Freedom of Speech: Establishing a Foundation for Class Meetings, Sharing and Presentations


Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions

Norman Rockwell’s illustration, Freedom of Speech, is an excellent introduction to class meetings in all grades. This activity offers ideas to think about before beginning class meetings, as well as suggestions for developing a positive culture around class meetings. 

Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions

  1. Everyone has the right to share ideas and concerns in their community.
  2. A successful meeting is one where all members of a community act respectfully toward each other and both speak and listen.
  3. Successful speakers present their ideas or concerns respectfully and with details and evidence to support their thinking.
  4. The success of an organization is dependent on contributions of all its members.
  5. We are all responsible for ourselves and our world.
    • What does Freedom of Speech mean?
    • Why should speakers present their ideas/concerns respectfully?
    • What guidelines for behavior are helpful at community meetings? Why?
    • Why should speakers give information that supports their ideas/concerns?
    • In what ways can the entire membership contribute to the success of the organization or group?
Four Freedoms
Social Studies; Language Arts: Speaking and Listening
Class meeting/community meeting; Standards of behavior (or conduct); Supporting evidence; Point of view; Respect; Responsibility; Citizenship; Agenda


  • Students will apply civic virtues (such as honesty, mutual respect, cooperation, and attentiveness to multiple perspective) and democratic principles (including equality, freedom, liberty, respect for individual rights, and deliberation in formal and informal settings).
  • Students will speak on a variety of grade level topics.
  • Students will speak at a voice level that can be heard by group.
  • Students will express information, thoughts and feelings clearly.
  • Students will ask questions related to speaker’s presentation to get additional information or to clarify misunderstandings.
  • Students will work cooperatively to solve community issues.
  • Students will engage in inquiry, deliberation and planning to take action to provide a service to others in the school, town or an outreach community.



In January 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt gave an important State of the Union address to Congress. In his speech he named the Four Freedoms, which he felt were essential rights for all citizens of the world. Freedom of Speech was one of these rights. Towns in New England have been recognized for town meetings, which allow members of the community to speak about their ideas and concerns. While attending a town meeting in Arlington, Vermont, Rockwell realized that this was an example of Freedom of Speech.

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech is arguably among the most famous works of American art. Popular from its first publication in The Saturday Evening Post, it expresses a timeless message that continues to be relevant today, from issues relating to freedom of thought, the press, assembly, and speech, to the power of advocacy and community. It is the only one in Rockwell’s series that is based upon a specific event. On November 9, 1940, the Memorial School in Rockwell’s town of Arlington, Vermont, burned down. A replacement school was offered for approval and townspeople voted to borrow funds at a Town Meeting that Rockwell attended. Commissioned to produce illustrations based on Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, the artist struggled to come up with ideas. “Then one night as I was tossing in bed, mulling over the proclamation and the war, rejecting one idea after another and getting more and more discouraged …I suddenly remembered how Jim Edgerton had stood up in a town meeting and said something that everyone else disagreed with.” Rockwell wrote. “But they had let him have his say. No one had shouted him down. My gosh, I thought, that’s it ….Freedom of Speech …I’ll express the ideas in simple, everyday scenes.”

A farmer and a neighbor of Rockwell’s, Edgerton was hit hard by the collapse of milk prices during the Depression and an outbreak of disease among his herd, and his eighty acre dairy farm was in danger of going out of business. The impact of additional taxes would have been a challenge for Edgerton, who, in the words of his son Buddy, “held everyone’s full attention as he passionately outlined his minority position. Finishing with thanks and a nod of his head, he sat down; and then the townspeople voted to build the new school.” Rockwell is a witness to the scene here; he appears on the left glancing up at the speaker, who is modeled not by Edgerton but by the more Lincolnesque Carl Hess, also a neighbor.

Class Meetings

Class meetings allow students to exercise  freedom of speech in school. Students learn the rules of conduct which make meetings productive opportunities for citizens to share ideas and work toward resolving challenges. They learn how to be good listeners as well as ways to present ideas and concerns in a positive, non-threatening manner, providing support for the ideas/concerns.


Multimedia Resources:

Freedom of Speech

Classroom Supplies:

  • Print or projection of Freedom of Speech
  • T-Chart from close reading of illustration
  • Chart paper and marker for recording “standards of behavior”
  • Chart paper for creating agendas for individual meetings
  • Teacher Resources for class meetings:


Prior to holding meetings with students:

  1. If possible, attend a local school committee meeting, civic meeting, or watch a recorded meeting with students. Discuss the format of the meeting as well as the roles of the various community members in attendance. Discuss ways that a “town meeting” could work in the class community.
  2. Establish a routine and schedule for meetings. Or if you are already meeting regularly discuss ways to improve your meetings.
  3. Think about the standards of behaviors that make sense for the classroom community to observe during meetings. (You may choose to create a chart of your ideas, but research has shown that having students participating in the process gives them ownership of the standards.)
  4. Working with the students, create a set of standards of behavior for audience and speakers.
  5. Establish a routine for setting an agenda for each meeting. How will students get on the agenda? Who will be responsible for creating the agenda? Will there be a recorder to write down concerns and ideas shared? Who will the recorder be? Students recording on a rotating schedule? What will happen after the meeting?

At meetings:

  1. Post the agreed upon standards of conduct. Review these standards at the beginning of each meeting as needed.
  2. Adhere to agenda and time limits so meetings stay focused and productive. If a meeting becomes too long, consider scheduling another meeting to continue discussion.
  3. Agree on presenters ahead of the meeting. 



  • Are presenters prepared?
  • Do presenters provide adequate information about topic?
  • Are audience members showing agreed upon standards of conduct?
  • Are questions/comments appropriate to speaker’s presentation?


This curriculum meets the standards listed below. Look for more details on these standards please visit: ELA and Math StandardsSocial Studies Standards, Visual Arts Standards.

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.
Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (See grade 3 Language standards 1 and 3 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.
Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, using formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 5 Language standards 1 and 3 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Explain why compelling questions are important to others (e.g., peers, adults).
Identify disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question that are open to different interpretations.
Identify the discplinary concepts and ideas associated with a supporting question that are open to interpretation.
Explain how supporting questions help answer compelling questions in an inquiry.
Distinguish the responsibilities and powers of government officials at various levels and in different times and places.
Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others' points of view about civic issues.
Describe ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, workplaces, voluntary organizations, and families.
Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school setttings.
Use deliberative processes when making decisions or reaching judgements as a group.
Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, structure, and context, to guide the selection.
Use distinctions among fact and opinion to determine the credibility of multiple sources.
Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources in response to compelling questions.
Use evidence to develop claims in response to compelling questions.
Construct an argument using claims and evidence from multiple sources.
Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequence, examples, and details with relevant information and data.
Present a summary of arguments and explanations to others outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, and reports) and digital technologies ( e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary).
Critique arguments.
Critique explanations.
Draw on disciplinary concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and opportunities they have created, in addressing local regional, and global problems at various times and places.
Explain different strategies and approaches students and others could take in working alone and together to address local, regional, and global problems, and predict possible results of their actions.
Use a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions about and act on civic problems in their classrooms and schools.