Close Reading of the Golden Rule


Students will view an image of Norman Rockwell’s painting, Golden Rule, a 1961 cover for The Saturday Evening Post magazine. They will look closely at the details within the painting, which include people, clothing, and objects. Based upon these details, they will make inferences about the painting, including Norman Rockwell’s purpose and message.

Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions:

  1. The Golden Rule, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You,” offers a wonderful guide for our interactions with each other.
  2. Equality, freedom, liberty, and respect for others are principles to strive for.
  3. To treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, is an idea that is reflected in many cultures across the world.
    • What is the meaning of The Golden Rule?
    • Why does it make sense to treat others the way we would like to be treated?
    • How is The Golden Rule phrased and embodied across cultures?
    • How can we practice The Golden Rule in our everyday lives?
Golden Rule
This activity takes approximately one 30 minute class period.
Social Studies; Language Arts: Reading; Language Arts: Speaking and Listening
Virtues; Principles; Freedom; Liberty; Respect; The Golden Rule; Rights; Equality; Honesty; Cooperation; Perspective; United Nations


  • Students will close read the illustration, Golden Rule, by Norman Rockwell, sharing the things that they notice about the painting.
  • Students will make inferences supported by the details in the illustration.
  • Students will discuss the purpose and message of this painting, especially the relevance of the phrase, “Do Unto Others As You Would You Have Them Do Unto You.”
  • Students will think about how it doesn't matter where we are from or where we live. We can always choose to treat each other well.


Norman Rockwell is a storyteller. He painted pictures that were seen on the cover of a magazine called The Saturday Evening Post for 47 years. His paintings, also referred to as illustrations, reflected life in America. They also served to draw attention to ideas that Rockwell felt were important, and that  he wanted people to think about.

In preparing to paint this 1961 Saturday Evening Post cover, Rockwell noted that many countries, cultures, and religions incorporate some version of The Golden Rule into their belief system. “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You” was a simple but universal phrase that reflected the artist’s personal philosophy. A gathering of people from different cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds, this image was a precursor of the socially conscious subjects that he would illustrate in the 1960's and 1970's.

“One day I suddenly got the idea that the Golden Rule, “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You,” was the subject I was looking for,” Rockwell said. “I began to make all sorts of sketches. Then I remembered that down in the cellar of my studio was the charcoal drawing of my United Nations picture, which I had never finished.” “In it I had tried to depict all the peoples of the world gathered together. That is just what I wanted to express about the Golden Rule.” Rockwell’s Golden Rule painting later served as the inspiration for the stunning glass mosaic that was presented to the United Nations in 1985 as a Fortieth Anniversary gift on behalf of the United States by then First Lady Nancy Reagan, made possible by the Thanks-Giving Square Foundation.  

In 2015, the United Nations celebrated their Seventieth Anniversary. A special installation
was created which brought together Rockwell's original drawing, his Golden Rule painting, and other works that reflected his appreciation for humanity as a citizen of the world.

Things to Notice About Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule

  • Mothers of different cultures holding their children
  • Clothing and objects representing different cultures
  • Gold lettering invites us to understand this is an important message
  • Mary Rockwell, Norman Rockwell’s wife and the mother of their three sons, holds their first grandchild, Geoffrey Rockwell in the painting. Mary passed away before Geoffrey was born, but Rockwell brought them together in this work.

Background on Norman Rockwell’s United Nations

In 1952, at the height of the Cold War and two years into the Korean War, Rockwell conceived an image of the United Nations as the world’s hope for the future. His appreciation for the organization and its mission inspired a complex work portraying members of the Security Council and sixty-five people representing the nations of the world—a study for an artwork that he originally intended to complete in painted form. United Nations never actually made it to canvas, but Rockwell’s desire to reach out to a global community found its forum on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in Golden Rule nine years later, in 1961. Pictured here are Security Council Members, Soviet Ambassador Valerian Alexandrovich Zorin, British Ambassador Sir Gladwyn Jebb, and United States Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.

Of his work on the United Nations drawing, Rockwell said, “Like everyone else, I’m concerned with the world situation, and like everyone else, I’d like to contribute something to help. The only way I can contribute is through my pictures.”


Norman Rockwell

United Nations   1953

Study for an unfinished illustration

Pencil and charcoal on paper

Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

NRACT.1973.113 (M57)


Multimedia Resources

"Golden Rule"

Classroom Supplies:

  • Chart paper with T-Chart labeled “What I See”/”What I think”
  • Marker



  • Display an image of Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule.
  • Ask students to look carefully at the illustration. Give them a few minutes to do this.
  • Turn and Talk: When you feel enough time has passed, have students turn to a person sitting beside them. Ask them to share with each other some of the things they notice in the illustration. As they are sharing, listen to their conversations.
  • Have partners share some of the things they noticed in the picture. Record their responses on chart paper. (Elicit noticings heard during partner conversations that may not be brought forward by the students themselves.)
  • New observations may be contributed as they look closer and are thinking about the details. Add them to the appropriate column on T-Chart.
  • If you have not already done so, share the origin of the painting and its name. Have students reflect on the purpose of Rockwell’s illustration, what he would want them to understand, and what the message means to them.



  • Did everyone participate?
  • Are students basing their thinking on the details?
  • Do student responses to the illustration reflect civic virtues/principles?


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.

Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 1 Language standards 1 and 3 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.1"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (See grade 2 Language standards 1 and 3 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.2"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.
Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.
With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the text in which they appear (e.g., what person, place, thing, or idea in the text an illustration depicts).
Explain why the compelling question is important to the student.
Identify disciplinary ideas associated with a compelling question.
Identify facts and concepts associated with a supporting question.
Make connections between supporting questions and compelling questions.
Compare their own point of view with others' perspectives.
Apply civic virtues when participation in school settings.
Describe democratic principles such as equality, fairness, and respect for legitimate authority and rules.
Follow agreed upon rules for discussions when responding attentively to others when addressing ideas and making decisions as a group.
Construct an argument with reasons.
Present a summary of an argument using print, oral, and digital technologies.