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5-8 Activities


Home Improvement

The White House has a distinct architectural style. Indeed, its dignity is part of the presidential mystique. But what if it had been built at another time or in another part of the country? You can introduce your students to some of the differences among geographic regions by considering different styles for the presidential mansion.

You might encourage the class to research other leaders’ homes, such as 10 Downing Street in London. Ask them to draw the White House from memory, or you can draw it on the board with help from the class. Does it resemble, even superficially, any of the homes or government buildings near your school, or that your students have seen in their travels? Which ones? What if the White House architects had helped create your school? A chandelier in each classroom, perhaps, or marble columns in the gym! You could ask your students to make fanciful sketches of how the school might have looked.

Show your students examples of architectural styles from other regions in the U.S. (You can find some in the “Communities” chapter of National Geographic’s Historical Atlas of the United States.) Ask them to sketch versions of the Executive Mansion as it might have looked had it been built in New England in the 18th or early 19th century or in southern California in the 1980s. Let your students design their own White House.

Balance of Power

Discuss the limits on presidential authority with your students. Then ask them to consider whether your school resembles the U.S. government. Is there a principal, and how does his or her job compare to the President’s? How do the rules of the school get created, and does the body that creates them operate like the U.S. Congress? Who enforces the rules, and how do disputes about the rules get resolved? Is your school a democracy—that is, do those who are governed by the rules of the school elect those who make and enforce the rules? Have your class discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of running the school as a democracy. This could lead to a general discussion of the different sorts of political structures by which nations are governed.

“Mr.” President?

The United States has had 42 Presidents, but no woman has yet been elected to the Oval Office. Women make up half the population of the U.S. It therefore seems inevitable that one day a Ms. President will lead the nation, perhaps with a First Man by her side. Have your students volunteer scenarios under which a woman might become President. Do they believe it will happen within the next few elections, or during their lives? When do they believe the country will have its first African American President? What about a candidate from another ethnic or religious background not yet represented among the Presidents? You could ask your students to write a short story about one such scenario.

Explain to your class that until 1920, women could not vote in federal elections. Ask how your pupils would feel if they lived in a country where they were not permitted to vote, even when they become adults. If some indicate that they would resent being disenfranchised, ask them to consider strategies to obtain voting rights. Do they believe that younger teens or kids should be allowed to vote in presidential elections. Why or why not?

Dear Diary...

Watch the television show “Inside the White House” with your students and—if they have access to the World Wide Web—have them visit our online feature on the White House. Then ask them to choose their favorite President. Why did they pick that Chief Executive? You might also ask students to write a short diary from the perspective of a kid their own age growing up in the White House.

Y’all Drop By

If you teach in the United States, find out if any Presidents have come from your state. Consider a field trip to birthplaces, homes, or other important presidential sites near your school. On Inauguration Day in January, you can celebrate the anniversary of the President born nearest to your school. You could also find out and mark his birthday.

Should you ever come visit the White House itself, be sure to leave an hour or so to stop by the National Geographic Society and visit, since you’ll only be a few short blocks away!

Don’t Forget to Write

Whether or not you and your students live in the United States, what the U.S. President does or does not do can affect your class. Students might wonder what it’s really like to live and work in the White House. You could set up a government bulletin board in your classroom with news about presidential travels, speeches, and stands on issues. Students who find interesting articles in magazines and newspapers could bring them in; they could also print and post presidential items from the Internet.

Once your students have begun thinking about the President, they could take a stand of their own by writing and sending e-mail straight to the White House. They might offer their views on a political issue or ask questions: Do you ever go out for a midnight snack? What is Socks’s favorite toy? If your students prefer, they might write the Vice President or the First Lady.


Regular Mail

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
United States