Electing the President: What Makes for a Great President?

Teachers' Edition: Grades 3-6 (Lesson Plans)

Download this lesson plan as a Word document
Download the Constitution appendix for this lesson plan
Download the optional Electoral College appendix for this lesson plan

This topic is supported by a variety of lessons over a two-week period, with each topic building on the other.

Common Core Standards Correlation:

English Language Arts Standards - History/Social Studies - Grades 6-8:

Key Ideas and Details:

RH.6-8.1. RH.6-8.2. RH.6-8.3.

Craft and Structure:

RH.6-8.4. RH.6-8.5. RH.6-8.6.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:



  • HNN Backgrounder (assigned for first day)
  • U.S. Constitution on Presidential Powers
  • How the Electoral College Works (optional supplement)
  • Introduction to the Electoral College (optional supplement)
  • Introduction to the Electoral College; Election: Presidents and the Constitution (optional supplement)
  • The Qualities and Qualifications of the President
  • The Prime Minister and British Politics
  • Sporacle: Name the Presidents
  • Objectives:

  • Describe the ideal values and characteristics of a president.
  • Analyze the requirements of the President as stated in the constitution
  • Debate the validity of the Electoral College in selecting our president (optional supplement)
  • Assess the achievements of past presidents
  • Evaluate the values the are necessary for a president in the 21st century
  • Day One and Two: Qualities of Leadership in a President

    A. Introduction (Bell Ringer):

    1) Semantic Map/create a Web of ideas for the phrase Qualities of a Leader and write the class responses on the board.

  • Discuss how these values of leadership relate to choosing a president for the United States.
  • 2) With this Semantic Map, have students identify why many Americans believe George Washington was the best president in history.

  • Identify the achievements that Washington made during his tenure in office, and relate why they might be popular in our modern mentality.
  • Add to the semantic map with any additional virtues if necessary.
  • 3) Move to a general review discussion of the HNN Backgrounder, and explain the roles of the president (chief diplomat, executive, and commander-in-chief), and the president’s responsibilities to the American people

    Essential Question: What are the qualities that make an effective president of the United States in the 21st century?

    B. What does the Constitution assert are the powers of the president?

    Have students work in pairs, or groups of three, to read Article 2 of the Constitution, and then create an informational poster on the powers of the President of the United States as understood in the United States Constitution.

    Have students present their posters, and then discuss the following:

    1) To what extent are the values of leadership from the class list exemplified in the U.S. Constitution?

    2) Where do the values from our class list, which we expect the president to uphold, come from?

    3) Why doesn’t the Constitution provide these specific values for presidential service?

    4) How do we know if a presidential nominee has these qualities?

    For a single-day activity, teachers could present their own poster that outlines the information from Article 2 and all its sections, or the video “The Qualities and Qualifications of the President

    Day Three, Four and Five: The Electoral College (OPTIONAL SUPPLEMENT)

    A. How does the American system of electing a president compare and contrast with becoming a prime minister in a parliamentary system?

    Homework prep: Have students read and/or research how the Electoral College and a parliamentary government election works, and make a diagram of each for their notes. For the Electoral College refer to the University of Missouri's "How the Electoral College Works"; for a parliamentary prime minister, refer to the History Learning Site.

    Break the class into eight groups. Evenly assign the following topics to the groups: assess either the strength of the Electoral College, the strength of the parliamentary system, the weakness of the Electoral College, or the weakness of the parliamentary system. Then have the groups share out their responses -- put responses on the board, creating a class chart.

    Discussion Questions

    1) Which system would better guarantee that the best man for society wins? Explain. (The students must weigh the pros and cons for each system)

    2) Which system best serves the interests of the majority?

    B. How have presidential election conflicts between the popular vote and the Electoral College developed?

    In class, have students actively read the Introduction to the Electoral College (see attachment) and as a group answer questions 1 – 4

    Show the video Election: Presidents and the Constitution

    Discuss the conflict between the popular vote and the Electoral College, as exemplified in the Corrupt Bargain of 1828, and the presidential elections of 1876 and 2000.

    Refer back to question #5 on the handout: Do you favor replacing the Electoral College with direct popular election of the president? Why or why not?

    C. Should the Electoral College be abolished or modified?

    Students will debate the question. Based on the arguments below, split the class in two and allow students 10 minutes to prepare and formulate their arguments with examples.

    This exercise is an informal debate, which argues the question: Should the Electoral College be replaced with direct popular election of the president?

    Arguments for the Electoral College

  • The Electoral College, in recognizing a role for states in the selection of the president, reminds us of their importance in our federal system.
  • The Electoral College encourages more person-to-person campaigning by candidates, as they spend time in both the big cities and smaller cities in battleground states.
  • In close, contested elections, recounts will usually be confined to a state or two, rather than an across-the-country recount that might be required if we had direct election of the president.
  • The Electoral College, with its typical winner-take-all allocation of votes, often turns a small percentage margin of victory into one that appears much larger, thus making the victory seem more conclusive and adding to the winner's perceived legitimacy.
  • Arguments for Direct Popular Vote

  • When the winner of the Electoral College is not the candidate who received the most votes of the people, the new president will face questions about his legitimacy.
  • Most Americans believe that the person who receives the most votes should become president. Direct election is seen as more consistent with democratic principles than is the Electoral College system.
  • The Electoral College gives disproportionate weight to the votes of citizens of small states. For example, a vote by a resident of Wyoming counts about four times more--electorally--than a vote by a California resident.
  • If presidents were elected by direct popular vote, they would wage a campaign and advertise all across the nation, rather than (as they do in the Electoral College system) concentrating almost all of their time and effort in a handful of battleground states. The Electoral College system encourages candidates to pander to the interests of voters in a few closely contested states.
  • The Electoral College system, especially in a close election, is subject to the mischief that might be caused by disloyal--or even bribed--electors.
  • Debrief Questions:

  • Does the Electoral College serve its purpose well?
  • How easy would it be to change the Electoral College? Is it worth the effort?
  • Enrichment: Students can write a letter to their senator or congressperson either supporting direct popular voting or the Electoral College

    Day Six, Seven and Eight: Rate the Presidents

    A. What are the qualities of past presidents that are still important in considering today’s president?

    1) Assign each student two past presidents from Washington to George W. Bush and assign them to research the achievements and failures of the president’s term(s) in office (you may want to split up FDR’s presidency because of its length and breadth of content). Consider their profession and social status in society as a contributing force in shaping their policies.

  • Students should consider the information from the U.S. Constitution, and the “qualities of leadership” list generated in class, as well as the impact of the president’s policies of society during their presidency, and over time.
  • Students should also consider the expectations in society at the time of the president’s term of service, and make sure to not expect this president to be something that was not even considered in the society he lived in.
  • 1. How technologically developed was society?

    2. How did people live on a day-to-day basis that would influence political expectations?

    3. What were the general manners and mores of that time’s society?

    4. How diverse was the political landscape?

    2) Students will present a chart that illustrates their assessment, and includes a well-developed paragraph for each president that justifies their assessment of the president’s term of office (EXCELLENT; VERY GOOD; SATISFACTORY; BELOW SATISFACTORY; FAILURE; DIED TOO EARLY TO ASSESS.)

    3) After the presentations have finished, discuss the following:

    1. Is there a “type” of president we hold as a standard?

    2. To what extent are the values we sought in previous presidents the same as today’s needs/values? Explain.

    3. How has society changed that the expectations we have of our president changed?

    4. Do we need great presidents or can we get by ok with so-so presidents? Does the president need to be the smartest person in the room?

    Summary Question:

    What are the qualities that make an effective president of the United States in the 21st century?


    Have students create a poster campaign of the candidate they support for president in the 2012 election.

    Have students create a campaign commercial for the Presidential Election that illustrates the qualities of leadership they believe their candidate has.

    Enrichment Beyond the Classroom:

    Students play Sporacle: Name the Presidents

    comments powered by Disqus