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American Presidents

Critically analyze letters written by America's presidents to learn more about these men.

Review
Theodore Roosevelt, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

With a nice set of analytic questions to use with each president’s letter, this lesson is sleek, yet its content coverage is broad. Questions ask students to think about a letter’s audience, purpose and tone and are phrased in student-friendly language. Using several letters across instructional units or in several class periods will provide students with multiple opportunities to develop their ability to critically examine letters as historical documents. The letters for each president vary in both content and difficulty level, some may be more appropriate for your class than others. Students may also need help with considering the President’s words in his own time and contextualizing the letter.

The lesson provides several writing assignments for a closing activity. Assignments 1 and 2 ask students to write about the letter’s purpose and content. These tasks only require students to summarize the information from the earlier part of the lesson so we recommend assignments 3, 4 and 5. Assignment 3 asks students to assess the historical value of the letter and assignment 5 asks students to respond to the letter from the point of view of the letter’s original recipient. Teachers may want to remind students to use quotes and information from the examined letter to support their claims in these writing assignments.

Notes

The website provides letters and background information about each president's personal and public life. Each letter is surrounded by rich resources ranging from online tours of the presidents gravesites to commentary on their careers from today's top scholars. ( See this example of Thomas Jefferson.)

Teachinghistory.org Lesson Plan Rubric
Field Criteria Comments
Historical Content Is historically accurate? Yes.
Lesson focuses on primary sources.
Includes historical background?

Yes
Limited background information about each president's public and private life is available on the the website.
Some of the writing assignments, #4 in particular, will require teachers to provide additional information.

Requires students to read and write?

Yes
Students read a primary source and write in response to that source.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence

Yes
Questions require students to use evidence to support claims.

Requires close reading and attention to source information?

Yes
Great set of questions guides students through this analysis.

Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?

Yes
Several of the letters will be difficult to comprehend for some middle and high school students.

Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?

Yes
Questions in the lesson are designed to help students think about the perspective, intent, and audience of the letter.

Lesson Structure Includes assessment criteria and strategies that focus on historical understanding?

No
Students write answers to questions and use those answers to complete a final writing assignment. Options 3, 4, and 5 require that students use their analysis and evidence from the letter to make a case. Assessment criteria absent.

Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?

No
There are clear skill objectives. Teachers will need to establish objectives regarding specific content.

Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?

Yes
Materials are web-based but can be printed for classroom use.

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