FDR, Eleanor, and Teddy: Teaching the Roosevelts

I spent a whole week recently devouring the new Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History while folding laundry (which I recommend– laundry is much, much more entertaining this way). I also have the privilege of counting Debi Duke, the Program Coordinator at Teaching the Hudson Valley, as a colleague and friend– and THV is housed at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites (Hyde Park), which will be a very familiar name to anyone acquainted with the Roosevelts. “What stuff is out there for teachers interested in teaching the Roosevelts?” I asked her, and she responded with this amazing treasure trove of a post– pictures and all. Enjoy. All pictures aside from the first are attributed to Bill Urbin, National Park Service.  Check out the cool THV blog here, where this post will also live.  ~ Dina



Eleanor_Roosevelt_in_school_portraitThe Roosevelts: An Intimate History, Ken Burns’s epic saga of Eleanor, Franklin, and Theodore Roosevelt has many teachers—especially at the secondary level— looking for resources. There are tons, so we’ll get right to it—but not before we hear from Donna Nageli, an elementary teacher who posted on Teaching the Hudson Valley’s blog about her Roosevelt classroom. Think Common Core doesn’t leave room for field work? Not on your life. Below are some edited excerpts from her post.

Take a look at NYSED’s social studies core curriculum, and the ELA CCSS, which is filled with references to the importance of being able to read and interpret primary sources, i.e., the kind of documents available at many historical sites in our region. Just be sure to ask when arranging a visit! This IS Common Core.

My students [see] items mentioned in their readings. I observe them reading markers, discussing the information they garnered, and comparing it with what they had read or talked about in my classroom. Again, this IS Common Core. Primary and secondary sources are integral to CC.

My students bring field journals and are expected to make notes. I ask the docents and educators to include a quiet period for reflective writing and make sure we share and discuss their writing on site or after we’ve returned to school.

Discussion and debate extends learning experiences: Are there differences between what we read in class and what we see on site? If there are, can they be resolved? Why do these differences exist?

Donna’s post focuses on the importance of field work– not just “trips”– outside the classroom, and makes a strong argument for the irreplaceable engagement of field work, bringing students nose-to-nose with the primary sources that make history so rich and fascinating. If at all possible, we strongly recommend using the sources we list below to support the case for field work for your students. 06-16-11-96.-HOFR-GWES-Kingston-NY-Photo-NPS-WD-Urbin-1140x912

From The Series Itself:

First the seven-part series itself can be streamed online.

There is also a two-minute video, Behind the Scenes, The Making of ‘The Roosevelts’.

The companion book of the same title by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns is available at your local independent bookstore.

General On Line Teaching Resources:

The Roosevelts were rooted deeply in New York’s Hudson Valley, going right back to their Dutch ancestors. In Hyde Park, you can explore the Home of FDR, Top Cottage (the president’s get away in Hyde Park), the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Val-Kill), and view related podcasts and trails. View or download a guide to educational programs at these sites.

Also in Hyde Park is the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. The education section of its website includes featured resources and a wealth of information for teachers, students, and parents. On-site and classroom workshops, museum programs, and professional development opportunities are described.

Teaching the Hudson Valley, a project of the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt-Van Buren National Historic Sites, all north of New York City, has a free library of activities and lesson plans including several about Eleanor and Franklin. Find them under Resources: Lessons. THV’s blog also shares student work prompted by the Roosevelts, here and here.

Arthurdale Heritage, a private organization in West Virginia, preserves Eleanor Roosevelt’s New Deal Community of the same name. School groups are welcome to visit the craft shop and museum; the website includes audio and other resources. The National Park Service has also developed a lesson plan, Arthurdale: A New Deal Community Experiment, for grades 5-12 social studies.

Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson University: prior to FDR, there were no “official” presidential libraries. TR’s papers and much more are available on this website. Sections for educators and students contain two lesson plans using TR’s sheet music–Father and Son – Dynamics and Rhythm (grades 3-5) and The Rhythm of Political Campaigns (grades 9-12)—and much more.

A search of “Roosevelt” at the Library of Congress’s site for teachers turns up loads of resources, so pick some key words or phrases to find what you’re looking for. (LOC also offers webinars, lesson plans, and much more.) Ditto for the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment collection and the National History Education Clearinghouse. All three Roosevelts are also included in National History Day’s 100 Leaders in World History.


Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Expeditionary Learning’s widely used unit on the UDHR can be found here, completely Common Core-aligned.

Teaching the Hudson Valley also published this rich post with multiple resources for teaching about ER and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project includes documents, videos, and teaching ideas. Check out this page for more UDHR-specific information and lesson plans.

Cobblestone, a magazine geared to 9 to 14 year olds, has an issue devoted to Mrs. Roosevelt, The Importance of Being Eleanor. Full of photos and written in an engaging style, single copies are $6. A teachers’ guide can be downloaded free; click teachers’ guides in the resources section.

Other Sites and Parks:

Wilderstein, Daisy Suckley’s home just north of Hyde Park in Rhinebeck, NY. Suckley, featured in the series, was a cousin and confidant of FDR.

In New York City: FDR Four Freedoms Park, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, and Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

In Washington, DC: FDR Memorial  and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Elsewhere: Theodore Roosevelt NP (North Dakota), Roosevelt Campobello International Park (Maine & Canada), Sagamore Hill NHS (Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY).

~ Debi Duke

Leave your own ideas, questions, lessons, and thoughts in the comments!

One thought on “FDR, Eleanor, and Teddy: Teaching the Roosevelts

  1. Thanks for the recommendation of the Ken Burns series Roosevelts and EDSITEment. You mentioned National History Day so I though you would be interested in a NHD webinar which NEH did for teachers and students about how to use the series for this year’s Leadership and Legacy theme. Our blog post tells you all about it and has links to the archived webinar and the power points.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *