Teachers: As the country gears up for Inauguration Day on January 20, we wanted to share classroom activities with you, along with easy-to-read background information for your students.
This year, Inauguration Day will be one for the history books. In a blow to the peaceful transition of power, Donald Trump will become the first president in more than 150 years to skip the inauguration of his successor, citing baseless claims of election fraud. He now faces calls for impeachment or removal from office under the 25th Amendment, after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
Current and previous living U.S. presidents typically attend the inauguration as a show of unity. Only three other presidents have refused to participate in their successor’s inauguration—John Adams in 1801, John Quincy Adams in 1829, and Andrew Johnson in 1869. Those expected to attend this year’s ceremonies are Vice President Mike Pence and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is 96, has said he will not attend.
The coronavirus pandemic is also affecting typical Inauguration Day ceremonies. Due to health and safety concerns and to minimize the spread of the airborne disease, the usual inauguration crowds will be missing and the parade will be virtual. Despite the pro-Trump siege on the U.S. Capitol, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office on the Capitol steps.
But this year's scaled-down affair can still deliver fundamental lessons (see inauguration activities for students below) about the ceremonies and traditions involved in the transfer of power. If you’re watching the live Inauguration Day broadcast with your students, here’s what you can expect. After the swearing-in ceremonies, Biden will deliver his inaugural address, which will highlight his plans for ending the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, and uniting the country. Next up is the Pass in Review, a military tradition reflecting the peaceful transfer of power in which Biden inspects the readiness of our troops. He’ll then be escorted by the military to the White House.
Also on the schedule is a virtual parade to mark the end of the electoral process and welcome the new administration. According to the inaugural committee, "The parade will celebrate America’s heroes, highlight Americans from all walks of life in different states and regions, and reflect on the diversity, heritage, and resilience of the country as we begin a new American era."
Inauguration Classroom Activities and Lessons
Here are five activities that will help you teach students about the presidential inauguration and its ceremonies and traditions. They can be adapted for a range of learning levels.
1. I Do Solemnly Swear (Grades K–12)
Share the presidential oath of office (see below) with students. Consider previewing some of the words (solemnly, swear, affirm, execute, preserve) beforehand. You might also explain that the Constitution is the highest law in the United States and it lays out how our government works. (Here are six activities for teaching students about the Constitution.)
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