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U.S. presidents on the Internet!

The presidents have a huge presence on the Internet. Biographical, historical, and political resources abound. Looking for photos, autographs, lists, trivia? It's all there!

Do you know why George Washington is never smiling in portraits? (Would you smile if your false teeth were made out of cow's tooth, hippopotamus ivory, metal, and springs?) Did you know that President Ulysses S. Grant once received a speeding ticket while driving his team of horses in Washington, D.C.? Do you know which president was so big that he sometimes got stuck in the White House bathtub?

Kathryn Prellwitz's fifth-grade students at South Beaver Dam Elementary School (Beaver Dam, Wisconsin) know those facts and many more about the U.S. Presidents. In fact, those kids used their vast presidential knowledge to create a Presidents of the United States Web site [no longer available online].

A presidential contract

Prellwitz uses a contract system with her fifth graders for social studies and science. Her Presidents Contract involves kids in many activities. The centerpiece of the contract is a series of 3x5 cards that each student produces. ("The card format is a little more manageable for students than writing a one-page report about each president," says Prellwitz.) Students use all kinds of resources -- including encyclopedias, almanacs, bios and other books, and the Internet -- to locate specific information about each president. That information includes birth date and place of birth, family stats, the name of his vice president, jobs held before becoming president, and five important national or international events that took place during his term. Of course, there's also a spot on the cards where kids can share the most interesting fact they find in their research about each president!

In addition, students select from a long list of activities the ones they want to do to collect the points needed to achieve a desired grade of A, B, or C. Supplemental project ideas include

  • Make a bulletin board with a partner about one of the presidents.
  • Make a campaign poster from the time period that your candidate was running for president.
  • Complete Trivia Sheet No. 1.
  • Write a one-page report about your favorite First Lady.
  • Memorize all of the presidents in order (first & last names.)
  • Write a short report (half a page) on the history of the White House.

"Project ideas on the contracts are always changing," adds Prellwitz. "Many new ideas come directly from the students!"

From 3x 5 cards to website!

Students' 3x5 information cards served as the primary source of information on their Web site.

Of course, the students needed help in getting that information onto the Web. And Prellwitz is thankful for the support of Eugene DeGroot and Susan Mueller. Together, DeGroot and Mueller presented a class for the students on the step-by-step of Web page production. DeGroot, the school district's computer specialist, is responsible for the site's design and Mueller, a teacher's aide, did most of the time-consuming information entry from the kids' collected cards.

A fifth grader's "Declaration of Independence"?

Was all the hard work worth it? Let's ask the students!

"The project helped us organize all the facts about each president in an easy-to-read format," says one student. "We couldn't find this information anywhere -- in one place -- on the Internet or in any book."

"It taught us how to do research and to be more independent," another fifth grader says of the project. "We learned skills that we can use forever."

The students' Web site is a work in progress, adds Prellwitz. "This year's fifth graders will be expanding the Web site," she says. "Right now we're working to add more information about the First Ladies."

Direct from the White House!

The fifth graders at South Beaver Dam Elementary haven't cornered the market on presidential information. Not by any means! You'll find all kinds of information on the Web related to U.S. Presidents. The remainder of this article will tour some of the best "presidential" Web resources.

So if you wanted to find information about the U.S. presidents, where would you go? The first site we'll examine goes direct to the source! The White House Web site offers information of interest to historians and citizens young and old.  Go to the White House History and Tours page for links to official White House biographies of the presidents and first ladies, and for glimpses of the first families at home. Many of the bios include links to the presidents' inaugural addresses and to familiar quotations.

More online presidential bios

The Internet Public Library has an excellent resource for students -- their POTUS (Presidents of the United States) pages. Here you'll find for each president background information (including a brief biographical sketch), election results, cabinet members, and presidency highlights. You'll find many links to biographies, historical documents, audio and video files, and other presidential sites. The site also includes assorted odd facts about each president.

The American Memory website is a great source of Americana, including presidential information. The site, produced by the folks at the Library of Congress, draws heavily from the Library's portrait and photo archives. This collection of 157 images includes portraits of all 41 presidents and 37 first ladies. There are also many popular images of the presidents in less formal settings. You can find links to images on the LOC's Timeline of Presidents and First Ladies page. You can access a variety of lesson plans that are based on images in the collection on the By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies pages. Most of the lessons can be adapted for use across the grades. Following are several sample lessons from the Language Arts lesson pages:

  • Grover Cleveland was the only president to be married in the White House (see image). Ask students to find out about this event and to write a newspaper account from the point of view of a society news reporter of the time.
  • Suggest that students find out about one of the children who lived in the White House and write a journal account from the child's point of view. They might choose Thomas "Tad" Lincoln (see image), one of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt's children, or Amy Carter.
  • Invite pairs of students to pick one of the first ladies (see images) to research. Remind students to find details in their research that give a clear picture of the period. If they choose a first lady from earlier U.S. history, students might read some literature of the time to learn about the role of women in politics of the day. Students might investigate visitors to the White House, names of first family's children and pets, and political or social causes adopted by the first lady. Have students write and role play interview questions and answers with the first lady. One student can be the First Lady and another can interview her.

Related Site

Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents
The contents of this site from Columbia University's Bartleby Archives should be obvious.


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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Links last updated 03/25/2016