FDR’s Fireside Chat
Author: Joseph Jelen
School: Northwood High School
Grade Level: AP (9-12)
Time Estimated: 1 day (80 minute period)
In this lesson students will be asked to analyze one of FDR’s radio addresses to the nation centered on his proposed Works Relief Program. Students will then be asked to assume the role of one of FDR’s critics and develop a rebuttal to a portion of FDR’s address.
The United States was in the midst of an economic crisis by 1935. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected promising people action in the face of this crisis. In order to push his New Deal legislation through Congress, FDR relied on the support of the people who put him in office. Much of FDR’s New Deal legislation was complex and vast in scope, which would have made it difficult for citizens to understand. Thus, FDR seized upon the power of the most widespread media outlet, radio, to speak candidly with the United States people about what he intended to do to beat back economic crisis. These radio speeches informed people and equipped them with knowledge so that they could be assured that their government was doing something to help them. While FDR proposed sweeping government programs, he certainly faced critics of his plans, accusing FDR of too much government involvement or not enough.
This lesson may be used during MCPS Unit 9.4 (“Culture in Prosperity and Adversity”) Lesson Sequence 4.2 (“Traditions, Critics, and Change”).
Students will be able to explain the arguments for and against the New Deal by analyzing a radio address by FDR and writing a rebuttal to FDR’s arguments.
- Contextualization warm up activity
- Text of FDR’s fireside chat, broken into four sections
- Critic Info Sheet: Huey Long
- Critic Info Sheet: Jouett Shouse
- Critic Info Sheet: Upton Sinclair
- Critic Info Sheet: Norman Thomas
- Critic Info Sheet: Rev. Charles Coughlin
- Rebuttal Page
- New Deal Critics capture sheet
- Summative Assessment: Essay
- Computer and speakers to play FDR’s speech
1. Introducing the Lesson (15 minutes)
- Pass out to students warm up contextualization of FDR’s Fireside chat handout
- Lead students in the “before listening” section of the handout by introducing briefly FDR’s Fireside chats and asking students to visualize how they would be listening to FDR speak through the radio. (Perhaps students will draw themselves sitting with their family in the family’s home listening to a radio with a fire roaring in the family room fireplace) Next, have students draw or write problems that might be plaguing the minds of citizens in 1935 (ex. foreclosure, debt, unemployment, etc.)
- Play for students minutes 0 – 4:45 of FDR’s speech from the Miller Center of Public Affairs (UVA) Presidential Speech Archive: http://millercenter.org/scripps/archive/speeches/detail/3304. Have students read along with their copy of the speech transcript (section 1) and answer the included questions during listening.
- After listening to the speech ask students to consider how FDR’s use of the “fireside chat” helped gain public support of his New Deal programs. (Possible response: By speaking to the American public in his familiar way he was able to reassure Americans of his vision which helped push through FDR’s New Deal legislation.)
2. Lesson Activities (60 minutes)
- Assign a group of 4 students one of the possible critics of the New Deal. Hand out to the each of the four students the critic’s biography and primary source selection. Instruct students to sit with their group and read their assigned biography sheet. As students read, have them think about why the person would be critical of FDR’s New Deal and what specific problems each would have.
- Acting as their assigned critic students are to analyze one of the four sections of FDR’s radio address and write a brief rebuttal to that selected part of the text. Ask students to go after the specifics with which their assigned critic would take issue.
- Students will then present their rebuttal address to the class while the rest of the class fills in the New Deal Critics’ Arguments capture sheet.
3. Concluding the Lesson (5 minutes)
- To conclude the lesson, students should rank order criticisms on their capture sheet from those they feel hold the most merit in the context of 1935 to those they feel hold the least merit.
This lesson is differentiated to allow students to work in heterogeneous groups with each group member relying on the others to formulate a rebuttal speech. Grouping students allows students to help each other and allows the teacher to circulate the room to assist students with analyzing the document. For struggling students, give each group only one piece of FDR’s speech to analyze and formulate arguments against as a group. The summative writing assignment can also be altered to simply be a paragraph or lengthened to accommodate more advanced students.
Assessment – Summative Assessment
- Assign for homework, a written response to the prompt: “To what extent did the New Deal do too much? To what extent did the New Deal do to little? Reference specific criticisms of the New Deal in your response.”
3 – Response includes substantial discussion of the New Deal doing too much and substantial discussion of the New Deal doing too little. Response references at least 4 specific criticisms.
2 – Response includes some discussion of the New Deal doing too much and some discussion of the New Deal doing too little. Response references at least 2 specific criticisms.
1 – Response includes little discussion of the New Deal doing too much and little discussion of the New Deal doing too little. Response references at least 1 specific criticism.
0 – Did not attempt
- “Annals of American History”, Encyclopedia Britannica
- The Annals of American history is extremely helpful in locating some primary source documents and biographic information from certain individuals in American history. Unfortunately it is not an exhaustive list and can be disappointing when looking for certain people. However, the big names of the New Deal era, critics and proponents, can be found here though.
- “Presidential Speech Archive,” Universirty of Virginia, Miller Center of Public Affairs
- The speech archive contains transcripts, audio, and some video recordings of all presidents. It is a remarkable collection useful for giving students a taste of what some of the presidents sounded like in their speeches. The site is easily navigable and lists presidential speeches in chronological order. All of FDR’s “fireside chats” can be found here.