Freedom of Speech: Establishing a Foundation for Class Meetings


Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech is an excellent introduction to class meetings for all grades. This activity offers ways to introduce the idea of a class meeting, as well as suggestions for meeting topics and approaches. Resource materials are provided for teachers who have not used class meetings previously.

Enduring Understandings / Essential Questions

  1. Everyone has the right to share ideas and concerns in their community.
  2. It is positive when diverse thoughts and opinions are shared respectfully. Participants in a meeting both speak and listen.
  3. When speakers provide information/evidence to back up their ideas this supports good discussion.
    • What does Freedom of Speech mean?
    • Why should speakers present their ideas/concerns respectfully? What does this look like?
    • Why is it helpful to listen to and share different opinions and ideas?
    • Why should speakers give information that supports their ideas/concerns?
    • Why is it important that the audience listens?


Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech
This is an introductory lesson for morning meetings which will hopefully become part of your daily routine.
Social Studies; Language Arts: Speaking and Listening
Class meeting/Town meeting; Standards of behavior or conduct; Supporting evidence;Point of view; Respect; Responsibility; Citizenship; Agenda; Speech


  • Students will understand what respectful behavior looks like in a meeting.  For example, looking at and listening to the speaker is a positive behavior.
  • Students will speak and listen to each other 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 ideas clearly.
  • Students will ask questions related to the speaker’s presentation in order to obtain additional information or to clarify meaning.


In January 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave an Annual Address to Congress outlining four essential freedoms which he felt were important rights for all citizens of the world. Freedom of Speech was one of those highlighted. Town meetings offer an opportunity for members of a community to speak about their ideas and concerns. Freedom of Speech is the only one of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings that directly references an actual occurrence. A resident of Arlington, Vermont from 1939 to 1953, the artist frequently attended town meetings. In the meeting depicted here, debate ensued about a school development project, and Rockwell observed that even though the speaker held a minority opinion, he was listened to respectfully. Rockwell is seen in the rear left corner of the image as a participant in the democratic process.

Holding class meetings allows students to exercise free speech in the classroom through respectful discourse. During these meetings, students learn the rules of conduct that encourage productive exchange and problem-solving. They learn how to be good listeners and find ways to present ideas and concerns in a positive, non-threatening manner, and express support for the ideas and concerns of others.



Multimedia Resources

Freedom of Speech

Teacher Resources for class meetings:

Classroom Supplies:

  • Chart paper and marker for recording standards of behavior
  • Chart paper and marker for creating agendas for individual meetings


Prior to holding class meetings with students:

  • Establish a routine and schedule for class meetings.
  • Think about the standards of behavior that you wish to see students observe during the meetings. (You may choose to create a chart of your ideas, but having students participating in the process gives them ownership of the standards.)
  • Working with students, creates a set of standards of behavior for audience and speakers.
  • Establish a routine for setting an agenda for each meeting. How will student topics be placed on the agenda? Who will be responsible for creating the agenda? Will there be a recorder to take notes on the meeting and points addressed? Who will the recorder be? For example, will the teacher assist in this process, or will students act as recorders on a rotating schedule? What will student input provided at class meetings be implemented?

At Meetings:

  • Post the agreed upon standards of conduct in the classroom. Review these standards at the beginning of each meeting as needed.
  • Adhere to agenda and time limits so students do not become inattentive. If necessary, schedule another meeting to continue discussion.

Please note that meetings with very young students can be focused on sharing an important event, a special item, or experience. Students might also discuss ways to celebrate an upcoming event, or to make a gift for a special someone. The meeting’s focus should be announced prior to the event. Limit the number of students who share at any given meeting.


  • Are presenters prepared?
  • Do presenters provide adequate information about their topic?
  • Are agreed upon standards of conduct evident?
  • Are questions/comments appropriate to the 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.

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.
Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information or clarify something that is not understood.
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.
Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension, gather additional information, or deepen understanding of a topic or issue.
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.
Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.
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.
Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions.
Describe roles and responsibilities of people in authority.
Compare their own point of view with others' perspectives.
Describe how communities work to accomplish common tasks, establish responsibilities, and fulfill roles of authority.
Apply civic virtues when participation in school settings.
Follow agreed upon rules for discussions when responding attentively to others when addressing ideas and making decisions as a group.
Gather relevant information from one or two sources while using the origin and structure to guide the selection.
Evaluate a source by distinguishing between fact and opinion.
Construct an argument with reasons.
Construct explanations using correct sequence and relevant information.
Present a summary of an argument using print, oral, and digital technologies.
D4.4. K-2
Ask and answer questions about arguments.
Ask and answer questions about explanations.
Identify and explain a range of local, regional, and global problems, and some ways in which people are trying to address these problems.
Identify ways to take action to help address local, regional, and global problems.
Use listening, consensus-building, and voting procedures to decide on and take action in their classrooms.