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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

Picturing Our First President

Lesson created by: Carol Tafel

Grade Level: 1


3-B Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (The Lansdowne Portrait), 1796

Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington

Gilbert Stuart(1755–1828), George Washington (the Lansdowne portrait), 1796. Oil on canvas, 97 1/2 x 62 1/2 in. (247.6 x 158.7 cm.). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; acquired as a gift to the nation through the generosity of the Donald W.Reynolds Foundation. © 2008 Smithsonian Institution,Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery.


  • Students will understand that George Washington, our first President, was instrumental in the founding of our country, and that he set the precedent for the presidency of the new nation.

Focusing Statement

Getting to know our first president: through art and literature students will explore George Washington's life and accomplishments, and will begin to understand our first president's role in the American Revolution and in the founding of our country. Students will also begin to understand the esteem in which his fellow citizens held George Washington during his lifetime, and the ways in which our first president was honored and remembered after his death.

Examining Expressive Content

  • What do you see in this portrait of George Washington?
  • What is he wearing?
  • Is he dressed like a king or a regular person?
  • What objects do you see?
  • What do you see in the background?
  • What do you wonder about?

Teaching Plan

  1. Brainstorming: What do you know about George Washington? Students will work in small groups to brainstorm what they know. Each group jots down their ideas on chart paper. Then as a whole group, each group's prior knowledge is shared.
  2. Share images of George Washington with the students. Discuss what students notice about him in the pictures. (Suggested images to share: portraits of George Washington, Washington at Dorchester Heights, Washington Taking Control of the American Army, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Washington at Valley Forge, The Signing of the Constitution, Washington the Farmer, Mount Vernon.)
  3. Read aloud a picture book biography of George Washington. Discuss the text and share images that correspond to the text as you read. (Suggested Titles: George Washington: A Picture Book Biography by James Cross Giblin; A Picture Book of George Washington by David A. Adler and John and Alexandra Waliner.)
  4. Discuss the biography during and after reading. Ask students to share what they have learned about George Washington. List important events in his life in chronological order.
  5. Share images of "Washington Ball", E. Wells Tavern sign, Washington Memorial, and the Washington Monument, as well as previously shared images and currency with Washington's image on it. Ask students how they think people felt about him during his lifetime and after his death. Discuss ways in which George Washington has been honored and remembered in the past and in the present.
  6. Celebrate Washington's birthday. Toast him and enjoy a Washington Cake (recipe in Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook). Directions for toasting Washington: All stand up, turn out leg to show calf; raise glass up, toast is spoken by one—all reply, "To Washington!"; sip glass, then "slam" down on table after each toast.
    1. The memory of Washington the father of his Country - It will be cherished by the last son of Liberty wherever found. (1834);
    2. To George Washington - The Purist of Patriots, The Most Illustrious of Leaders, A Christian Without Ostentation, Whose Life Was Without a Stain;
    3. The memory of Washington - May we Honor it by an imitation of his Virtues, and adherence to His counsel;
    4. The President of the United States - May his Contemplated retirement be as glorious as the Setting Sun!
  7. Make a class picture book about George Washington's life. Include information, important events and accomplishments in the book. The text of the book can be typed and each student can illustrate a page.

Putting It All Together

We are going to look at the Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington again. You know a lot about George Washington. We are going to look for clues in the portrait that tell us about him.

Let's look at his outfit. Why do you think George Washington chose this outfit for his portrait?

Let's look at the objects in the portrait. What do you think they mean? Why did the artist put these objects in the portrait? What do they tell us about George Washington?

We know that George Washington was the first president of our country. What do the objects tell us about our country when it was a new nation?


Massachusetts History and Social Science Standards

Grade 1 Learning Standards

1.5 Give reasons for celebrating the events or people commemorated in national and Massachusetts holidays. On a calendar for the current year, identify the months for Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Patriots’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day. (H, C, G)

1.8 After reading or listening to stories about famous Americans of different ethnic groups, faiths, and historical periods (e.g., Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Roberto Clemente, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Daniel Inouye, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Colin Powell, Sacagawea, Jonas Salk, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Clarence Thomas, Booker T. Washington, and the Wright Brothers) describe their qualities or distinctive traits. (H, C)

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Informational Text » Grade 1

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.6 Distinguish between information provided by pictures or other illustrations and information provided by the words in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.7 Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.9 Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

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