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A Few Words From Eleanor Roosevelt Activity

In these difficult times, when we are practicing “social distancing” – physically separating ourselves from each other – it is important to know that we are not truly alone. The words of our leaders, past and present, can lift our spirits and unite us in the common challenges we face. 

Language Arts, Current Events, Writing, Research

Middle and High School

30-60 minutes 

Paper, pencil, computer

To learn the importance of words to comfort, inform, reassure, and inspire people in times of trouble and uncertainty.

Post a picture of your work to social media with the hashtag #fdractivities

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Historic Context:

Eleanor Roosevelt served as our nation’s First Lady from 1933 to 1945. She was an important partner to Franklin Roosevelt as he steered the nation successfully through the Great Depression and World War II. Later, Mrs. Roosevelt went on to head the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations where she continued to inspire millions of people around the world with her work and words.

Mrs. Roosevelt wrote a daily column, “MY DAY,” for 26 years in which she addressed topics and issues important to her. She also wrote hundreds of articles and dozens of books. Her words and ideas continue to inform and inspire to this day.

Activity Steps/Procedures:

  1. Read the Eleanor Roosevelt quotes provided below and then rewrite what you think the quote means using your own words.
    1. I was an exceptionally timid child, afraid of the dark, afraid of mice, afraid of practically everything. Painfully, step by step, I learned to stare down each of my fears… only then was I really free.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn By Living, 1960
    2. I knew what traditionally should lie before me… and I cannot say that I was pleased at the prospect… The turmoil in my heart and mind was rather great that night.” – Eleanor Roosevelt’s memory of election night, 1932, This I Remember, 1949
    3. We have never been willing to face this problem, to line it up with the basic, underlying beliefs in Democracy.” – Eleanor Roosevelt on racial discrimination in America, The Moral Basis of Democracy, 1940
    4. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time meeting each thing as it comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living, 1960
    5. Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in, the school or college he attends, the factory, farm, or office where he works….” – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958
  2. Think about how these quotes relate to the challenges facing us today. Write a few sentences to describe why you think that.
  3. Brainstorm the words that come to mind as you read these quotes and create a word cloud from the words you come up with.
  4. Repeat number 3 with each of Mrs. Roosevelt’s quotes. Are there certain words that keep coming to mind? Why do you suppose that is the case?
  5.  Select keywords in the quotes above and use a thesaurus to find other words with the same meaning and substitute those words in for the one you selected. How does using the different words change the meaning or impact of the quote?
  6. Imagine you are Mrs. Roosevelt’s speechwriter and draft a quote that you think she might say about the current situation.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Why do you suppose these words spoken by Mrs. Roosevelt meant so much to people?
  2. How might history be different if these words were never spoken?
  3. Why do you suppose these quotes have stood the test of time?
  4. What have you learned about the power of words from doing this activity?

A Step Beyond:

  1. Research other famous quotes from First Ladies, Presidents, or prominent people from the past and apply the procedures you used above to their quotes.
  2. Research what makes a great speech. What are the characteristics of a memorable speech? How do they compare to the Eleanor Roosevelt quotes you looked at?