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Lesson Plans

State of the Union: Comparing Obama's 'Four Big Questions' to FDR's 'Four Freedoms' speech

January 13, 2016

Full Lesson



Social studies, government

Estimated Time

One 45-minute class period

Grade Level

7 – 12


Analyze the “Four Big Questions” in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address and reflect on what they say about the present when compared to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” State of the Union Address.


Watch the clip of President Obama laying out the FOUR BIG QUESTIONS of his 2016 State of the Union speech. The President said, “So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer – regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

  • First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?
  • Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?
  • Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?
  • And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”
  1. Ask students: Are you surprised by any of the four questions/topics? Which do you think is most important? For homework, students can choose a question and map out an answer: what the country can do at national, local and individual levels to address this question.
  2. Listen to a clip of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech in 1941, which he gave one year before the U.S.’s entry in to World War II. FDR’s speech focuses on the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. For more about the speech, visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library’s website.
  3. Critical thinking questions: (Hold a class discussion or have students write in their notebooks and then share their responses.)
    1. Why do you think President Obama’s “four big questions” are being compared with FDR’s “four freedoms”?
    2. Regarding national security, what events were taking place in the world at the time FDR gave his speech in 1941? What events are taking place in the world right now that are on many Americans’ minds?
    3. In what ways has the world changed since FDR gave his State of the Union address in 1941?
    4. Both presidents were trying to generate hope and promise for the nation. In what ways were they successful, in what ways do the speeches fall short? Explain your answer.
    5. In both speeches, the presidents embraced the idea of Americans coming together and sharing in our national identity and what it means to be American.
      1. How do you think President Obama and Roosevelt would define America’s national identity? Do you agree with this definition? Why or why not?
      2. Stepping into the presidents’ shoes, why do they think it’s important to identify and embrace a national identity?

Extension Activity

Watch the full speech and read the transcript HERE.

Looking for more clips about the State of the Union address:

Students may also want to check out social media’s reaction to the State of the Union here:

by Victoria Pasquantonio, PBS NewsHour Education Editor, History Teacher – feedback on this lesson is welcome. Send to vpasquantonio-at-newshour-dot-org

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