Ask each group to identify the young people who wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt by gender, age, race, religion, geographic region, education, or the apparent socio-economic status of their parents.
Ask students to discuss the characteristics of those who wrote the letters. They are likely to notice that most were girls. Ask them to consider why girls might be more likely to write to Mrs. Roosevelt than boys.
Ask students if they believe writing to a powerful or influential person about a problem is an effective means of resolving that problem.
Invite students to comment on the replies Mrs. Roosevelt sent to the children's letters. Ask students how they would feel had they received the "secretary's letter." (Study "canned" replies vs. personal replies.)
Professor Robert Cohen stated that Mrs. Roosevelt "frequently used her newspaper column My Day, her weekly radio addresses, her speeches and books to discuss the Depression's impact on the young," and that "she lobbied for expanded aid to youth and education." [citation] After explaining this to the students, ask them whether they believe Mrs. Roosevelt's work to solve the problems of children and youth was inspired by their letters.
Ask students which of Mrs. Roosevelt's efforts would have yielded the greatest overall benefit: her intense lobbying efforts on behalf of children, or a personal response to each of the written requests?
Some writers such as Studs Terkel in Hard Times stressed the idea that during the Depression the emotional strain of poverty wasn't great because "everyone we knew was poor." [citation]
As groups study the letters sent to Mrs. Roosevelt, have them note to what extent the children stressed the willingness of their families to work hard.
Some students may be curious about certain phrases in the letters.
Since most students will not study the complete set of letters at the Web site, ask each group to select the most convincing one and read it aloud to the whole class.
Ask students to speculate about what happened to these children after the Depression. To strengthen their responses, review historic events of the 40's, 50's, and 60's that may have affected the lives of the young letter writers.
As an extended assignment, ask students to imagine that they were one of these children, now grown. Keeping this role in mind, have each student write a follow-up letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, explaining how his or her life unfolded since the first letter. Have the students read their letters to the class. Ask students if the tone of each imaginary letter reveals a pessimistic or optimistic view of the opportunities available in the United States since the Depression.