By Teachers, For Teachers
Keep kids focused on the classroom – not the long weekend – with one of these fun lesson ideas and learning activities to celebrate President’s Day!
Presidential Election Review
Use the ongoing Republican primaries and upcoming general election to introduce kids to how our presidents get elected. How does a caucus work? What is the electoral college?
Need a refresher yourself? Check out this FAQ from the National Archives. For the wired classroom, try the “Win the White House” game from iCivics, founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The History of Presidential Term Limits
In honor of Washington’s birthday, teach your students about how he set the tradition for how long a president should remain in office, which president broke with that tradition (FDR), and why that can’t happen now.
Hold a class debate on the topic of presidential term limits. Are they a good idea? Why or why not?
Comparing State of the Union Speeches
The President’s State of the Union speech gives a report to the nation on how our country is doing. Have your students search the public papers of the presidents over the last 20 years.
Instruct students to search for the State of the Union speech for the year they were born. What issues did the country struggle with then? What has changed in the years since then? You may even wish to have them contrast that speech with this year’s State of the Union address.
Presidential Qualifications Research & Editorials
Have students research the qualifications necessary to be president. Do these qualifications still make sense in today’s world? Why or why not?
Have them write an opinion piece about how the qualifications should or should not change.
It’s practically impossible to find a U.S. president that doesn’t have a biography written about him, and many recent presidents (Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton) wrote autobiographies before or after their time in office.
Choose a specific topic – like the first time they ran for elected office – and have students read excerpts and compare the different experiences. How are those differences reflected in their ideas and policies once in office?
Presidential Trivia Board Games
Have students use trivia sites like Infoplease Presidential trivia, National Geographic Presidential Trivia, or Maps of the World Presidential Trivia one to create a trivia game about the presidents. They can work in groups to create board games, then take turns playing each other’s games.
Designing a board game requires logic, planning skills, and art/design skills, plus they’ll learn interesting facts about U.S. history.
The Commander in Chief: Presidents & Military Experience
Throughout U.S. history, many presidents have been veterans and even war heroes. Have students explore the military careers of presidents, including Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.
Family Interviews about Influential Presidents
Have students interview an older family member and ask about the most memorable president in that person’s lifetime. Provide students with a list of questions to ask: why was this president so memorable? What was the president’s greatest achievement? What did people think about him at the time?
Then have students do some research on the president their family member remembered. How does history look at this president? Students may be surprised to learn that presidents their family members revere, like FDR or JFK, were not as beloved at the time.
Support a Cause with the Bully Pulpit
Presidents have a lot of influence, both in and out of office. Many presidents find causes they want to work on – for example, President Carter’s work with Habitat for Humanity once he left office. President Obama has made an effort to encourage science education, including meeting with science fair winners and even appearing on the Mythbusters tv show.
Ask students to imagine they are the president. What issue or topic – not political – would they use the “bully pulpit” to highlight? How would they do it? Lead by example? Give awards to celebrate people working in that field? Why do they think the president’s influence would make a difference?
The Presidency - A Family Business?
Sometimes, having a president in the family leads to new career paths for everybody. Have students research First Ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Hillary Clinton, who went on to do significant work after their husbands’ time in office, or presidential children who pursued careers in politics, including the two father-son presidential teams (John Adams and John Quincy Adams; George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush).
Have students do presentations on these family members and how their work relates to the work of their presidential spouse or father.
Vice President Project: The Most Insignificant Office
The first Vice President, John Adams, called his job “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
Students may be fascinated to learn that the Vice Presidency used to be a consolation prize for the person who lost the presidency, to explore how many Vice Presidents have gone on to be president, or to learn that women have repeatedly been nominated as their party’s Vice Presidential candidates, even though a major party has never nominated a female presidential candidate.
Have students give presentations on some of the most important or interesting vice presidents or vice presidential candidates.
Investigating the Presidential Campaign Process
Give students an excerpt from an “inside the campaign” book like Primary Colors or Game Change. Once they have read it, lead a class discussion about the realities of a presidential campaign. Does this seem like the best way to elect a president? What changes do they think should be implemented? This is best for teachers willing to manage some political debate in the classroom.
TeachHUB Presidential Printables
Don't forget to check out TeachHUB's free printable lessons and video writing prompts with presidential themes, including:
or check out the Top 12 Presidents to Influence Education.
No matter which approach you take, President’s Day offers a great opportunity to teach some research skills and integrate a little American history into your classroom in a fun way.
How are you teaching about the presidency in your classroom? Share in the comments section!