Eleanor Roosevelt on Democracy and Citizenship

by Julie Baergen

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were developed to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Through a step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

In three lessons students will interact with readings of excerpted documents to develop an understanding of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a humanitarian devoted to a strong democracy with educated citizens. Students will work with the teacher and in small groups to deconstruct text for meaning and to construct written responses to higher-level thinking questions.   

  • Lesson 1: “Preserving Civil Liberties,” Speech, Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, Chicago, IL, March 14, 1940 excerpted. Eleanor outlines the need to preserve all citizens’ civil liberties to preserve democracy.
  • Lesson 2: In a letter to the Daughters of the American Revolution (February 26, 1930), Eleanor Roosevelt takes a stand for Equality and resigns her membership in the DAR.
  • Lesson 3: “Good Citizenship, the Purpose of Education,” Pictorial Review 31 (April 1930) excerpted. In this article, first published in 1930, ER outlines the development of good citizenship.

Teaching the Lessons

The following three lessons around Eleanor Roosevelt are designed for fourth and fifth graders. As you read through the lessons you may be thinking, My kids can’t do that. With the right tools, however, they can! What learning scaffolds will they need? Perhaps more vocabulary support, perhaps more teacher-directed activity for some students, perhaps more than a day for the lesson. You know your kids best, but give them a chance to surprise you.

Lesson 1

Objective

Students are introduced to Eleanor Roosevelt (ER) through a brief timeline. Students will read excerpts from ER’s speech to the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee (March 14, 1940) and respond to questions regarding ER’s views of civil liberties and citizens’ responsibilities.

Introduction

1–2, 45-minute class periods suggested

Students should be familiar with Eleanor Roosevelt as the First Lady during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. They should have some awareness of world events at the time the speech was delivered (March 1940) and a working definition of the concept of democracy. A brief biography of ER is included below. For students interested in more information, a detailed biography of ER by Alida Black is available at the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (Department of History, George Washington University, DC).

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest-serving first lady of the United States (1933–1945). Her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, is the only president to have served four terms in office. Before becoming first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt was the first lady of New York (1928–1932) when FDR was governor.

Even before her public service life, Eleanor Roosevelt was involved in social service work. She became active in politics after her husband was stricken with polio in 1921 and remained active in politics as long as she lived.

Eleanor Roosevelt is remembered for her outspokenness on social issues, particularly race issues. President Harry S. Truman nicknamed her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her achievements in human rights (see: http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/Eleanor-Roosevelt.htm).

At the time Eleanor gave this speech—March 1940—FDR was running for his third term as president. World War II had been raging in Europe for six months, although the United States would not enter the war for another twenty months, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan. The United States was still in an economic depression, known as the Great Depression.               

Materials

Vocabulary

In this protocol the students are expected to encounter vocabulary they do not know. There are words in modern academic texts and eighteenth-century essays that many adults do not know the meaning of as well. It would be overwhelming to give the definition to every unknown word as well as self-defeating when we are trying to create more independent learners. This is one of the reasons for having the students work in groups so that they can reason out the meanings of words in context. If the students are truly stuck, have them write down the words that are hanging them up and open those words up to whole-class discussion. If the word is critical to the passage then provide the meaning, but only as a last resort.

Procedure

  1. The teacher will create critical thinking groups (CTG) of three to five students that will work together throughout all three lessons. Give careful consideration to how students are grouped (see Additional Resources for Internet information on grouping students for learning). Tell students they will “read like a detective” in order to analyze documents for clues to Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on democracy and citizenship.
  2. The teacher will introduce Eleanor Roosevelt and give context to the document by showing a visual(s) of ER. Ask students to talk about what they see in the photo(s). Based on the photo(s), what personality traits do you think ER has? What in the picture(s) makes you think that? Share biographical information for ER and a brief overview of the time period similar to what is found in the introduction.

    ER is famously known for her work with social issues. To illustrate ER’s views, students will read a speech given to a gathering of the Civil Liberties Committee in Chicago, Illinois, March 1940.
  1. Hand out the “Preserving Civil Liberties” Note-Taking Sheet and the excerpted “Preserving Civil Liberties” speech. Project the document in such a way that notes can be made on the document for everyone to see (document projector, SmartBoard, overhead, etc.). For this first lesson, the teacher will be doing most of the work with the whole group.
  2. The teacher then “share reads” the excerpt with the students. “Share reading” is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English Language Learners (ELL).

    ER’s writing style invites expressive reading. Take advantage of her talent and really dramatize your reading to keep students engaged. The teacher might want to stop after each paragraph and do a “think aloud” with the text. Share with students what you are thinking as you read ER’s words, modeling good reading strategies. (See Recommended Resources: Reading Strategies.)
  1. The teacher now leads the CTGs in identifying ten words that are critical to the understanding of the document. These Key Words should express the essence of the document. For this first document the teacher should do a “think aloud” as the words are chosen and underline the words in the projected document. Students’ input in discussion of choosing these words is encouraged. (Example: Teacher gives rationale for choosing a word; students invited to agree/disagree and suggest other words and/or rationale.) This would also be a time when the teacher thinks out loud about the meaning of unfamiliar words and takes the opportunity to teach strategies for vocabulary development. The teacher records the chosen words on chart paper or some other way that is visible to the whole group and can be saved as an artifact for future lessons. Students are using the note-taking device suggested, or another form of notes to record the Key Words. Students may need to do this for one or two paragraphs at a time, and summarize as they go. Modify the remaining steps as necessary.
  2. Once ten Key Words have been identified the teacher crafts a summary statement as a “think aloud” using only the Key Words selected from the document. Again, student input is accepted. (Perhaps a student will have a more efficient way of stating the summary!) The teacher records the process for the whole group and archives the final summary statement on chart paper; students record the final summary statement in their notes.
  3. The teacher now restates the summary in his/her own words. Key Words may be included, but this step should represent original thinking. This step of the process is a great opportunity to check for understanding. Invite students to offer their summaries. This summary is recorded on chart paper for the class and in the students’ notes.
  4. To conclude the lesson and check for understanding, students complete a quick write to the following prompt: What is meant by civil liberties? Give one example. Explain Eleanor Roosevelt’s view on why it is important to preserve the civil liberties of an individual.

Lesson 2

Objective

After reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter of resignation from membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, students will understand how Eleanor Roosevelt served as an example to others by putting into practice her beliefs of civil liberty and democracy.

Introduction

1–2, 45-minute class periods suggested

In 1939 celebrated vocalist Marian Anderson was denied an opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, because of the color of her skin. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) owned Constitution Hall. Eleanor Roosevelt, a fan of Marian Anderson’s, was a member of the DAR. In protest of the DAR’s decision, ER publicly resigned from the organization and worked with the newly formed “Marian Anderson Committee” to arrange a concert by Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people of diverse origins gathered in the Mall of Washington to hear Ms. Anderson sing. 

Materials

Vocabulary

In this protocol the students are expected to encounter vocabulary that they do not know. There are words in modern academic texts and eighteenth-century essays that many adults do not know the meaning of as well. It would be overwhelming to give the definition to every unknown word as well as self-defeating when we are trying to create more independent learners. This is one of the reasons for having the students work in groups so that they can reason out the meanings of words in context. If the students are truly stuck then have them write down the words that are hanging them up and open those words up to whole-class discussion. If the word is critical to the passage then provide the meaning, but only as a last resort.

Procedure

  1. Students sit in their CTGs. In Lesson 2, the teacher and students will be working together to understand the documents. Students will be working more in their small groups, then coming together as a whole group for checkpoints and discussion. Use the artifacts (chart paper) from the previous lesson for review. Tell students that today they will “read like a detective” to discover more about Eleanor Roosevelt.
  2. Give students the handout of ER’s “My Day” and DAR Resignation Note-Taking Sheet. Project the document in such a way that notes can be made on the document for everyone to see. Share read the article with students as described in Lesson 1.
  3. The teacher now asks each CTG to identify ten words that are critical to the understanding of the document and record them on their note sheet. These Key Words should express the essence of the document. As students are working in their groups to identify the Key Words, the teacher is traveling from group to group asking guiding questions and answering student questions. Do not hesitate to stop the whole group when a teaching opportunity arises. (For example, if a student in one group remembers to use a vocabulary-building strategy, stop the class and remind students what to do with words they don’t know. Or if students are conflicted over which word to choose, stop the class and ask for input. This is the time when students are still learning and will need lots of support from the teacher and classmates.) Set a reasonable time limit for choosing the words. Stop at the agreed time for a check to see if more time is needed. If it seems students are finished before time is up, go ahead and move to the next step in the process.
  4. Allow groups to share their words and give rationale for choices. (The teacher may record the words on chart paper during this discussion.) This will help the teacher check understanding and as students listen to each other they will gain more knowledge. CTGs may alter their list of ten words as the discussion progresses. It is more important for the students to have the discussion about the words and what meaning they bring to the text than it is for them to stick with their original ten.
  5. Once groups have identified their ten Key Words from the text, each group will draft a summary statement using their selected Key Words from the document. Set time again. When time is up groups will share their summary statements. Record summaries on chart paper. This is a good time to again check for understanding and correct misconceptions. Allow groups to change their summaries based on the discussion, but it is not necessary for all statements to be identical. Allow for different interpretations as long as the essence of the document’s meaning is retained. 
  6. Groups now restate the summary in their own words—yet another opportunity to check for understanding. Record group summaries. If a summary seems awkward, now is the time for group discussion on how summaries could be revised to be clearer. These statements could become a language arts lesson in grammar, etc.
  7. Project the digitized letter Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to the DAR. Give students a handout of the letter with the transcription. Share read the letter with the students. Ask CTGs to discuss in their groups why ER thought it was necessary to share her resignation with the public.
  8. Share the YouTube video of Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial. Ask students to write about what they saw. Who was in the audience? How were they seated? What do you notice about the audience? What were people wearing?
  9. Students individually respond in writing to the following prompt: How does Eleanor Roosevelt’s resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution reflect her commitment to civil liberty and democracy? Review the responses for use in Lesson 3.

Students wanting to know more about Marian Anderson’s life and concert at the Lincoln Memorial might like Pam Munoz Ryan’s book, When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson (Scholastic Press, 2002).

Lesson 3

Objective

After reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s article “Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education,” Pictorial Review 31 (April 1930), students will write about Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on citizenship, democracy, and education.

Introduction

1–2, 60-minute class periods suggested

In the first lesson students learned of Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on preserving civil liberties to preserve democracy. In Lesson 2 we saw how ER put into practice her commitment to civil liberties by standing up for Marian Anderson. In Lesson 3 students will think about what they can do now to become contributing citizens of a democracy. 

Good Citizenship, the Purpose of Education” was published in April 1930, when Eleanor Roosevelt was the first lady of New York. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the governor of New York.

This document is a bit longer than the documents in the first two lessons. The idea is to build students’ stamina for reading. Allow students the opportunity to grapple with the text, being sensitive to their frustration levels. For some groups of students it might be necessary to break up the text into two or three parts over one or two days. Another idea would be to assign groups a portion of the text and, using a jigsaw method, process their portion as described in the lesson and then report to the class.

Materials

Vocabulary

In this protocol the students are expected to encounter vocabulary that they do not know. There are words in modern academic texts and eighteenth-century essays that many adults do not know the meaning of as well. It would be overwhelming to give the definition to every unknown word as well as self-defeating when we are trying to create more independent learners. This is one of the reasons for having the students work in groups so that they can reason out the meanings of words in context. If the students are truly stuck then have them write down the words that are hanging them up and open those words up to whole-class discussion. If the word is critical to the passage then provide the meaning, but only as a last resort.

Procedure

  1. Students are sitting with their Critical Thinking Groups.
  2. Quickly review the information from Lessons 1 and 2. With students’ permission, share a few of the responses from Lesson 2’s writing prompt. Answer any questions. Tell students that today they will be reading a document Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to express her views on the purpose of education as it relates to citizenship and democracy. At the end of the lesson students will use the notes they have collected as a class and in their CTGs to begin writing a short essay in response to what they have learned from the three lessons.
  3. Hand out the Note-Taking Sheet for “Good Citizenship, the Purpose of Education.” Project the document for everyone to see.
  4. Discuss the date of the document in relation to the date of the other documents. Tell students that this article was written while Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor of New York State and Eleanor was the first lady of New York. Ask students to figure out how much time has passed between when this document was written and the “Preserving Civil Liberties” speech was given.
  5. The teacher then “share reads” the article with the students as done previously.
  6. The teacher now asks students to individually identify ten words that are critical to the understanding of the document and record them on their note sheet as in previous lessons. As students are working in their groups to identify the Key Words, the teacher is traveling from group to group asking guiding questions and answering student questions as in Lesson 2. Talk among group members related to the document and word identification is permissible, but students should try to do as much individually as they can.
  7. Allow students to share their words with group members and give rationale for choices. The teacher is listening to group talk and checking for understanding and as students gain more knowledge as they listen to each other. Students may alter their list of ten words as the discussion progresses. It is more important for the students to have the discussion about the words and what meaning they bring to the text than it is for them to stick with their original ten.
  8. Once students have identified their ten Key Words from the text, each student will individually draft a summary statement using their selected Key Words from the document. Set time again. When time is up group members will share their summary statements within their group. Group members discuss their summaries and question each other about their summary statements. Allow for different interpretations as long as the essence of the document’s meaning is retained. Groups may select one summary statement to share with the whole group that is recorded by the teacher.
  9. Group members now individually restate the summary in their own words—yet another opportunity to check for understanding. The teacher is still travelling around the room helping as needed. If a summary seems awkward, now is the time for group discussion on how summaries could be revised to be clearer. (It might even be possible to carry these summary statements into a language arts lesson on grammar, etc.)
  10. Students share individual summary statements within their group. Groups select a summary statement to share with the whole group. Add these summaries to those for Lessons 1 and 2.
  11. Students individually respond to the following prompt:

    Did Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on citizenship and democracy change from the time the first document was written to the publication of the last document? Explain your answer using evidence from the documents.

Possible Follow-up Essay

1–2, 30-minute class periods suggested

Use this essay activity to assess student understanding of the topic and serve as a springboard for additional writing lessons. Because students have been interacting extensively with the documents and working with the teacher and in groups, the follow-up essay should really write itself, assuming the teacher has been teaching the writing process. Some product will not be really long and in-depth, but provides good meaningful practice in writing five paragraphs. The draft can become the basis of writing lessons around this topic. (See Recommended Resources for essay-writing resources.)

Using evidence from the primary documents and notes taken from the previous lessons on Eleanor Roosevelt, draft a five-paragraph essay using the following prompt:

Explain Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on the relationship between citizens and democracy. What did she believe were the responsibilities of good citizens? What can you do now to be a responsible citizen?

Possible essay organization

Paragraph #1 – Intro

Paragraph #2 – ER’s view on the relationship between citizens and democracy

Paragraph #3 – ER’s view on the responsibilities of good citizens

Paragraph #4 – What can you do now to be a responsible citizen?

Paragraph #5 – Summary

Recommended Resources

Resources for Essay Writing

Tips for Essay Writing: http://www.infoplease.com/homework/writingskills1.html

Writing a Persuasive Essay: http://www.heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources/E03395/SW_Book_Unit4sample.pdf

Organizing the Essay: http://www.brighthubeducation.com/help-with-writing/2999-how-to-write-a-good-five-paragraph-essay/

Quick Write Strategy

This is a versatile strategy used to develop writing fluency, to build the habit of reflection into a learning experience, and to informally assess student thinking. The strategy asks learners to respond in two to ten minutes to an open-ended question or prompt posed by the teacher before, during, or after reading. See: http://nrhs.nred.org/www/nred_nrhs/site/hosting/Literacy%20Website/Literacy%20Strategy%20Templates/Quick_Write__description.pdf

Reading Strategies

As the teacher is reading text, think-aloud modeling strategies good readers use. See: http://ezinearticles.com/?Reading-Strategies-Good-Readers-Use&id=1824654

Student Grouping

“Student Learning Groups: Homogeneous or Heterogeneous?” (B. Johnson, August 2, 2011): http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-grouping-homogeneous-heterogeneous-ben-johnson

“Cooperative Learning: Students Working in Small Groups,Speaking of Teaching 10, no. 2 (Winter 1999): http://www.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Newsletter/cooperative.pdf

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to edit your profile and indicate this, giving you free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments