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The New Deal


The New Deal role-play focuses on the Second New Deal of 1935, after the Supreme Court struck down key legislation from FDR’s first 100 days. As students respond to the Great Depression and the failures of the First New Deal, they must tackle the question: How big a role should the federal government play in improving people’s lives?

Students then debate and vote on three key issues:

Finance - How should we support people's financial security?

Employment - What's the best way to support American workers?

Stability - How can we ensure stability for everyday Americans?

At the end of the VOXPOP, an epilogue video lays out what actually happened.


Role-plays take roughly 60-90 minutes for a class to play through. To run the role-play over multiple days, use the link VOXPOP will send you to re-open your session.

Create a different session for each class that you intend to use this role-play with.

Not sure how sessions work? Feel free to create a session and step through it to get a feel for the role-play. You can create as many sessions as you need.



The VOXPOP software will deliver this content to students during the role-play. Use this outline to familiarize yourself with the content of the scenario, the roles students will be assigned and the choices they will be asked to make.


Students: 6 to 50

Running Time: 60-80 minutes (the role-play can be broken into multiple sessions)



This video provides historical context.


Students are assigned to the following groups:

Federal Advisors

Federal Advisors include Cabinet members, Black community leaders in D.C., and prominent academics. Although their personal priorities differ, they agree that the federal government should play an active role in the country’s recovery.

State Reps

Many state governments have no money with which to help their people. Governors, members of Congress, and other state reps need help helping their voters. But many fear that the administration will use this crisis to expand federal power.

City Workers

Many workers, especially women and minorities, were fired when the Depression hit. Those lucky enough to keep their jobs had their pay cut. Workers have little bargaining power, because they can easily be replaced.

Small Farmers

While the first New Deal helped big farms, it did so at the cost of small family farms, tenant farmers and sharecroppers across the country. Most small farmers were already living in poverty before the Depression.


These videos will provide students with more detailed background on specific issues.

How should we support people's financial security?
Proposals students consider:

Deposit insurance

Banks must contribute to a pool of money that insures everyone's personal bank accounts.

Wealth tax

Raise taxes on the wealthy. It won't raise a lot of money, but it sets a precedent that wealthy people pay more taxes.

What's the best way to support American workers?
Proposals students consider:

Recognize unions

Businesses must let workers form unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes.

WPA: Public works

Fund new state and local infrastructure such as public roads and buildings.

How can we ensure stability for everyday Americans?
Proposals students consider:

Social Security

A nationwide unemployment and retirement plan. Tax working people now and distribute the money to retired people.

National healthcare

Fund new and existing hospitals around the country, and fund states so they can run statewide insurance.


A short video that lets students know what really happened.


Here are a few suggested discussion questions to pose at the end of the role-play.  Please feel free to use your own.

  • Should the federal government wield extra power during a national crisis?

  • How big a role should the federal government play in improving people’s lives?



Jenny Lim

Mattia Romeo

Greg Trefry


Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, by David M. Kennedy (Oxford University Press)

The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Jonathan Alter (Simon & Schuster)

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin)


Calisphere, University of California

Explore UK

Library of Congress

National Archives and Records Administration

New York Public Library, Digital Collections

UCLA Library Digital Collections

Wikimedia Commons

Special Thanks

Mordecai Moore

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