Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 2: What Has Happened in the White House?


The Lesson


The White House

The White House

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

Introduce the following scenario. Tell students to imagine that a previously unknown cache of images, documents, and photographs has just been discovered during some minor repairs of the White House. Because the documents were carefully wrapped and stored in the White House, we suspect that each image is related to an important or interesting event in American history that affected the White House in some way.

Guiding Questions

How has the White House been touched by the great events of our nation's history?

Learning Objectives

  • Create a chronology of important events that have occurred at or directly affected the White House.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. What Has Happened in the White House

Divide the class into small groups. Assign one or more of the following images to each group. Distribute the document “Researching the Archival Images of the White House” on page 1 of the Master PDF. Give students the opportunity to scrutinize the assigned image, and suggest ways they can find out more about it. Information about every President is available on the EDSITEment resource American President. Another relevant online source is the History Timeline on the White House Historical Association website, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Explore DC. The key words and questions provided below should also be helpful. Each group is responsible for filling out the document, sharing what they discovered with the class, and creating a brief caption for the image. (NOTE: All images are available via the EDSITEment resources American Memory or Digital Classroom unless otherwise specified.

  • Image #1: Adams Letter ordering relocation to Washington, D.C. (May 15, 1800) / Adams Letter: Small Image and Information
    • Key Words: John Adams, White House
    • Questions: When does Adams's letter say government officials should move to their offices in Washington, D.C.? When did Adams move into the White House? What event was going to happen soon after Adams moved in? Why was Adams's stay in the White House so short?
  • Image #2: A view of the President's house in the city of Washington after the conflagration (August 24, 1814). Photograph of Damage Still Visible from the Burning of the White House on the website of the White House Historical Association, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC
    • Additional Resource: The War of 1812
    • Key Words: James Madison, Dolley Madison, August 24, 1814
    • Questions: What is a conflagration? Who burnt the White House? In what war? What happened to the White House as a result? What did Dolley Madison do? What was the outcome of the war?
  • Image #3:President's Levee, or all Creation going to the White House, Washington (Inauguration Day, March 4, 1829) / Small Image and Brief Background
    • Key Words: Inauguration, March 4, 1829
    • Questions: Who became President on March 4, 1829? What happened at the after-inauguration gathering at the White House? Why did this President, in particular, open the White House to the public?
  • Image #4: Indian Delegation at White House (1858)
    • Key Words: Indian(s), Native Americans
    • Questions: What had been some policies of the U.S. government toward the Native Americans since Andrew Jackson became President? When did the Third Seminole War end? Why was that war important to relations between Native Americans and the U.S. government?
    • Additional Resources: Indian Removal on the EDSITEment resource Africans in America; Chronology of U.S. Military Actions and Wars on PBS's American Experience, a link from American Memory
  • Image #5: General view of the city from the south toward the Treasury Building and the White House. Cows are grazing (circa 1863)
    • Key Words: 1863
    • Questions: What important event was happening in this country in 1863? What's surprising about the view of the White House in the photograph?
  • Image #6: Women suffragists picketing in front of the White House (February 1917)
    • Key Words: suffragist, President Woodrow Wilson
    • Questions: What's a suffragist? What goal did a suffragist seek? What amendment to the Constitution addressed the concerns of the suffragists? When was it ratified?
  • Image #7: Fireside Chat (1935)
    • Key Words: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, fireside chat
    • Questions: What is a fireside chat? Why did Roosevelt choose to speak to Americans in fireside chats? What problem that had begun in 1929 was America still facing in 1935?
  • Image # 8: Check Presented to President Roosevelt (1942)
    • Key Words: President Franklin D. Roosevelt
    • Questions: What war was the U.S. fighting in 1942? When did it start? Why would Roosevelt be presented with a check? Why would citizens of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, be particularly interested in raising money for the war effort
  • Image #9: Photograph of Harry S. Truman taking the oath of office as President of the United States in the Cabinet Room of the White House, following the death of President Roosevelt (April 12, 1945)
    • Key Words: President Harry Truman, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
    • Questions: Why did Harry Truman have to be sworn in as President? What was unusual about the term of office of the man who preceded him? What war was the U.S. fighting in 1945? When did the war end?
  • Image #10: Photograph of reporters rushing excitedly through the White House with news of the Japanese surrender (August 14, 1945)
    • Key Words: Surrender, August 14, 1945
    • Questions: What war ended on August 14, 1945? Who was President at that time?
  • Image #11: Signing Cuba Quarantine (Cuban Blockade) Proclamation. President Kennedy. White House, Oval Office (October 23, 1962)
    • Key Words: President John F. Kennedy, Cuban Blockade
    • Questions: What is a blockade? Why did the U.S. blockade Cuba? What was the outcome
  • Image #12: Lyndon Johnson Signing 1964 Civil Rights Act in East Room of White House (1964)
    • Key Words: President Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • Questions: What does "Civil Rights" mean? What did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 say?
    • Additional Resource: Congress and the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Image #13: Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin at the Camp David Accords Signing Ceremony (September 17, 1978)
    • Key Words: President Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, Camp David Accords
    • Questions: What country did Anwar Sadat lead? What country did Menachem Begin lead? What did the Camp David Accords accomplish?
  • Assessment

    Each group, together or individually, should be able to answer the questions that relate to the group's assigned image.

    Extending The Lesson

    Selected EDSITEment Websites

    The Basics

    Time Required

    1 class periods

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
    • Critical analysis
    • Cultural analysis
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Using primary sources
    • Visual analysis
    • MMS (AL)


    Activity Worksheets