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A Few Words From Franklin 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 are facing. 

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:

Franklin Roosevelt came to power in 1933, the height of the Great Depression. Millions of people were out of work, many were losing their homes because they could not pay their rents, many didn’t have enough food to eat. The country was without hope.

In his first remarks to the nation as president, FDR proclaimed to the American people that, “...the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself…” Those words united the nation in a spirit of courage and hope. Roosevelt’s courage and confidence showed people that they had elected a leader who understood what they were facing and was not afraid to lead.

Throughout the Great Depression and all through World War II, FDR took to the airwaves to inform and inspire a troubled, fearful nation.

Activity Steps/Procedures:

  1. Read the FDR quotes provided below and then rewrite what you think the quote means using your own words.
    1. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who  have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937
    2. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
    3. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency, June 27, 1936
    4. We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.” – Franklin Roosevelt, Statement on Signing the Social Security Act, August 14, 1935
    5. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.” – Franklin Roosevelt, Address at Madison Square Garden, October  31, 1936
  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 the Roosevelt 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 word change the meaning or impact of the quote?
  6. Imagine you are FDR’s speechwriter and draft a quote that you think FDR might say about the current situation.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Why do you suppose these words spoken by FDR 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 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 FDR quotes you looked at?