Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Like Father, Like Son: Presidential Families

Created September 29, 2010


The Lesson


Like Father, Like Son: John Adams

John Adams

No man who ever held the office of President would congratulate a friend on obtaining it."

These do not sound like the words of the father of one of our nation's Presidents. In fact, these words were spoken by John Adams — our nation's second President and the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. How unusual is it for a father and son to become President of the United States? It has now happened twice in our nation's history: first with the Adamses and, more recently, with the Bushes.

The lessons in this unit provide an opportunity for students to learn about and discuss two U.S. families in which both the father and son became President. Students will address questions such as: What types of people might become President of the United States? What type of training as a child do you think these father/son pairs had to enable them to become President? Students will explore how these Presidential sons were like their fathers, and will personally explore how they think they are like their own parents.

Guiding Questions

How unusual is it that a father and son become President of the United States? How often has this happened? Who were the families?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to


  • Understand that in U.S. history, there are two sets of father and son who have been President. The family units are John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and George Bush and George W. Bush.
  • Understand the role of the President of the United States and symbols of the presidency in the present.

These lessons employ visual (pictures/books/photos) as well as auditory (listening) and aural (discussion) skills. Fine motor skills are utilized in drawings, though ability to use detail will be determined by grade levels and skill levels within each grade. Multi-modal lessons encourage students with special needs to be able to use their skill strengths in responding within the lesson format.


The following background information on father-and-son Presidents may be useful for you and/or your students as you complete the lessons in this unit:

  • John Adams, 2nd U.S. President, 1797-1801. Born Oct. 30, 1735 in Massachusetts. Died July 4, 1826. Wife: Abigail Smith. Occupation: lawyer. College: Harvard. Federalist Party. Age 61 at Inauguration.
  • John Quincy Adams, 6th U.S. President, 1825-1829. Born July 11, 1767 in Massachusetts. Died February 23, 1848. Wife: Louisa Catherine Johnson. Occupation: lawyer. College: Harvard. Democratic-Republican. Age 58 at Inauguration. John Quincy Adams is the first president to pose for a photograph, which according to Adams's diary happened in March 1843.

Preparation Instructions

An Interesting Fact:
Members of the White House staff and media frequently use the term "POTUS" to refer to the President of the United States. This shorthand reference is commonly used in memos, office correspondence, notes and other communications. The First Lady is referred to as "FLOTUS."

Online Resources:
For the lessons in this unit, you will need portraits or photographs of each President featured. The following links provide images of the presidents, as well as background biographical information.

John Adams:

John Quincy Adams:

George Bush:

George W. Bush:


George Bush with his four sons.
George Bush with his four sons (George W. Bush is second from right).

Print Resources:
The following titles are available at many public and school libraries. Each contains numerous photos that are appropriate to these lessons.

  • Bush, Barbara. Millie's Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1990.
  • Bush, George. All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings. New York: Scribner. 1999.
  • Bush, George W. A Charge to Keep. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1999.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Same and Different

Begin this lesson by introducing or reviewing with students the concepts of alike and different. Ask students how they are "alike" their parent(s). (Note: Sensitivity to single parent families and to reconstituted families with stepparents is recommended.) Make a list of students' responses on the blackboard, chart, etc. Students' responses may include that they have the same color eyes, enjoy reading, like to ride bikes, or other appropriate answers.

After several answers are given, ask students how is each "different from" their parent(s). List elicited responses, such as food likes and dislikes, desire for quiet, solo adventures vs. group activities, etc.

Continue the discussion about how children and parents are alike and different from each other. Then, expand the discussion to address whether one family might be like another family. Ask students, "Do you think other families can also be alike and different?" List students' responses. (Examples of responses may include: "Jane's family and my family both live in a brick house," "Tom's dad likes to ride a motorcycle," "My family likes to camp on vacations and so does Mary's," "My dad likes to . . .," etc.)

Optional activity: To conclude this lesson, children may share with a partner and/or table mates how each is similar to and different from his or her own family members. This activity will serve to confirm the concept of same and different.

Activity 2. George W. Bush, Our 43rd President

Let students know that in this lesson, they will start to learn about two families that are alike in some ways and different in some ways. The two families are the same/alike because each has a father and a son who became the President of the United States. Ask students if they know who these families might be.

Display an image of President George W. Bush. Ask students who is shown in the picture. (If needed, assist students in reaching the conclusion that George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States.) Lead students in a discussion of the role of the U.S. President. Who is the President? What does the President do? What is his job?

This discussion, which may be stimulated by photos and books cited, will typically be literal, in the present, and reflective of information and opinions received through family members. Responses may be written in word or word/picture format, as appropriate to students' grade and skill level. Responses may indicate concepts of meetings with foreign leaders, meetings with government or congressional leaders, ceremonies, trips and other functions.

To conclude this lesson, give each student a large sheet of drawing paper folded into four quadrants. Ask students to draw four activities that the President of the United States engages in to reflect student's concepts of President's varied job responsibilities. This project may be titled "What does the President do?" If you wish, the project may serve as the basis of a bulletin board and may be a good product, representative of a lesson and discussion, to send home or to include in student's portfolio.

Activity 3. Like Father, Like Son - George Bush and George W. Bush

Show students one or more photos of George Bush, the 41st President of the U.S. Use these photos to stimulate further discussion about the President's job and responsibilities, importance of the office and what it's like to live in the White House. Encourage students to share their own impressions and ideas gleaned from family discussions and the media.

Through this discussion and the photos students view, students should discover that the President has a family, hobbies, interests, college experiences, business experience and other life experience outside of his role as President. Students may suggest that the President and his (or her) family are "a lot like mine" or may reflect on ways in which their own families are different from the President's family. Print resources may be helpful here.

Activity 4. Like Father, Like Son - John Adams and John Quincy Adams

To introduce students to Presidents John and John Quincy Adams, roll a large ball from the front to the back of the room, to suggest moving back in time. Additional activities to focus on the concept of time in the "past" may also include:

  • Have students stand on a time line that has been marked with the names of the four Presidents being studied in this lesson and the years of their terms: 1797-1801, 1825-1829, 1989-1993 and 2001-(present).
  • Have students walk backwards to suggest "going back in time."
  • Using the number line typical to many elementary classrooms, attach the names of Presidents to their respective number: John Adams, 2; John Quincy Adams, 6; George Bush, 41; and George W. Bush, 43.

Display photos of John Adams and son John Quincy Adams. (Additional information on these presidents is available under Preparing to Teach This Unit, above, and through the EDSITEment resource The American President.) Returning to the theme of Activity 1, review the concepts of same/alike and different.

Using all visuals available, work with students to identify similarities and differences between the Adams and Bush fathers/sons, and create a list of students' answers. These discussions may reflect comparisons of places of birth, colleges, marriages, families, pets, clothes, travels, presidential highlights or other factors. Students also may notice similarities or differences in how the Presidents were thought of by the American people. For example, George Bush has been described as the "Kinder and Gentler President" and John Quincy Adams, "The Diplomat President." George W. Bush might become known as the "Compassionate and Conservative President" or the "Education President." Another similarity between these two families, of course, is that both father and son became President of the United States.

Use the following questions with students to summarize what they have learned through these lessons about the concept of father/son presidencies:

  • How do you think George Bush felt when he watched his son being inaugurated as President?
  • How do you think John Adams felt when his son was inaugurated as President? (John Adams died one year after his son's inauguration.)
  • How unusual is it for a father and son to both become President of the U.S.? (With 43 presidents, only two families have achieved that distinction - the second and sixth Presidents, and the 41st and 43rd).
  • Why do you think George Bush once referred to George W. Bush as "Quincy"?

Optional concluding activity: Have students create individual drawings or a mural (class project) of the presidents engaged in their activities. If this unit is initiated near Father's Day, drawings of father/son presidents and father/son-daughter activities are appropriate as possible Father's Day cards. The lessons in this unit also could be used around President's Day in February.


The national standards and skills/concepts employed in this lesson are "long range" in nature and internalized by students at different rates and with varying degrees. No formal evaluation or test is suggested as a follow-up to these lessons. At various and appropriate times, such as Presidents' Day or on the occasion of a current news event, you may wish to review and reinforce concepts of this lesson with students.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S.
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • Analysis
  • Critical analysis
  • Historical analysis