In order to become informed participants in a democracy, students must learn about the women and men who make decisions concerning their lives, their country, and the world. The president of the United States is one such leader. As a nation, we place no greater responsibility on any one individual than we do on the president. Through these lessons, students learn about the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. president and their own roles as citizens of a democracy.
For background information about the three branches of government and how the president's role fits in, you may want to review the following page at Ben's Guide to U.S. Government, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library.
The major functions of the three branches of our government:
Legislative—make laws (decide on rules for people to live by in our country)
Example: The Congress passed a law stating that all American children are entitled to a free quality education.
Executive—implement laws (plan how to carry out rules and make sure people follow them)
Example: The president and the Department of Education make a plan to ensure that all children in this country have equal opportunities to learn how to read, write, and do math.
Judicial—interpret laws (make decisions when people disagree about what laws mean)
Example: The Supreme Court decided in 1954 that it is illegal to keep a student from attending a public school because of race. At the time, there were separate schools for whites and blacks, but the Court determined that this was not fair because having separate schools resulted in unequal opportunities for children to learn.
In preparation for Lesson 1, you may want to familiarize yourself with roles and responsibilities associated with the American presidency.
The president's principal roles:
For more information, visit the following Web sites, which are available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library:
Drawing upon these sources, make a list of presidential roles for the class. Prepare to discuss these roles with your students, including examples of tasks related to each role. Make another list of the areas about which the president gets advice from the cabinet.
In preparation for Lesson 2, you may want to review "Communicating the Presidency": from the American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library which provides background information about how the president has communicated with the public throughout history.
You should also review the "Children Write to the President" activity from The American Presidency Website, located on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource American Memory Project at the Library of Congress. (Click on "Hands-on Activities" and then on "Children Write to the President.")
You may also want to review the stages of the writing process with the students:
Prewriting—planning what you will write
Drafting—writing the first copy without worrying too much about how good it is
Revising—making changes in words and sentences to improve your writing so that people will understand what you want to say
Editing—fixing punctuation, capitalization, spelling, grammar, and usage to make sure that your writing clearly and correctly communicates your thoughts
Publishing—writing a final copy that looks finished
Begin by asking students to describe some ways that the president communicates with the American people. You may want to prompt them with ideas such as television (e.g., State of the Union addresses), radio, newspapers, the World Wide Web, letters, and live speeches. Then share some student-oriented examples of communications from the White House through various media (see below) and ask students to describe how and what the President communicated for each example. Keep a running list on the board, making sure to cover a range of media.
Read a letter from President Bush to American Children from January 29, 2002, which can be found at The White House Web site, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library.
Explain to students that while it is important that we hear from the president about what he or she is doing as the leader of our nation, we also have a responsibility as citizens to make our views known to our leaders because their decisions affect us and represent what we as U.S. citizens stand for within the country and around the world. You can convey the following information or some variation to help students understand the part that the public plays in determining what happens in our country and beyond.
Explain that the U.S. is a democracy, which means that the people vote to elect the president, in our case, every four years. Every citizen over 18 years old is entitled to one vote. As U.S. citizens, it is important that we express our opinions to the president about the decisions he or she makes on our behalf. The president is supposed to represent us, which means that he or she is speaking for us when making decisions about what happens in our country and about how the U.S. acts towards other countries.
Even those too young to vote can let the president know what they think. On the Activities page of The American Presidency Web site, which is located on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, click on "Hands-on Activities" and then on "Children Write to the President." This online activity offers sample letters from children to Presidents Lincoln, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon. Read each letter to your students, showing them the originals (which are more authentic) as well as the transcripts (which are easier to read). Ask students for reactions to each letter, or use the "Think About It" questions to spark discussion.
Ask students to write their own letters to the president, expressing their opinions on topics about which they feel strongly or have concern. Letter-writing tips are provided through the "Write Your Own" page of the "Children Write to the President" activity above. For ideas about current issues, you might want to review the White House News and Policies page or consult student-oriented online news sources, both available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library.
You might share some ideas about potential presidential priorities such as these:
Letters can be written using the writing process, including pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. You may want to use a planning worksheet to help students organize their thoughts. You can use or adapt this sample organizer entitled "Planning Your Letter to the President" and provided in pdf format. You may also want to write and share a sample letter using the format you want students to use. In addition to reviewing students' draft letters, you may want to have children exchange letters with a friend for a peer review. Once students are finished, the letters can be sent via e-mail, or children can address envelopes and send their letters to the White House through the mail.
As an alternative for children who cannot write yet, you can write a class letter where students dictate their ideas to you and you compose a group letter on a board, overhead, or projected computer screen.
Other Extension Activities
4 class periods