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.
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 Web site, 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 reviewing the three branches of U.S. government: executive, legislative, and judicial. You may want to project slides that give a good overview of this governmental structure, located on Ben's Guide to U.S. Government, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library, to give students a context for discussing the role of the president.
Ask students what they know about the president's job. What does the president do? They can give general descriptions (e.g., represent our country internationally as chief diplomat) or specific examples (e.g., meet with leaders of other countries to decide what to do about terrorism). Write down the ideas for all to see. If possible, group related ideas into a concept map with "The President's Job" in the center as the main idea, different roles at the next level, and then specific tasks for each role. Alternatively, make a two-column chart with roles and associated sample tasks. After determining what students know, share with them your list of roles that make up the presidency, connecting to relevant ideas from the class ideas where appropriate.
Before or after the student brainstorming, you can describe some sample presidential tasks such as these:
You can also get an overview of the President's daily schedule at the White House Press Briefings page, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library, for other current examples. Engage students in conversation about these roles and tasks, drawing on current examples from today's presidency. You may want to read a task and ask students to figure out which role it matches. You may also want to show students images of the President in action from White House Photo Essays, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library.
With the class, work through the interactive online activity "President for a Day!" from The PBS Kids Democracy Project, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Great American Speeches. This is a simulation of a typical day on the job as president, in which students make choices about which duties to perform. You can do this activity as a whole class using an LCD projector, in small groups around a few computers, or individually in a computer lab, depending on students' abilities and access to technology (computers with Internet connections). If no Internet connection is available to use with students, you can go through the activity and print out all of the pages for a low-tech version. You can read students the choices about what to do next, take a class vote, and then read them the text describing the activities they select and show them the pictures.
As another offline alternative, you can ask students to contribute pages to a book called "If I were President." Each student can make a page in which he or she writes and illustrates a statement beginning with "If I were President …" Then the pages can be combined into a class book. You may want to provide students with some ideas about current issues and potential presidential priorities in terms that they can understand to give them some ideas about what they might do if president.
Other Extension Activities
2 class periods