Social Studies Lesson Plan - U.S. Presidents: George Washington, Grades 4-5
This lesson serves as an introduction to a unit about U.S. presidents and the early history of this country. The featured informational text, George Washington, provides a brief biography of Washington as connected to the thirteen colonies, the French and Indian War, England’s taxation of the colonists, the Revolutionary War, the crossing of the Delaware, the Constitution, and the appointment of the first U.S. president. Included are elements of nonfiction text; images (illustrations, maps, and famous paintings); text-dependent questions; opinion essay writing; companion texts; timelines, and cross-curricular activities. These elements relay foundational social studies content; weave in research, debate, language arts, geography, art, poetry, music, and more; and meet many 4–5 ELA CCSS.
Featured Key ELA Common Core Standards
- RI.4.2/RI.5.2: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
- W.4.1/W.5.1: Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
- SL.4.1/SL.5.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 4/5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
- L.4.4/L.5.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4/5 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
Lesson Content Objectives
- Describe the life and contributions of George Washington
- Identify the thirteen colonies, French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, Constitution, and appointment of the first U.S. president as significant developments in U.S. history
- Describe a variety of images and infer information from them about Washington and U.S. history
- Write an opinion essay about George Washington and his impact on U.S. history
- Conduct further reading and research about George Washington, other U.S. presidents, and early U.S. history
Duration: 1-3 days (may be taught during language arts, social studies, and/or other related blocks)
Materials: Copies of George Washington by Mike Venezia; chart paper; markers; copies of companion text, James Madison by Mike Venezia (optional)
(may be used to create word clouds)
Proper nouns: George Washington, United States of America, Westmoreland Country, Virginia, Mount Vernon, Washingtons, England, American Indians, Ohio Valley, English, French and Indian War, Martha Custis, Revolutionary War, General Washington, British, Christmas Day, Delaware River, Trenton, New Jersey, Hessian, German, Valley Forge, France, Yorktown, Virginia, U.S. Constitution, Whiskey Rebellion, Father of His Country
Descriptive/action words: serious, grumpy, tightly, unusual, friendly, certain, invited, chat, nicely, explore, measures, surveying, hunted, angry, brave, volunteer, dangerous, elected, earlier, busy, badly, fighting, treating, difficult, powerful, completely, surprised, wettest, snowiest, coldest, strongest, loyal, trapped, smart, handsome, remarkable, convince, hated, limited, willing, promised, protect, organize, argue, disagree, different, enforce
Washington words: tobacco farm, Virginia, wealthy, student, surveyor, leader, soldier, career, general, president
Colony/U.S. words: thirteen colonies, citizen, army, governor, taxation, freedom, commander, king, battles, new country, war, elected, first president, rights, mint, banks, U.S. Post Office, advisors, members, government, taxes
Dates: 1700s, 1732, 1775, 1776, 1777, 1781, 1789, 1799
- Share the cover, title, title page, and author/illustrator of George Washington. Ask students to describe what they see on the cover and title page, and to predict what this book is about and if it is fiction or nonfiction.
- Ask students what they know and want to know about George Washington, including the image on the cover. Create a KWL chart to capture the information, and tell students you will revisit after reading.
- Read the book aloud, pointing out the art and captions and pausing as needed to explain words or phrases.
- As you read, or after you are finished, have students help you gather and sort words (vocabulary lists above): proper nouns, descriptive/action words, Washington words, colony/U.S. words, dates, etc. Discuss how key words are connected, and how some overlap into different categories.
- Give each student or group a copy of the book and have them read the text again to answer in writing the following text- dependent questions. Guide students to cite evidence from the text as needed by modeling, thinking aloud, and discussing as a class. Have groups share their evidence-based answers and inferences.
- What is the main idea of this text? (George Washington’s life and his connections and contributions to early U.S. history) What words does the author use to describe George Washington and his life?
- How do the images add information to the text? Why do you think the text includes a variety of images, including illustrations, paintings, portraits, and maps?
- Choose three images and describe them. What questions do you have about the images? How could you find out more about them?
- What information can you infer from the map image on p. 9? How does this map look different from a U.S. map today?
- On page 20, why is George Washington called General Washington? Why was Washington needed as a commander of the thirteen colonies? Why were they fighting England?
- Compare and contrast the illustration on the cover and the famous painting on p. 22, George Washington Crossing the Delaware. Describe the historical event pictured.
- Read these sentences on p. 28: “One reason people trusted George Washington so much was that he had done something quite remarkable. George Washington had turned down the chance to be king.” From this context, what does the word remarkable mean? Use this word in a sentence of your own.
- Why was George Washington chosen as a leader again and again? Why did he refuse to be a king of the United States? What did he become instead?
- Summarize the many contributions George Washington made to the United States.
- Revisit the KWL chart to add, confirm, and correct information.
- Have students write an opinion essay to answer one of the following questions. Guide them to cite evidence from the text to support their opinion. Allow students to share/argue their essays with the class.
- Do you think the colonists were justified in fighting for independence from England? Why or why not?
- Which of George Washington’s qualities made him best suited to be a good leader?
- Which of George Washington’s contributions was the most significant in American history?
Featured Extensions (optional)
Reading: As a companion text, read James Madison by Mike Venezia about the fourth U.S. president and Father of the Constitution. Compare and contrast the two texts and set of images, perhaps using a Venn diagram. Discuss how Washington and Madison were similar and different, and how their contributions to the United States overlap in many ways. Point out the mention of slavery, the Declaration of Independence, the more in-depth explanation of the Constitution, and the War of 1812 in the companion text, as well as additional information about Washington. You may choose to read other titles from the series, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and do a three- or four-way comparison. Some students may write a compare/contrast essay.
Timeline: Using the dates in the featured text (and companion text if chosen), have students create timelines portraying the main events of George Washington’s life (and James Madison’s) and the surrounding developments in U.S. history. Have students add art to their timelines and present them to the class.
Differentiation: Write an opinion essay together, modeling how to state and support an opinion using the text. Create a class timeline. You may assign various extension activities to different groups of students by ability.