New Views From MouNt VerNoN - National Constitution Center

A Teachers’ Guide to
Discovering the Real
George Washington:
New Views from
Mount Vernon
“ T h e Fa c e s o f G e o r g e
Wa s h i ng t o n ” f o r
E l e m e n ta ry T e a c h e r s
George Washington filled many roles in his life, including surveyor,
farmer, soldier, family man, military leader, slave owner, and our
nation’s first president. In this lesson, your students will explore several
of Washington’s roles as they are depicted in portraits.
Using the Mount Vernon website,,
show the following three portraits, one at a time, to your class:
n Life of George Washington, the Farmer (timeline year 1764)
n George Washington after the Battle of Princeton (timeline year 1777)
n The Washington Family (timeline year 1784)
For each portrait, have the children describe what Washington is doing,
what he is wearing, and what animals and people appear in the scene.
Also have them describe the scene’s location and any action that is taking
place within it. Record the children’s observations on the chalkboard, along
with a list of the objects that the artist has chosen to include in the portrait.
Then ask the children what they think the artist who painted the picture
is trying to tell them about George Washington. List all of the children’s
ideas on the chalkboard. For each idea, ask the student, “What clue(s)
did the artist use to convey this message about George Washington?”
Be sure not to reveal the title of the portrait until after your students
have finished drawing their own conclusions through careful
examination of the picture’s visual clues.
After examining all three portraits, have each student choose a role that
Washington filled in his lifetime and draw a picture that portrays that role.
Students should include in their portraits objects that match each role
(compass and chains for surveying; sword and spyglass for soldier), as
well as a background scene and possibly other people (perhaps a crowd
of people at Federal Hall for president; the 16-sided barn and
slaves for farmer). Have students share their finished drawings
with the class, explaining what role each portrait is portraying
and how the objects and scene help to represent that role.
“ T r av e l i ng
Through Time with
G e o rg e Wa s h i ng t o n ”
for Middle School
While creating the website, our staff
reviewed hundreds of paintings, documents, and objects to select items
that we believed best portrayed George Washington’s leadership in
different capacities and at different times in his life. For this activity,
your students will create their own timelines of ten key events in
Washington’s life. The ten events should reflect the different facets of
Washington’s character and leadership and be spaced throughout his life.
Using the Mount Vernon website,, have students
review the online “Collections” and choose images of artifacts and other
items that they think best represent the key events and accomplishments
in Washington’s life. Encourage students to include images of different
types of items from the Mount Vernon collections, including paintings,
three-dimensional objects, and documents.
Using computer print-outs or their own hand-made drawings of the
selected items, students should assemble their timelines on construction
paper in chronological order, being sure to include for each image, a
caption explaining the event or accomplishment the image represents,
the date or time period when the event or accomplishment took place,
and a description of the item represented by the image – including
what it is made of, when it was created, and how it relates to
George Washington. Have students present their timelines to the
rest of the class, explaining the reasoning behind their choices of
events and images. Display the finished timelines in your classroom,
and encourage your students to explore the Mount Vernon timeline,
“ G e o rg e Wa s h i ng t o n ’s
When George Washington took office as America’s first president in 1789,
F i r s t In a u g u r a l ,” f o r
he was filled with trepidation – and for good reason. Many challenges
High School Teachers
faced him in a role that had yet to be defined. Through this lesson and its
reference to present day circumstances, your students will learn about
the challenges that Washington confronted when he assumed the role of
president. In addition, they will examine the meaning and function of that
republican institution known as the “presidential inaugural address.”
Begin the lesson by having students explore the years, 1787-1789, on the web site. If possible, project on a large
screen the web site image of Washington’s inaugural at New York City’s
Federal Hall – or pass out copies of the image for students to examine. What
visual evidence suggests that it is portraying a serious and important event?
Now have the class brainstorm a list of the issues that Washington faced
when he was sworn in as president. For example, the country was deeply in
debt, militarily weak, and vulnerable to enemy attack. Moreover, the nation
was deeply divided on a number of major issues, including the institution of
slavery. Considering these and other challenges, have students write down
the messages that they would like to convey to the American people
at their first inauguration if they were George Washington.
Then have students read Washington’s first inaugural
address from the website, gwpapers.virginia.
edu. What are the issues that Washington did, in
reality, address? Why do students think he was not
more specific in referencing particular problems? Since
there were no electronic media, how was his speech
disseminated to the American people?
Finally, have students read the 2009 speech of the current United States
President, Barack Hussein Obama, which is available at
What problems was the nation facing when Obama took office? How are
these challenges reflected in Obama’s speech? What similarities in terms of
style and substance can students find between the inaugural speeches of our
first and forty-fourth presidents? In what ways do the two speeches differ
from one another? What reference does President Obama make to George
Washington? How was President Obama’s speech disseminated to the
He remains one of the most
fascinating and important figures in
American history, yet he is also one
of the most difficult to get to know.
We instantly recognize his face, yet
his achievements may seem remote
to us. Who was the real
George Washington?
Discover the Real George Washington:
New Views from Mount Vernon, made
possible by the generous support of the
Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, brings
together history and forensic science to
reveal the man behind the legend. His
character, intellect, courage, and wisdom
can remind us of who we are as a people
and a nation.
This teaching guide and poster, along with
Discover the Real George Washington:
Timeline, are companions to the traveling
exhibition, which includes nearly 100
artifacts, 12 video and interactive
programs, and three life-size, forensic
figures of George Washington. These
resources are designed to provide learning
activities that can further discussion
of George Washington once students
return to the classroom. Discover the
Real George Washington: Timeline,,
allows teachers to bring the traveling
exhibition experience back to their schools
through artifacts and documents relating
to Washington’s life, videos, behind-thescenes features, and playful animations.
The mission of the Mount Vernon Education Department is to engage
children and adults in learning about the life, leadership, character
and legacy of George Washington. The Mount Vernon website,, provides a wealth of biographical information about
George Washington and his times, as well as lesson plans and other
teaching materials.
Through our new online interactive experience, George Washington’s
World for Kids,, students can discover the real
Washington at home and at war. They can explore a 3D Mount Vernon,
searching for artifacts that reveal the many facets of the man; play a
harpsichord so that he can dance with his beloved Martha; and serve as
gun captain at Washington’s moment of greatest military achievement,
the siege of Yorktown.
George Washington Wired,, is Mount
Vernon’s “educators-only” blog that brings you the latest news on the
professional development events, research, lesson plans, and other
resources that Mount Vernon’s Education Department has to offer.