Introduction | Task | Resources | Process | Evaluation| Conclusion


Welcome to the world of Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird! You are living in the 1930's. Your home, neighborhood, school, activities, clothes and social interactions are vastly different than anything you are familiar with today in the 21st century. This project will take you back in time to learn what your life is like as a young person growing up in the "Hungry 30's." Using what you learn, write a series of pen pal letters to someone living in 2002.

Imagine what it was like to grow up in the 1930's...


You are going to begin by researching the resources listed below to learn about your life in the 1930's. Using the information you learn, you will write four letters to your pen-pal living in 2002. Each letter will focus on the following four aspects of your life.

  • In your first letter, describe your home and neighborhood in detail. Include lots of specific and interesting information so that the reader of your letter can visualize your environment.
  • In your second letter, tell about your family. What types of activities do you enjoy as a family? What is your standard of living? How do your parents make a living?
  • In your third letter, tell about your school and your friends. Describe your school, classes and teachers. Who are your friends, and what are some activities you enjoy doing together?
  • In your fourth letter, describe what's going on in the world around you. What's happening in the nation politically and economically? Tell about popular fashions, music, radio programs, and other interesting facts.

NOTE: when you come into class with your letter, make sure you can tell your teacher where you got the ideas from on the Web.  The idea is that you will do research and base your fictitious letters on the details about how people lived in the "hungry 30's."  Make sure you use plenty of strong concrete images to help bring your letters to life! 


To Kill A Mockingbird, Chapter One.

Listen to stories from survivors of the Great Depression! Very cool first-person accounts of life in the Great Depression.

"Always Lend a Helping Hand"
Jay Spencer describes life back in the Great Depression.

Interview: Growing Up Black in the 1930s
Great interview.

Riding the Rails From PBS, a great section!  Read Tales from the Rails. The stories of seven teenage hobos, plus tales sent in by web visitors.

American Cultural History 1930-1939 See the education topic.

INTERVIEW: Growing up white in the South in the 1930's View of three women who grew up in the South during the 1930's.

Making Do: Women and Work  Contains an account of an African American woman who lived during the 1930's on the subject of hobbies.

Federal Writer's Project: Interview Excerpts
The Federal Writers' Project of the 1930s recorded more than 10,000 life stories of men and woman from a variety of occupations and ethnic groups. This site is a sampling of these interviews.

Then and Now: Prices
This site compares 1930s prices with prices today.

African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907

America from the Great Depression to World War Two: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project. 1936-1940

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

A View from a Helena Black by Dr. Raymond Howard

A Hundred Years of Terror Gives historical background on the Ku Klux Klan.

What is Racism? Contains definitions of racism and related words.

Alonzo Hamby, Historian, on Civil Rights  An historian speaks on the subject of black voters in the South during the 1930's.

See photos of Depression-era life from the following photographers:  Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange.

Also from the Library of Congress is this online exhibition of photographs of signs enforcing racial discrimination

The New Deal Network is also an excellent source for information and images from the 1930s. Be sure to look into the Image Library while you're there. You'll find a series of photographs taken in 1938 in Carbon Hill, Alabama.

The Great Depression and the New Deal
Read about the Federal Works Progress Administration started by the federal government during the Depression.


The following instructions will make completion of your task easy!

  1. Read the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird to familiarize yourself with the setting and characters in this novel. This preparation will help you as you begin to research life in the 1930s.
  2. You are going to write four letters in the voice of a person growing up in the 1930s. Before you begin your research, consider the sex, race, and age of the "character" that you will become as you write these letters. You may also want to decide on a name for your character. Also decide who you are going to address your letters to. You might consider writing to a friend, family member or even to your teacher.
  3. Begin exploring the resources listed above. You will find that the first four sites focus on personal interviews of people who grew up or lived in the 1930's in various parts of the United States. The last three sites focus on information concerning social and political events in the 30's.
  4. As you explore the sites record facts on the appropriate card. Some tips to make note taking more effective include printing excerpts from sites that you find useful and using highlighters to mark pertinent information. This information can then be recorded, in your own words, on your note cards.
  5. When you have collected information about each of the four topics, you are prepared to begin the writing process. This process begins with brainstorming and prewriting followed by the actual drafting of your letters. Remember, you are writing from the perspective of a person living in the 30's. You are explaining your life to a person living in 2001. Your letters should include enough detail and description for your reader to gain a good sense of what your life is like.
  6. Be ready to share your work in class.
  7. Be ready to revise your work and make a final copy.
  8. You will be required to complete your four letters and your notes files; each letter should, in addition to the text, have one graphic.  These files should be posted to your High School Portfolio Webpage for Mr. Geib's inspection.


This assignment will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Do you have four complete, revised, edited and typed letters?
  • Is each letter focused on the subjects described in the Task section of this project? Do your letters accurately describe facts about life in the 30s?
  • Has each letter been written using the writing process? (Brainstorming, Prewriting, Drafting, Response, Revision, Editing, Posting to Webpage). Do your letters show improvement from first draft to final copy?
  • Are your final webpages neat and professional?  Do you have all your notes, etc. posted?


When you complete this project, you will be able to identify and understand the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird. As you read the novel, you will have a greater understanding of the personal, social, and political issues which are dealt with in the story.

What would it be like to be alive during the Great Depression of the 1930s?

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