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"To Kill a Mockingbird": An Introduction to 1930s America

Activity Description

1937 Unemployment Census

This activity teaches students about the setting of Harper Lee’s famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which takes place during 3 years (1933–1935) of the Great Depression. Part 1 of this activity can be used before students start reading the novel to help them understand what life was like in the 1930s. In this part, students will examine and answer questions about census documents that feature unemployment numbers and related information. Part 2 can be completed after students have read the first few chapters of the novel. In this part, students will write a piece using the RAFT technique (role, audience, format, topic) to show what they learned about the 1930s and what they have read so far.

Suggested Grade Level


Approximate Time Required

Part 1 (60 minutes)
Part 2 (60 minutes, or for homework after
students have completed Chapters 1–3)

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to use census data to describe unemployment numbers from the 1930s and to make inferences about the plot, setting, and conflict in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
  • Students will be able to use the RAFT technique to create a written piece that demonstrates an understanding of 1930s America and an explanation for why the major events occurring during this time period are relevant to the first three chapters of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Materials Required

  • The student version of this activity, 12 pages
  • Copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Activity Items

The following items are part of this activity. The items and their sources appear at the end of this
teacher version.

  • Item 1: 1930s Overview
  • Item 2: 1930s Decennial Census Questionnaire
  • Item 3: Unemployment (Results of 1930 Decennial Census)
  • Item 4: 1937 Unemployment Census
  • Item 5: Photo of Employees and Supervisors Processing the 1937 Unemployment Census
  • Item 6: Photo of Vice President John Garner and Unemployment Census Director John Biggers

Teacher Notes

Blooms Taxonomy

Blooms Taxonomy

Students will understand what life was like in the 1930s.

Students will apply what they learned about the 1930s as well as what they read in Chapters 1–3 of “To Kill a Mockingbird” to complete a writing assignment.

Students will analyze data to make inferences about the plot, setting, and conflict of the novel.




  • 1930s
  • Poverty
  • The Great Depression
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird”
  • Unemployment

Skills Taught

  • Analyzing historical data
  • Understanding others’ perspectives


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