Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?

Author: Sara Chavarria
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 2 Class Periods
One re-usable class set of Handout 1.
Copies of Handout 2 for each student.
Materials: Handout 1: Lyric to song
Handout 2:Song Analysis form
Teacher Aide 1


This period in history is a dynamic one with events leading to the:

  • Social Security Act
  • FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
  • Securities and Exchange Commission
  • FHA (Federal Housing Administration).

In addition, many other acts or agencies were created for jobs and financial security for Americans.

Purpose: To introduce the Great Depression and how it affected people all over U.S. In this Engage lesson students will analysis the lyrics to the song “Brother Can you Spare a Dime?” so to study this period.

Students will be able to:
i. Through song analysis and group discussion, identify the qualities representing the Great Depression.

Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 2D: Evidence historical perspectives.
  • Standard 2G: Draw upon visual data, literary, and musical sources.

United States History Standards

  • Era 8 Standard 1B: The student understands how American life changed during the 1930s.

Teacher Background
If Applicable.

Resource Websites

Lyrics to “Brother Can you Spare a Dime?”
Narrative of the song:
George Michael Lyrics from the song: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/g/george+michael/brother+can+you+spare+a+dime_20059339.html
Lyrics by Gorney: http://www.ocap.ca/songs/sparedim.html



1.Quiet time: Give each student a copy of Handout 1 (lyrics) and read the song lyrics in class.

2. When done reading, ask students to fill out Handout 2 (analysis form). Give them 10-20 minutes.

3. When time is up, ask them to share thoughts and questions raised by the song lyrics.

4. On an overhead, compile a list of messages students feel address the song. Communicating concepts are:

  • Unemployment
  • jobs
  • standing in line
  • the need for bread
  • boots slogging through hell
  • earth to plow
  • being ignored
  • being overlooked

5. Compile separate list of questions students raise based on the song. (Refer to Teacher’s Aide 1 for questions and possible answers to help guide students, if necessary.)

6. As a class, categorize questions into the three categories:

  • the time period
  • the character
  • the event

7. Have students write the list and questions in their notes. Pose the following question:
What event is being described?

8. Answer questions that will help realize the Great Depression as being the possible time period this is taking place. Use Teacher’s Aide 1 to help direct the questions.

9. Introduce topic of The Great Depression and the question of how it affected where and how people lived.

10. End by setting the stage for the next lesson (which will require they explore the Great Depression in more detail) by exploring the following concepts:

  1. How the Stock Market Crash of 1929 (October) aggravated a world-wide depression to new depths.
  2. How it affected business and banks
  3. How it changed the way people lived and survived.
  4. Why the Depression in the United States affected the rest of the world.
  5. Why our foreign policy during the Great Depression worked to our disadvantage.
  6. How President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) economic solutions re-defined American government’s role in the social lives of the people.
  7. What the financial philosophy of the time was, a philosophy supported by J. Edgar Hoover and how FDR’s New Deal changed how we looked at government and business relationships.
  8. The role overproduction and under-consumption had on agricultural production.
  9. The role an environmental catastrophe such as drought can have to an already strained economy.
  10. Industry, unemployment, job loss, and the rise of the unions to protect the worker.

11. End with the following question: What was the Great Depression?

If applicable.

Embedded Assessment
The student’s song analysis forms and participation in class discussion can be assessed.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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