Many of us remember elementary school celebrations for Presidents' Day: dressing up, performing skits, holding assemblies, reading stories. However, many of those traditions get lost in secondary school. I believe that today more than ever we need to give our students examples of honorable examples of individuals, especially politicians. We need to find time to celebrate their deeds. In today's political climate, many students expect and believe that all politicians cheat and lie. Unfortunately, many adults believe this too. It is easy to judge politicians by the actions of a few. If we want to preserve democracy, we must have noble, honorable leaders in the future. These leaders need role models. George Washington is one such hero. However, many of the activities I list at the end could be adapted for other great figures from our past.
George Washington: A Little Background
To truly show Washington's character, I decided to include some key points in his life that show his true character. See the Library of Congress for further information.
- Born in 1732 in Virginia
- Received a rudimentary colonial education and did not attend a university
- Became a surveyor
- In 1752, joined the Virginia militia though resigned 2 years later because of preferences given the British regulars
- Rejoined the military in 1754 as aide-de-camp for General Braddock
- When General Braddock was killed in battle, led the troops in an orderly retreat even though his horse was twice shot from under him
- Resigned from the military in 1758 when elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses
- By 1769 was one of the leading protestors against British colonial policy though did not condone the Boston Tea Party
- In 1775, John Adams recommended him to be Commander-in-Chief of the new Continental Army with such high praise that Washington rushed from the room in embarrassment
- Suffered numerous defeats during the Revolutionary War yet kept the loyalty of his men as evidenced by the lack of desertions and mutinies at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777
- When the British surrendered, he was not punitive in his peace terms
- Unanimously elected President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787
- Unanimously elected President of the United States
- Served two terms, though did not relish power
Great Washington quote: "As the sword was the last resort for the preservation of liberties, so it might be the first to be laid aside when those liberties are firmly established." (1776)
Lesson Plan Ideas
I tried to include ideas for many different subjects. Also, most of these plans can be adapted for studying other individuals.
- Speeches: Students can write their own speeches as if they were George Washington or they can memorize one of his speeches.
- Letters: Great possibilities here. Students can be George writing to Martha from Valley Forge or Martha writing to George during the war. They could be a soldier describing their commander to loved ones back home. They could even be a member of his cabinet once he became President discussing his character.
- Essays: Everything from comparing his Presidency to another President's, looking at comparisons between his military leadership and his political leadership, and even comparing the electoral college in 1787 to today.
- Skits: Students can write their own skits about different parts of George Washington's life.
- Timelines: I use these in a variety of ways. One great example is to have the students make a timeline of Washington's life but include what was going on in the rest of the world around him for each year. They could focus on one country or region of the world. I use this as a current events springboard and have the students create a timeline of their own lives including key events from each year they've been alive.
- Art: Students can create artwork celebrating his accomplishments. They can also create silhouettes of him and Martha.
- Cooking: Even thought the story is not true, it is a great tradition to make Cherry Pies on Washington's Birthday.
- Music: Students could study what type of music George Washington listened to. Here is a great resource on this topic.
- Science: Students could research the scientific inventions that existed when Washington was alive. They could create a chart showing how different life would be then from today.
- Math: Students could research what type of mathematics a student would learn during the 1740's and compare that to the math being taught today.
- Careers: Surveying was important in the 1700's and continues to be essential today. Students could investigate and report on this career. Land Surveyors Online would be a good place to start their research.
- Internet Activities: Mount Vernon has excellent resources to help students Meet George Washington.
I hope this gives you some great ideas for teaching about George Washington. For more ideas, visit the Lesson Plan Library.