expectations and rules they associate with their assigned genre. They should email their lists to you once they’ve generated them.   
  • Bring the groups back together for instruction. Explain that groups will now be given 20 minutes to prepare and practice a two-minute-long puppet show using found objects (socks, stuffed animals, actual puppets, etc.) The puppet show should share and educate the rest of the class on the accomplishments, philosophies, and any other notable facts related to their assigned New Deal Figure. This presentation must be performed as a representation of the assigned genre.   
  • Primary criteria for presentations: A minimum of three important things about the assigned figure; demonstration of tropes or patterns associated with assigned genre.   
  • Once questions have been answered, send them to their breakout rooms. The teacher should visit breakout rooms to observe and to coach groups.   

Part 3: Present   

  • Once groups are prepared, bring them back to present. Before groups present, remind the class of the criteria for the presentations.   
  • Have each group present their New Deal puppet pieces. As groups present, encourage the student audience to throw observations into the chat. Potential prompts for chat observations include:   
  • What genre do you think the group was assigned? How do you know that? What are the most interesting things about the assigned figure? Why do you think the assigned figure matters? What was their impact?  How could their worldview be helpful or unhelpful in 2021?   


  • What types of people do you think had the easiest time through the Great Depression? Who do you think had the hardest time?  
  • What were the impacts of these six historical figures?   
  • Aside from day-to-day economic support that some of these figures offered the wider public, what did they “give” to the citizens of the United States during such a tumultuous time? (A sense of security, happiness, creativity, fun, anxiety?)  

Post-Show Discussion Questions

  • Here’s the Deal quotes several important historical figures from the New Deal era, including proponents and opponents of the New Deal. Of the many ideas that are presented by historical figures in the piece, which do you feel are the most relevant to today? (Summarize of course.) Are any of the thoughts that are shared by historical figures in the piece unhelpful for today or even harmful? Which? Why?   
  • In Here’s the Deal, students wrote personal narratives that helped them explore what they might have felt if they had been a person of color during the Great Depression and New Deal era. They explored the experiences of Indigenous peoples, Latino/Latina Americans, Black Americans and Asian Americans. Now it’s your turn! Return to the Living New Deal Inclusion articles, read one and write a personal narrative as someone living at that time. What are your struggles? How are you treated? What does hope look like for you?  
  • Characters in Here’s the Deal address cultural appropriation. They say:   

“If you’re doing it to make a profit, it’s cultural appropriation. If you’re claiming it’s yours and you don’t acknowledge the source, it’s cultural appropriation. If this is written by a student from another culture so she can empathize with, honor and tell a little-known heroine’s story to the world, it’s not cultural appropriation.”   

Do you agree with this definition of cultural appropriation? Why or why not?   

  • When Marian Anderson performed this song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, she made a significant word change. “Of thee I sing” became of “Of thee we sing.” Why do you think she made that word change? Who is the “we” and why is that word change so significant to what she was trying to accomplish?   
  • Here’s the Deal quotes real leaders, like FDR, extensively but then highlights the stories of fictional people affected by the Depression and COVID-19. What are the benefits of talking about important issues through fiction? Would you rather all the stories shared been “true stories”? If so, what stories would you have incorporated?