Too often, we think of Presidents’ Day as simply a Monday when all the government offices and banks are closed for a day away from work. We think of it as an inconvenience.
However, Presidents’ Day should be a day of reflection and celebration. It’s our opportunity to celebrate the legacy of our leaders in our country.
We have habitually recreated the same lesson about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln every year in our classrooms. Those lessons are as tired as we are. It’s time to explore new ways of handling Presidents’ Day with our students.
Many teachers think that fun activities for holidays or other special days are simply for preschool or elementary-aged children. While high school students may initially seem opposed to the idea of doing something different in class, the lessons that take them outside the regular curriculum are the ones they will remember. Here are some ideas for honoring the Presidents in your classroom.
1. Separate myth from truth
We’ve all heard the stories about William Howard Taft getting stuck in the bathtub or George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. Those stories often bring laughs in the classroom or lead into a character lesson (“I cannot tell a lie”). Truthfully, our country’s leaders are human, but we tend to put them on a pedestal and expect them to be more than men. WeAreTeachers.com has some great ideas about teaching the fallible human nature of past presidents.
2. Create your own Presidential campaign
The most memorable things about a presidential campaign are the slogans and the posters. “I Like Ike,” “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too,” and “Change We Can Believe In” are just three of the slogans that Politico.com has in their slogan gallery. Review the famous slogans with your students, and then have them create their own campaign slogan.
3. Listen to the speeches
From Inauguration Speeches to State of the Union Addresses, every sitting President has made a speech at one time or another. The Miller Center at the University of Virginia has a database of those speeches. Some you can read, some have audio, and others even have video recordings. Introduce your students to the famous words of our leaders and extend the lesson by having them create an inaugural address or speech regarding a current event.
4. Recreate Mount Rushmore
Resting in the Black Hills of South Dakota is Mount Rushmore. The stone carvings depict some of our most remembered leaders. The National Park Service has created a curriculum that helps students explore various aspects of maintaining Mount Rushmore and gives teachers ideas for learning about the memorial across the curriculum. One of the ideas presented is to have students rethink who should be on the monument—and then create a depiction of their idea and write about their reasoning.
5. Presidential trivia
Have you ever hosted a game day in your classroom? If not, perhaps you should because students tend to enjoy playing games, and it’s an easy yet fun way to assess or foster learning. The White House Historical Association, which First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy founded, has a section of trivia questions and answers that you can use to jumpstart a trivia game about past Presidents. You might even consider having students create their questions.
Learning about Presidents’ Day is often an afterthought, or it’s dedicated only to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The other forty-four men should also be remembered for their successes and failures while in office.
Senior editor at PosterMyWall.