Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5
Curriculum Unit

From the White House of Yesterday to the White House of Today (3 Lessons)



The Unit


It is perhaps curious that a republic would permit so opulent a residence for its elected head of state, but a public tally did not make the decision. George Washington approved the White House. His expressed wishes included not only the stone construction but extensive stone ornamentation as well.
—From the White House Historical Society website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC

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 curriculum unit, students take a close look at the design of the White House and some of the changes it has undergone. They also reflect on how the “President's House” has been and continues to be used.

Note: This curriculum unit may be taught either as a stand-alone unit or as a complement to the EDSITEment curriculum unit What Happens in the White House?.

Guiding Questions

  • What process was used for choosing the initial design of the White House?
  • What changes were made to the exterior and why?
  • How does the White House differ from a presidential home such as Monticello?
  • How does the present-day White House reflect the duties, powers, and privileges of the office of President?

Learning Objectives

  • Take a stand on whether the chosen White House design or one simpler or grander would best reflect what our President's house has come to represent.
  • Discuss some of the changes the White House has undergone in more than two centuries.
  • Give specific examples demonstrating how the present-day White House reflects the duties, powers, and privileges of the office of President.
  • Compare and contrast Thomas Jefferson's Monticello with the White House.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the curriculum unit. 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.
  • In Lesson Three, of this unit, student groups will take virtual tours of either Monticello or the White House. Place students into appropriate groupings, covering all of the tours or just those tours best suited to your class. Some tours require more reading than others-the video tours require no reading at all; the photo essays feature reading and/or photo viewing. Students who do not get to take the White House tours as part of the group assignment might enjoy the opportunity to do so. One option would be to show the Video Tours to the entire class.
  • The White House website, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory, features two additional and very basic tours on its White House for Kids. These may be suitable for some students:
  • Extensive background information on every aspect of the White House is available on the website of the White House Historical Association, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Explore DC.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Visual analysis