How to Analyze Primary Source Documents / F.D.R. & The Great Depression

by Wendy Thowdis

Essential Question

How effective was President Franklin Roosevelt in communicating with the American public during this time of crisis?


  • Understand the importance of thinking critically about historical events.
  • Be able to analyze primary source documents through all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Understand FDR’s intentions and plans that he outlined in 1933 to pull our nation out of the Great Depression.
  • Be able to compare two or more types of documents to see their potential power of persuasion.



Have a discussion with the students about the importance of thinking critically about historical events. Share with them a simplified version of the Historical Habits of Mind (see attached) as a way of seeing history as something more than a collection of facts.

Explain that in looking at primary source documents, they should be thinking about all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (see attached) to expand their analytic skills.

Have students work in pairs to:

  • Read the First Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933 (linked above)
  • Complete the Critical Thinking (“Bloom”) Questions that follow. 

Note: Teachers should select the questions from the list that are appropriate for the level of their students.

After reviewing answers to the questions for this document, divide the class into six or seven Jigsaw groups.

JIGSAW: Second Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 20, 1937

In small groups, read only your assigned paragraphs and answer the question: What are the three most important points FDR makes about the state of the nation?

When all groups have completed their section task, have them report back to the whole class.

Have each individual student fill in the answers to the questions on the Written Document Analysis (NARA) Worksheet for the Second Inaugural Address (linked above).

Have students create a venn diagram noting similarities and differences in the tone, quality, and content of these addresses.

Have students select three quotes/sections of each document reflecting the most powerful aspects of FDR’s message about the Great Depression and his plans for getting the nation out of it. Students should then share these quotes with each other in a Think/Pair/Share and describe why they think they are powerful.

Additional Activities

Have students compare the FDR's first and second inaugural addresses to his "Radio Appeal for the NRA,” July 24, 1933 (linked above).

Discuss which form of communication you think was most effective and why.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to get free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments