All 45 U.S. presidents have impacted the history of our nation in some way. So how can your classroom honor those who have served in this position?
Every year on the third Monday of February, we celebrate Presidents’ Day, which was originally created to recognize President George Washington’s birthday on February 22. Today, Presidents’ Day is popularly viewed as an opportunity to celebrate all of our country’s presidents from 1789 onward (though this Washington Post article explains that there’s really no universal agreement about who, exactly, is supposed to be honored).
Presidents’ Day can be a great time for you to teach your students about the institution of the presidency, the history of the men who have held the position, and how a president is elected—and maybe someday in the future, we’ll be able to say that this day honors the history of the men and women who have served as president! We’ve compiled three activities for you to consider, particularly for students in Grades 6–12.
Activity 1: The Presidential Pen Pal (Letter)
Have students conduct research online and choose their favorite U.S. president. Then, have them write a letter to that president as if they are communicating with him from the future. First, students should explain why they selected this particular president—for instance, do they agree with an important action he took? Are they simply fascinated by the decisions he made or the obstacles he overcame during his term? Then, have students write about a key issue their selected president addressed during his presidency. In particular, knowing what we know today, how do they feel their president addressed the issue? What do they wish this president had known about the outcomes beforehand? What could he have done differently? Get creative with what your students have to say to their chosen president.
Activity 2: How a President Is Elected (Presentation)
Divide your students into four groups. Have each group focus on a different stage of the presidential election cycle: (1) primaries and caucuses, including requirements for somebody to run for president; (2) the national conventions; (3) the general election; (4) the Electoral College. Each group should create a PowerPoint of 3–4 slides to present in front of the class. They should define all relevant terms for their classmates, explain how each stage of the process works, and be encouraged to get creative by using photos or video clips from past presidential elections in their presentations. Ultimately, these presentations should together tell a story about how a president is elected.
Activity 3: Exploring the Electoral College (Essay)
It’s a topic that has sparked debate in the past as well as the present: Should the U.S. keep the Electoral College system? Have your students write an argumentative essay arguing one way or the other. They should also include a brief general background about the Electoral College: what it is, how it works, and why it was established in the first place. Then, they should provide 2–3 reasons why they feel the Electoral College does or doesn’t work. For extra credit, they can find a recent news article about the Electoral College and reference that article in their paper to support their argument. If you want to take it a step further, select pro and con supporters to hold a debate, staged like the presidential debates.
For further presidential inspiration, we recommend:
- Presidents’ Day Activities (National Education Association)
- Presidents’ Day Lessons (Center for Civic Education)
- 3 Teaching Ideas for Making Presidents’ Day Great Again (The New York Times, 2017)
Want to further immerse your students in history? Learn more about theprogram for students in Grades 6–12.