What Does Freedom Mean to You?

Home Education Landmark Lesson What Does Freedom Mean to You?

What Does Freedom Mean to You?

In this lesson, students are challenged to define freedom for themselves through looking at how an artist interpreted it in the design of a statue on top of the U.S. Capitol.   While using primary sources, this lesson complements art, literacy, civics and history curriculum.


Washington , DC

Type of Landmark

Monument or memorial


Government and civics

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • learn how to analyze a three-dimensional art object for its meaning by closely looking at the Freedom Statue on the Capitol Building.
  • practice close reading skills by searching primary sources for information on the design of the statue.
  • think critically about how ideas of freedom are time-bound as they consider definitions of freedom evident in founding documents, the statue, and their lives today. 

Suggested Instructional Procedures

Day 1

Introduction for Day 1

Ask the students what they think the term “freedom” means and write down their ideas on the board. Try to remember to take a picture of it before you erase it. Then ask the students if any of them know what is on top of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Show them the image of the Statue of Freedom from the powerpoint presentation.


1) Hand out the attached worksheet and ask students to complete the front and back (print two sided). On the front, they will circle and/or write down things that they notice about the Statue of Freedom and write down how the things they noticed relate to freedom. On the back will be some quotes from the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, their task is to relate the quote to the Statue of Freedom.  

2) As a class, discuss and analyze the Statue of Freedom using the worksheet they just did as a guide into the next section.

3) Briefly go through the history of the Statue of Freedom, use the powerpoint to help illustrate your points with images of the previous designs including key figures in her making. The powerpoint is basic so that teachers may add or take out as much as they wish, and elaborate on as much or as little as they wish.

4) Divide the students into three groups: one group will get a letter from the artist, another will get several newspaper articles about the statue (the teacher will choose articles from the Library of Congress newspaper search provided.), and the last group will get a transcription of “An act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or labor in the district of Columbia” and a short background essay on Philip Reid.  Each group will also be given a list of questions that they will answer as a group based on their assigned reading. After an appropriate amount of time, the students will all be able to share their primary source with the class followed by their thoughts about Freedom and her meaning.

*Students with the newspaper articles will not read the entire newspaper, only the section discussing the Statue of Freedom. It would benefit the students and be more time efficient to outline or circle the specific section.

Conclusion for Day 1:  Talk about the positions on the design for the Statue of Freedom; Does this image symbolize freedom?

Day 2

Introduction for Day 2: Discuss where our understanding of freedom comes from today and how the artist may have been influenced (or not) by the founders’ idea of freedom in his design.  


  1. Begin notes on civil rights and civil liberties; include points from lectures while attending NEH in Philadelphia (See Virtual Lecture Series Cultures of Independence).

*Note: lesson on civil liberties and civil rights will vary with each teacher/state, which will affect how long this lesson is.

Follow-up to this lesson:

Have a discussion on where students might see other forms of “freedom” in our nation today in order to get them to apply this big idea elsewhere.

End of Lesson Assessment

Day 3

Introduction for Day 3: Discuss if their idea of freedom as changed after learning about our civil liberties and civil rights.


  1. Hand out a rubric for the Freedom Project (created by the teacher) and explain that they will be creating something that conveys their meaning of freedom in the 21st century.  Options and grading should be included on the rubric.  Students will also be asked to answer a list of questions about their project because “grading” freedom is difficult as each individual will see and understand it differently.
  1. Rest of class is spent brainstorming and starting their projects.