Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

The President's Roles and Responsibilities: Understanding the President's Job

Created September 24, 2010


The Lesson


The President's Roles and Responsibilities: Press Seal

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 president and their own roles as citizens of a democracy.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the job of the President of the United States? What are the president's roles and responsibilities? How do the president and the public communicate with each other?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify and describe the various roles of the President of the United States
  • Understand how the president communicates with the public
  • Recognize ways that young citizens can actively participate in a democracy
  • Express their views in a letter to the president

Preparation Instructions

For background information about the three branches of government and how the president's role fits in, you may want to review this page at Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government.

Background Information

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:

  • Approve federal laws (bills) created by Congress (Senate and House of Representatives), which is the legislative branch of government
  • Lead the nation's people, making sure citizens obey the laws and setting priorities for the country, including helping the Congress decide how the budget is spent
  • Manage the government, making sure that decisions and programs are being carried out effectively, with the help of the vice president and appointed cabinet members who head different departments (agriculture, commerce, defense, education, energy, health and human services, housing and urban development, interior, justice, labor, state, transportation, treasury, veterans affairs)
  • Represent the U.S. in meetings with leaders of other countries, including signing treaties and other agreements (with approval from Congress) on behalf of the U.S.
  • Command the U.S. military, including declaring war (with approval from Congress)

For more information, visit the following webpages:

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, which provides background information about how the president has communicated with the public throughout history. You should also consult the "Children Write to the President" activity from The American Presidency.

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

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Understanding the President's Job: The Role of the President

Begin by reviewing the three branches of U.S. government: executive, legislative, and judicial. You may want to consult this section of Ben's Guide to the 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:

  • Visit a school and talk about the new education bill
  • Call the Prime Minister of India to discuss trade between India and the U.S.
  • Meet with Congress about how to spend Americans' tax money
  • Sign a Congressional bill that helps to protect people's civil rights and prevent discrimination
  • Meet with advisors to discuss U.S. foreign policy
  • Meet with Russian President Putin to discuss how Russia and the U.S. can work together to improve life for people in both countries
  • Present the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the U.S. Air Force Academy
  • Make a speech about the importance of ensuring that senior citizens can get the medicine they need through Medicare

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. 

Activity 2. Understanding the President's Job: President for a Day

With the class, work through the interactive online activity "President for a Day!" from The PBS Kids Democracy Project. 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.

Extending The Lesson

  • Students who are writing can write brief biographies or create multimedia slide shows or Web sites about selected presidents. The Selected EDSITEment Websites listed below provide excellent resource material. Students can work in small groups or individually.
    • Each student can make a page for a book of presidents, with a picture, basic facts, and a completed sentence that reads, "President ______ is remembered for…"
    • Groups of students can make simple multimedia slide shows on different presidents, including a picture, basic facts, and major accomplishments, with each student creating one slide.
    • Each student can take on the persona of a particular president and give a speech to the class, focusing on key facts, issues, and accomplishments from his presidency.

Other Extension Activities

  • In small groups, students can dramatize "A Day in the Life of the President" based on what they have learned in this lesson.
  • Help kids understand how the government affects their lives through The PBS Kids Democracy Project.
  • You can play a matching game with young students about children who grew up in the White House at the Activities page of The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden. (See "All the President's Children.")

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • Analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Interpretation
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Synthesis
  • Marielle Palombo (AL)