Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5
Curriculum Unit

What Happens in the White House? (3 Lessons)



The Unit


"At the White House, President Truman Announces Japan's Surrender." Abbie Rowe,  Washington, DC, August 14, 1945.

"At the White House, President Truman Announces Japan's Surrender." Abbie Rowe, Washington, DC, August 14, 1945.

Credit: Image courtesy of the National Archives.

The “President's House,” built under George Washington's personal supervision, was the finest residence in the land and possibly the largest. In a nation of wooden houses, it was built of stone and ornamented with understated stone flourishes. It did not fit everyone's concept for the home of the leader of the young democracy. Abigail Adams found it cold; Thomas Jefferson thought it too big and impractical. He added gardens, a cooking stove, and storage.

Whatever one's opinion of the original design, our nation is now inseparably associated with the White House. There, the essential business of the land is conducted every day. There, our history has been made and reflected.

In this unit, students take a close look at the White House in recent times and throughout our history.

Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a complement to the EDSITEment curriculum unit From the White House of Yesterday to the White House of Today.

Guiding Questions

  • What functions does our presidential residence serve?
  • How has the White House been touched by the great events of our nation's history?

Learning Objectives

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

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plans. 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.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • Download and make one copy each of the archival images for the activities. Many images have been selected to facilitate flexibility. Use as many or as few as appropriate. Assign them to groups as best suits your class. Keep some aside, for example, for groups that finish more quickly, or use all of them to make groups as small as possible.
  • Prepare a place in the classroom for a History of the White House Timeline, on which you will post the images. You or your students with technical expertise may wish to create an html document with links to relevant images.
  • Extensive background information on every aspect of the White House is available from the White House Historical Association, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • History and Social Studies
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Art History
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • Analysis
  • Cultural analysis
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Oral Communication
  • Oral presentation skills
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Synthesis
  • Using primary sources