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

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.

FDR’s First 100 Days . . . and Obama’s