He Did It His Way: How George Washington Shaped the American Presidency

Will Kelley, Kirby High School (Memphis-Shelby County Schools), Memphis, Tennessee

DESIGN LEVEL: Middle School-High School

George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait) by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.



American ideas about executive power evolved during the Revolution. This lesson plan asks students to examine primary and secondary sources related to George Washington during and after the Revolutionary War to consider how the idealization of Washington’s words and deeds set the stage for the creation of the office of the American presidency—with Washington in mind to become the inaugural office holder. The goals of this lesson are for students to understand: how Washington was perceived to embody the ideas and ideals of executive power; how Washington’s words and actions were lionized into mythos; and how the framers struggled with the concept of monarchy.


Students will:

  • learn how the American people struggled to differentiate themselves from England and move away from a monarchy,
  • understand how George Washington’s actions during and after the Revolution came to embody the standard for executive power in the American republic, and
  • how the idealization of Washington made him the embodiment of the American presidency.




Recommended Time 

Two 50-minute class periods.


Day 1:

Students will begin the lesson by establishing their baseline knowledge of George Washington’s persona and achievements in a basic warm up activity, such as journaling. Students will then engage in a discussion where they compare their background knowledge of George Washington and build their knowledge in a think/pair/share-style activity.

After the think/pair/share, students will be placed into groups, then introduced to the sources provided. Students will examine, catalogue and categorize what the resources contain and start listing the main points or main ideas of the resources. The groups will end the lesson by sharing the main points their group gathered with the class.

Day 2:

Students will compare the knowledge gained from the resources provided on the previous day (perhaps in a jigsaw activity). Either in groups or individually, they will use the information from those resources to create a “Help Wanted” advertisement looking for a President, using the criteria provided by Washington’s words and actions. Students can create these ads traditionally via paper and pencil or in a digital format. Students will then conduct a gallery walk, critiquing one another’s wanted ads.


A rubric created by instructor relative to the information gathered from each source will be used to assess student work as expressed in their advertisement during the gallery walk.


Students can use the resources as the basis for a research paper on Washington’s role as a founder of the United States, the duties and responsibilities of the American presidency, and other related topics.

Standards Addressed

COMMON CORE: English Language Arts Standards—History/Social Studies
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

TN 8.23 Examine the principles and purposes of government articulated in the Preamble and principles stated in the Constitution, including: the separation of powers, federalism, and checks and balances.
TN GC. 06 Describe limited government within the Constitution, including:
• Checks and balances • Popular sovereignty • Civilian control of the military • Rule of law • Federalism • Separation of powers • Judicial review