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Analyzing the Theme of Freedom in Three Speeches


Common Core, Language Arts, Social Studies  


9, 10  

Students define freedom based on three freedom-themed speeches and make an argument about a current political topic referencing their definition and citations from the speeches.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance, including how they address related themes and concepts.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Students will be able to analyze and synthesize three texts in order to define “freedom”, a theme central to all three texts.

Students will be able to apply their definition, using evidence from the three texts, to current, real-life issues and topics.

Students will understand that applying general, agreed-upon principles to specific, real-life cases may lead to differing interpretations and policy choices.


Read FDR’s “State of the Union Address,” Learned Hand’s “I Am an American Day Address,” and Ronald Reagan’s “Address to Students at Moscow State University” as excerpted1.


  1. Assign students to groups of four to five.
  2. Each group defines “freedom” in 50 words or fewer. The definition need not (though it may) include quotations from the three speeches, but it must aim to encompass the notion of freedom presented in all three speeches and not to contradict any of them.
  3. Each group posts its definition. Teacher leads Q&A on differences among definitions and why groups made the choices they did. Students may question other groups. All answers reference the speeches.
  4. Teacher takes nominations of current local or U.S. political topics which revolve at least partly around notions of freedom (gun control, counter-terrorism efforts, same-sex marriage, etc.). A student lists the nominations on the board or whiteboard. Teacher polls students, with each student selecting one nominated topic they would like to explore further. The top three to six topics are chosen. Teacher may have prepared information on current topics to share with students. (Alternatively, if multiple days are available, students can be assigned to research topics.)
  5. Students now form groups based on their chosen topic. Referencing the speeches, students discuss and begin to form individual opinions on the topics. The guiding question is, “If the government aims to advance freedom, what policy should it adopt on this issue?”. Students discuss (and, perhaps, debate) their ideas. Teacher circulates to advise and scaffold. As time allows, a reporter from each group shares the central agreements and disagreements among the group.

Writing assignment:

Using textual evidence from at least one speech, preferably two or all three, each student writes a policy paper on that topic. The paper includes a definition of freedom—any of the groups’ established definitions or their own–and the phrase “Freedom demands that . . .”, and explains why the quotations from the speech(es) supports their position.


Participation in group discussion may be assessed. Policy paper is assessed based on a rubric focused on the quality of the case for the student’s proposed policy, supported by citing textual references and explaining their application to the chosen topic.



1  Hand, Learned. “I Am an American Day Address”. p. 125.

Reagan, Ronald. “Address to Students at Moscow State University”. p. 128.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. “State of the Union Address”. p. 124.

All excerpted and reprinted in Common Core State Standards For English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks. Accessed June 10, 2013, at .

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