Weathering challenging times is nothing new for the United States. At the Great Books Foundation, we believe that it is important to help students read and discuss fiction and nonfiction texts that highlight constructive responses to difficult situations. When students explore how historical figures and fictional characters confront and resolve problems, they become better equipped to pursue constructive and equitable solutions themselves.

Our Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry series for grades 2–5 includes accounts of people of all ages taking actions large and small to improve their communities. Students can read and discuss how people came together to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, how young inventors have developed innovative ways to generate power, and how elementary school students use lemonade stands to raise money for charities. By considering examples of different types of positive action, students are able to see what they might be able to do today and what might be possible for them tomorrow.

This month, we’re offering lesson plans for our exclusive account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s groundbreaking work as First Lady, taken from Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry 5. Mrs. Roosevelt defied conventional expectations of her role, choosing to travel independently and meet with sharecroppers, coal miners, and other groups of Americans who were suffering as a result of the Great Depression. During World War II, she worked to raise awareness of the plight of Jewish people in Europe, protested against government internment camps for Japanese Americans, and visited troops in military hospitals. Her rewriting of the unspoken rules about what the president’s spouse could do has had a lasting impact.

Please use the activities for “Plain, Ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt” below (or download them) for classroom sessions that will spur your students to consider the life and legacy of this remarkable American. We hope you and your students enjoy exploring this selection!

“Plain, Ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt” Activities


Have students answer the following questions before they read the selection. They can write down their answers and then share them as a class.

  • What do you know?
    Who is the First Lady of the United States? What do you know about how she spends her time?
  • What do you think?
    Do you think the president’s spouse should support all of the president’s decisions, even if he or she doesn’t agree?

First Reading

Have students read the text and share questions they have about it.

Second Reading

Ask students to reread the selection and mark the text according to the following prompt. Have students review their notes prior to Shared Inquiry discussion.

  • Mark an E in places where Eleanor Roosevelt does something you would expect a First Lady to do.
  • Mark an N in places where Eleanor Roosevelt does something you would not expect a First Lady to do.

Shared Inquiry Discussion

For Shared Inquiry discussion, seat everyone in a circle. Ask the focus question below, and give students a few minutes to write down their answers. Begin the discussion by asking volunteers to share their answers and evidence. Aim for the discussion to last at least 15 minutes.

Focus Question: What do you think the spouses of future presidents should learn from Eleanor Roosevelt’s example?

Cluster Questions:

  • Do you think it was fair for people to accuse Eleanor Roosevelt of “meddling”?
  • Should Eleanor Roosevelt have supported FDR’s decisions, even when they went against what she believed?
  • What do you think were the most and least admirable things Eleanor Roosevelt did as First Lady?

Series 5 Fiction Connection

Every text in Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry is thematically paired with a story from the corresponding grade’s fiction anthologies. “Plain, Ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt” connects with “The Prince and the Goose Girl” in Junior Great Books Series 5, Book Two.

“The Prince and the Goose Girl” is an early-twentieth-century fairy tale in which a poor goose girl named Erith is the only person in the kingdom willing to call the spoiled and arrogant prince a bully. When the furious prince tries to pressure Erith into marrying him, he gets substantially more than he bargained for.

Many teachers like to use Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry and fiction together. You can do so easily when you buy Junior Great Books classroom bundles, which include all the classroom materials you need for both fiction and nonfiction, plus teacher training! Please contact your Great Books educational consultant with any questions about Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry for grades 2–5 or Junior Great Books fiction series for grades K–5!