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Presidents Back in the Day


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Social Studies
    --Current Events
    ----U.S. History


    Grades 2-up

    News Content

    An exhibit shows what the U.S. presidents were like during their school days.

    Anticipation Guide

    Before reading, ask students to identify the kinds of things they might see in a museum. Then ask, What kinds of items might you see in a museum display of our communitys history? or What kinds of things might you see in a display of your familys history? You might make a list on chart paper of the items students suggest. After briefly discussing one or both of those questions, introduce this weeks News for You article, "From the School House to the White House."

    News Words

    Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: archives, exhibit, records, politics, essay, and professional. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • Two players on the college team have signed contracts with _____ basketball teams. (professional)
  • Each student will _____ two projects in the schools spring art show. (exhibit)
  • The school secretary is responsible for keeping attendance and test _____ for all students. (records)
  • When my uncle and my father get together, they always talk about state ____. (politics)
  • For tonights homework, I have to write a short _____ about a person I think of as a hero. (essay)
  • The museums _____ includes many letters and journals written by the early settlers of our state. (archives)

    Read the News

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

    • Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.
    • Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.
    • Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.
    • Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.
    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story From the School House to the White House.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • The exhibit, compiled by the National Archives, includes 13 presidents, from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. It was on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., until January 1, 2008. Starting in the spring of 2008, the exhibit is scheduled to travel to presidential libraries and regional archives across the U.S. until 2012.
  • "It's fun looking at the presidents in grade school, high school, and college," Jennifer Nichols, the coordinator of the exhibit, told CNN. "It gives you a little bit of insight as to who they were as boys, as their characters were forming, and what they were thinking."
  • President John F. Kennedys college report card has always been one of the most popular items on display at the National Archives. It was the popularity of that piece that sparked the idea for the current exhibit.
  • Items in the exhibit include Bill Clinton's music stand, Richard Nixon's violin, and Gerald Ford's Boy Scout merit badges. There are also videos showing several presidents as children and filmed presidential reflections on their favorite teachers. Among other things visitors to the exhibit can see are
    --- a photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt with his fellow glee club members at Harvard University.
    --- an essay about "Courage" that Harry Truman wrote in eighth grade.
    --- a photo of Dwight Eisenhower and his high school football teammates.
    --- John F. Kennedys attendance record from kindergarten, which shows that he missed 65 days of school.
    --- Lyndon Johnson's third-grade report card.
    --- Richard Nixons violin. He also played clarinet, saxophone, piano, and accordion.
    --- Gerald Fords college yearbook.
    --- a picture of a young Jimmy Carter with his pony, Lady Lee.
    --- a photo of Ronald Reagans fourth-grade class.
    --- a photo of Bill Clinton playing saxophone with his high school band.
    You might share some of the items that are part of the exhibit by clicking on the images in the National Archives article School House to White House The Education of the Presidents. Click on each item to view a larger image for printing.

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to add to the list of items they might include in an exhibit of their community or family history.

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • How many report cards in all can be seen in the new "School House to White House" exhibit? (151 report cards)
  • Where did the exhibit makers find many of the items in this exhibit? (Many of the exhibit items came from the presidential libraries.)
  • Which president got straight As in first grade? (the current president, George W. Bush)
  • Which president knew at age 12 that he wanted to work in politics? (Richard Nixon)
  • Who are some of the presidents whose records are part of the exhibit? (The items go back to Herbert Hoover, who became president in 1929, as well as Presidents Kennedy, Carter, Bush, Ford, Nixon, and others.)

    Think About the News
    Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might use the think-pair-share strategy with students to discuss this question. If you use this strategy

  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about items they might include for an exhibit about their own lives.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Technology/Internet. The National Archives Presidential Libraries page includes links to the presidential libraries for Presidents Hoover to Clinton. Assign each student to visit the library of one of the former presidents. Students should make a list of five of the most interesting things they learn about the president by visiting his online library. You might ask for at least two of those facts to be about the presidents childhood or upbringing.

    History. Create a timeline of the U.S. presidents. Use one of these image sources to create the timeline.

  • Presidents Coloring Pages
  • Portraits of the Presidents from the National Portrait Gallery
  • The Presidents of the United States
  • American Presidents Portrait Gallery

    Language arts/letter writing. Use the book Mr. Lincolns Whiskers

    to teach about the parts of a letter and as the focus of letters the students will write. See the complete lesson at Mr. Lincolns Whiskers.


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News questions on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-C.K-4.1 What Is Government?
    NSS-C.K-4.2 Values and Principles of Democracy
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NSS-C.5-8.1 Civic Life, Politics, and Government
    NSS-C.5-8.2 Foundations of the American Political System
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NSS-C.9-12.1 Civic Life, Politics, and Government
    NSS-C.9-12.2 Foundations of the Political System

    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.5-12.8 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-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
    NT.K-12.5 Technology Research Tools

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2008 Education World

    Originally published 05/16/2007; updated 01/30/2008