A Visual Exploration of the Four Freedoms


Students will be introduced to the Four Freedoms which President Roosevelt identified in his 1941 State of the Union Address to Congress. Each of these freedoms, including Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear will be addressed individually. Through close reading of the illustrations by Norman Rockwell, students will identify details contained in the paintings. They will use these details to make and support inferences reflecting the meaning of the Four Freedoms in our everyday lives.

  This lesson is designed for four -30 minute class periods.

Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions:

  1. President Roosevelt made a speech about the four main freedoms he felt that everyone everywhere in the world was entitled to.
  2. Norman Rockwell wanted to paint pictures of the Four Freedoms for the American people to help them understand what the president’s speech was about, and what these freedoms might look like in their own lives.
  3. Art is inspired by many things, including ideas, everyday life, and the world around us.
    • What is the importance of President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech?
    • How did Norman Rockwell’s personal experiences and surroundings influence his paintings?
Four Freedoms
This lesson is designed for four- 30 minute periods.
National Core Art Standards
Beliefs; Citizenship; Confidence; Newspapers;; Past/Present; Respect; Traditions; Visual Inventory; Visual Clues/Metaphors; Wants/Needs; Worry/Fear; Worship


  • Students will share any prior knowledge about the Four Freedoms (President Roosevelt’s speech or Rockwell’s paintings).
  • Students will create a visual inventory of each painting.
  • Students will use prior knowledge to make associations with the subject matter and historical events.



World War II began in 1939. The United States was not involved in the beginning of the war, however, President Franklin Roosevelt believed that the United States would eventually need to play a larger role. In January 1941, he made his speech to Congress. In his speech, President Roosevelt named the Four Freedoms, which he stated are the rights of everyone in the world. After the speech, in an effort to convey the underlying message of the Four Freedoms, the President reached out to the art world for help. Many artists created works to reflect the meaning of these freedoms in the form of paintings, sculptures, prints, musical compositions, and more. Norman Rockwell thought a lot about these ideals. In February and March of 1943, his completed Four Freedoms illustrations were published in The Saturday Evening Post, each along with a related essay. Exceedingly popular at the time and distributed widely as prints and posters, Norman Rockwell's illustrations raised over 132 million dollars toward the war effort through the purchase of war bonds. Prints of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms were given as premiums when people purchased war bonds in varying denominations. His illustrations became the face of the Four Freedoms and they continue to represent the meaning of these freedoms today.

Please note: In elementary grades, information regarding the war should focus on the desire of people to create a world in which all people have equal rights. Emphasis on fairness, working together for a common cause, and the essence of the Four Freedoms should drive the discussions at this age.


Multimedia Resources

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Worship

Freedom from Want

Freedom from Fear

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms

Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms

A Conversation with Ruby Bridges Hall

Womanpower: The Fight for the Four Freedoms

The Atlantic Charter: Hope for a New World

Classroom Supplies:

  • Easel, whiteboard or chalk board for writing on
  • Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms: Images that Inspire a Nation, by Stuart Murray, and James McCabe
  • Reading handout: Excerpt from President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech
  • Reading handout: Excerpt from Norman Rockwell, My Adventures as an Illustrator


Additional Teaching Resources:

A Variety of books on Norman Rockwell and his work including but not limited to:

The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge by The Norman Rockwell Museum  

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick

Norman Rockwell’s America by Christopher Finch

American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell  by Linda Szekely Pero

Norman Rockwell’s Counting Book by Gloria Tabor

Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artist: Norman Rockwell by Mike Venezia

Norman Rockwell: Storyteller with a Brush by Beverly Sherman

My Adventures as an Illustrator by  Norman Rockwell

A Rockwell Portrait: An Intimate Biography by Donald Walton

Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, edited by Stephanie Haboush Plunkett and James J. Kimble, Ph.D.



  1. Ask students if they have heard a president of  the United States speak to the American people, whether on radio, television, or the internet. Tell the children about the famous speech that President Franklin D. Roosevelt made to Congress on January 6, 1941. When you feel the class has a basic historical understanding, read the following excerpt of President Roosevelt’s speech from the book, Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms: Images that Inspire a Nation:

“In future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -
everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want - which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants- everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear - which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide redaction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor - anywhere in the world.”

(Murray & McCabe, 6)

  1. Share the reproductions of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings with students. Ask them:" Which painting best represents Freedom of Speech? Why?" Allow students time to look closely at the images. After identifying Freedom of Speech, set aside the other artworks.
  2. Focusing their attention on Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech, ask if anyone has seen this illustration before. Ask students to look closely at the foreground, middle ground, and background, and to point out what they see, not what they perceive. The class will collectively take a visual inventory. The teacher may offer the first example if students are unclear; for example, say: “I see a man standing up with his mouth slightly open.” Restate student observations as they are made and record each on chart paper, whiteboard or blackboard.  By doing this, students will analyze the art and find clues and symbols to help them read the image. When their list appears to be complete, have students infer what story is being told.
  3. Continue this process with the other artworks.




  • Students will be evaluated on demonstrating appropriate listening and speaking skills during their participation in the group discussion.
  • Students  will be evaluated on their participation in analyzing the text read to them and visual imagery through informal checks of understanding through questions.


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.

Compare and contrast cultural uses of artwork from different times and places.
Recognize that responses to art change depending on knowledge of the time and place in which it was made.
Through observation, infer information about time, place and culture in which a work of art was created.
Interpret art by identifying the mood suggested by a work of art and describing relevant subject matter and characteristics of form.
Interpret art by analyzing use of media to create subject matter, characteristics of form, and mood.
Interpret art by referring to contextual information and analyzing relevant subject matter, characteristics of form, and use of media.