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'They Just Come and Go' --
A Debate About the White House


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  • Arts & Humanities
    Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Social Studies
    Civics, U.S. History, World History


3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Advanced

Brief Description

Put students' natural debating skills to good use as they study issues involving the White House.



  • study the life in the White House for presidents and their family members.
  • take notes to support a position for debate.
  • engage in discussion of the White House.


debate, essay, opinion, persuasion, persuasive, point of view, president, White House

Materials Needed

Internet access (Ideally, the activity should be completed using the Internet resources that are noted; however, creative teachers and students will have just as much success using other library resources as an alternative to Web sites.)

Lesson Plan

When a senator jokingly asked who lived in the White House, President Calvin Coolidge said, "Nobody. They just come and go." The White House is more than a national monument or a government office. It is home to a president and family. However, because of its rich heritage and antique furnishings -- and because it is owned by the people of the United States -- the White House is a unique residence that demands respect.

Introduce this lesson by asking students to describe their vision of life inside the White House. Take a brief tour of the White House from the official Web site at White House 101. Discuss how this information affects the students' views. Does the White House seem like a better place to live? Is it not as appealing?

Organize students into groups of three or four. Distribute a list of questions to all groups. You might use all the questions that appear below, or you might adapt the lesson to include only selected questions. Assign half the groups to respond to View A as it appears following each question; assign the other half of the groups to take the stand described in View B. The students will be responsible for gathering information to support their assigned views. See the Questions and suggested Internet Resources below.

Require that each group note at least three points that bolster the statement that they receive. Once the students have compiled their arguments, reconvene and hold debates. Length and procedures will vary by teacher's preference, time, and grade level.



  1. Is the White House first an office of government or a residence?

    View A: First and foremost, the White House is an office of government.
    View B: The White House is most importantly a home to the president and his family.


  2. What about the White House should the president and family feel free to change, and what should not be changed? How have the first families made the White House more of a home?

    View A: The first families should make changes to the White House. (How have the first families made the White House more of a home?)
    View B: The first families should not change the White House. (How have the first families made the White House more of a home?)


  3. Should the president work and live in the same place?

    View A: The president should live and work in the same place, the White House.
    View B: The president should have separate buildings for work and home. (What role should the White House play--home or workplace? Describe the building required for the other activity.)


  4. Should the White House be open to the public?

    View A: The White House should be open to the public.
    View B: The White House should not be open to the public.


  5. Would you want to live in the White House?

    View A: I would like to live in the White House.
    View B: I would not like to live in the White House.

Internet Resources, Grades 3-5

Internet Resources, Grades 6-12


Have each group of students submit the notes for their debate and observe the students as they work and participate in discussion. Vote to decide which group came up with the most convincing arguments on each side. Then have students write brief persuasive essays supporting either stand for any of the questions. Students will receive a point each for a strong introductory statement, three solid statements of support for their stand, and a strong conclusion to the argument. Students who receive a score of 3 or less will be asked to rework their essays until they achieve a passing score of at least 4.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Cara Bafile

National Standards





  • GRADES K - 4
    NSS-C.K-4.1 What Is Government?


  • GRADES 5 - 8
    NSS-C.5-8.1 Civic Life, Politics, and Government


  • GRADES 9 - 12
    NSS-C.9-12.1 Civic Life, Politics, and Government




  • GRADES K - 4
    NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage


  • GRADES 5 - 12
    NSS-USH.5-12.3 Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
    NSS-USH.5-12.4 Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
    NSS-USH.5-12.5 Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    NSS-USH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
    NSS-USH.5-12.7 Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
    NSS-USH.5-12.8 Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
    NSS-USH.5-12.9 Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
    NSS-USH.5-12.10 Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the Present)





  • GRADES K - 12
    NT.K-12.5 Technology Research Tools

See more lessons at Presidents' Day Activities!

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Links last updated 02/13/2012