Unit 16: The Roaring 20s

The Roaring 20s in America's 20th century was a time of tremendous social change. In this unit, I teach students about these changes and how they affected the people and the economy.

In 1918, World War One was over and people were tired of bad times. Americans wanted to enjoy life . . . and how could they not? New forms of entertainment such as silent movies, newspapers, radio, and jazz were springing up all over America.

In addition, folks had bona fide American heroes to look up to. For instance, there were sports heroes like baseball legend, Babe Ruth and heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Dempsey. There were also heroes that mesmerized us with their bravery like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. A resurgence of the arts, especially in literature, exploded onto the scene. African Americans, although still struggling with racism, were showcasing their creativity and cultural intellect. In the Harlem district of New York City, jazz music flourished and a literary awakening known as the Harlem Renaissance took root.

But there was also a dark side to the Roaring 20s. As a result of prohibition, gangsterism grew. Men like Al Capone of Chicago murdered their way up the organized crime network. In addition to being a ruthless thug, Capone (nicknamed "Scarface"), had an uncanny knack for evading the police and the justice system. It wasn't until 1931 that he was finally sent to prison for tax evasion, of all things!

Inventions also abounded and in an attempt to sell mass quantities of product, companies were offering credit by the truckloads. People were spending and enjoying life in the moment.

In the words of one historian, Chris Brazier,

"..in the 1920s the people who had money were speculating as if there were no tomorrow. Everything was being left to the market and the devil take the hindmost. Few governments were sensibly planning their national affairs and there were signs of dangerous fracture and disintegration in most of the powerful economies."(pg. 118, Brazier)

Teaching history is about showing students how one thing always leads to another. Just like the dark days of World War One led to the exciting free-for-all mentality of the 20s, so do the 20s' extravagance help cause the Great Depression. Everything is connected! This unit includes two different projects and all of the usual parts of the unit routine. There is also an Oral Interview assignment. Teach your students to question the older people around them in order to understand the past. They are living, breathing primary sources!

Brazier, Chris. "The No-Nonsense Guide to World History"; 2007, New Internationalist Publications Ltd., Oxford, UK

Important key terms to introduce your students to the Roaring 20s unit.

A PowerPoint presentation featuring 35 slides to teach with.

A complete set of Fill-in-the-Notes for this unit. Once you place your order, the presentation will be delivered to your email inbox. Simply download the presentation, print the slides (six per page) and give each student a copy.

Assigning your students oral interviews allows them to experience history first hand. Encourage them to interview older relatives and/or friends to learn about the past!

In this project, students choose from a list of important/significant people of the Roaring 20s and create a visual project on that person.

A list of the historical figures that students can choose from for the project above.

A worksheet about Prohibition during the 1920s.

This unit offers two different project for you to choose from. This one is based on the concept of traveling back in time and reporting on what students encountered there.

A grading rubric for the project above.

A Study Guide for The Roaring 20s Unit!

All of the tests on OwlTeacher.com are a mix of term matching, multiple choice, and information recall with short answer questions and essay questions. The essay questions demand students to put important elements of the unit into their own words, showing thorough understanding.

Return from the Roaring 20s to American History


Subscribe for more OwlTeacher.com tips and ideas

Sign up for OwlTeacher's Newsletter below and get more inspiration, ideas, and worksheets via email.

E-mail Address
First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you OwlTeacher's Newsletter.