Presidents’ Day falls midway between the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington, but we like to take the day to study all the presidents of our nation. If you prefer to focus on Washington and Lincoln, these ideas will still work for your classroom.
First, get clear on what exactly the president does:
- Ben’s Guide is the U.S. government’s explanation for kids.
- Scholastic has a readable article on the subject.
Spend some time with online resources:
- The White House
- History.com has a wide range of resources on the presidency, including an article on Woodrow Wilson, an interesting guy who is often overlooked in our classrooms.
- The Miller Center has information on each president.
- Have Fun with History has multimedia resources.
Once students have an overall idea of the presidency and the presidents, ask each student (or small groups) to choose a president to study further. For younger students, choose a president for the class to study about. Visit the Presidents’ Day Virtual Museum to see how a simple report on a president can be created. There are activities and lesson plans about Lincoln and Washington at that site, as well.
Have students create their own “museums” for the presidents they’ve chosen. Depending on the resources available to you, you might have students create a simple website, a PowerPoint presentation, a classroom movie, a booklet, or a presentation board.
Presentations in any medium should always have a clear main point, plenty of detail, and well edited content. You can also grade student projects on the quality and clarity of their design and execution, treating the lesson as a technology or art lesson.
Here are a few projects we like:
- Use Presentation Boards to create character boards for the Presidents being studied. Draw the President on the presentation board, leaving off the face and head of the president and ending his neck at the center top of the presentation board. Encourage students to research the clothing of the time period and the styles favored by the president in question. Have students write a brief biography of their president. Students then can stand or sit behind the character board to recite their biography. You can also have students create conversations between two presidents. Film these special reports.
- Make mini presentation boards, having students create their visual reports inside file folders. Collect these each time you do this project and develop a class collection of folders about the presidents.
- Create board games winding through the presidents’ lives. You can use file folders for these as well, or collect old game boards at yard sales and from friends’ garages. Use the Board Game Maker program, a Microsoft template, or a ruler and pen to map out the board, or use paper and glue to repurpose an old game board. Encourage students to take time to work out the rules and details of the games so that the game will be fun to play. Groups of students can then swap games and try them out.
Find more projects at our Heroes Lesson Plans.
- Presidents’ Day by Anne Rockwell is the story of a class play. Perhaps your class will be inspired to have a class play upon reading it.
- If I Were President is an introduction to the concept of the presidency for younger children.
- The New Big Book of U.S. Presidents: Fascinating Facts about Each and Every President, Including an American History Timeline includes every president from Washington to Obama.
- Kids Meet the Presidents has each president introduce himself in a quick 2-page biography. Read one aloud, leaving out the “My name is…” identification, and see if your class can guess which president is speaking.
- Yes, We Can! A Salute To Children From President Obama’s Victory Speech combines text from President Obama’s speech with photos for an inspiring picture book.
- Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! by Jean Fritz was instrumental in making Teddy Roosevelt one of my son’s heroes.
- The Great Little Madison is another of Fritz’s excellent biographies.
- Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln is also by Fritz, but at an easier reading level.
- Abe Lincoln’s Hat is another early reader about Lincoln.
- Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books is a good introduction to Lincoln, even as a read aloud.
- John F. Kennedy is a Dorling Kindersley biography.
- Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington is Anne Rockwell’s biography of Washington.
- Who Was George Washington? is another Washington Biography for kids. This one is available for the Kindle, and you can read the first chapter below.