To better understand the individuals who held the office and their presidential leadership, The Washington Post created Presidential, a podcast series of 44 segments. Post NIE activities are provided to focus on the presidents’ background and influences on them, approaches to tough decisions and unexpected challenges, and personal traits that helped or hurt their success as president of the United States.
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Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

Who were the forty-four men who have served as president of the United States? What traits helped or hurt them in office? What experiences, education and qualities lead to their election?


Lillian Cunningham, Washington Post journalist and former editor of The Washington Post’s “On Leadership” section, asks these and more questions of Post reporters, historians, biographers and presidential specialists. They discuss the skills and circumstances that have made certain presidents effective or ineffective — and whether the leadership traits required to do the job have changed significantly since 1789 when George Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States.


The Post’s Newspaper In Education program has combined with The Post’s Digital Department to bring you this special issue of the online curriculum guides filled with discussion questions, suggested activities and resources to use with Presidential, the forty-four audio episodes, one for each president. For each episode, Cunningham interviewed experts who are uniquely positioned to explain and explore that president’s character as leader of the United States. The podcasts, which go in chronological order from George Washington to Donald Trump, paint a series of engaging portraits of their different upbringings, their personalities and skills, and the contributions each made to presidential leadership both during their era and beyond.


Students can listen to the episodes for free at The Post's website or by searching for “Presidential” on podcast streaming sites including Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify. We have also made full transcripts of the episodes available on The Post's listening page. Suggested activities, approaches and resources are found below and in the three resource/worksheet PDFs.


Some of the suggested activities indicate time markers for a particular segment of the episode to share with students; others assume students will have listened to the episode in its entirety. Where such markers are noted, we have provided approximate times to begin and end listening to those segments — given that the exact time can vary depending on the device used or the length of ads served on different streaming sites.


Some teachers have 45-minute class periods, others much longer blocks. Some of you will use the podcasts with KidsPost readers, others with high school or college students. We have tried to vary the questions, activities and reprints to give you flexibility for in-class and homework assignments and discussion. They will serve as springboards as you use the 44 Presidential podcasts to meet your educational goals. Newspaper in Education curriculum guides are developed for teachers to use Washington Post coverage in print, digital, visual and podcast formats in your classrooms.


September 2018

Media Options
Resource Graphic 

Who Should Be President?
Character Education, Social Studies, U.S. History

When the white, male property owners living in the new country selected their first president, they chose George Washington. Ask students to give reasons that Washington’s fellow countrymen wanted him to be president. Which of these qualities made him seem like a great leader?


This introduction to Washington, the American presidency and leadership could be followed with the “Washington — A Model Leader” exercise and listening to the first of the Presidential podcasts.


A Model Leader?
Character Education, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Was George Washington a model of leadership, exemplifying the qualities you would want a U.S. president to have? As a pre-listening activity, give students the first page of  "George Washington — Model Leader." What do students know — or think they know — about Washington? Discuss the meaning of the 15 qualities and have students indicate their rating in pencil.


Listen to "George Washington: The man, the myth, the legend," the first of the Presidential podcasts. Complete the "George Washington — Model Leader" suggested activities. This time complete the chart of 15 qualities in ink. Has student opinion of Washington changed after listening to "George Washington: the man, the myth, the legend"? Discuss the 15 qualities after having heard the interviews.


Another approach to listening to the first Presidential podcast and thinking about Washington's leadership is do the "Why Washington for President?" suggested activity. After students discuss what they think about Washington, give them “Why Washington for President?” Questions in this activity guide listening of the first Presidential podcast, "George Washington: The man, the myth, the legend.” 


Before beginning the latter activity, teachers might ask students to define “disposition,” “etiquette,” “felicity,” “humility” and “self-abnegate.” This activity might be done by all students listening to the podcast alone or divided into groups to listen to and do specific questions. Depending on the length of your class period, teachers might divide the questions into listening, answering and discussion segments. Older students may complete the activity as homework and come to class ready to discuss the concepts.


Celebrate a President’s Birthday
Social Studies, U.S. History

How do your students celebrate their birthdays? Do they have annual traditions or is every year different? Do they look forward to a special birthday? Share these experiences.


Ask students to tell when U.S. presidents were born — the year and the day. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln will probably top the list, at least to name the date. Read “How presidents celebrate their birthdays.” What do the ways they celebrated tell about the presidents and the time period?


Teachers may use this article as a scavenger hunt. Who will be the first to find
• Which president was born on July 4?
• Which three presidents died on July 4?
• Where did JFK celebrate his 46th birthday?
• How did Barack Obama celebrate his 50th birthday?
• Write a question and answer it about another president.


Introduce Washington to Young Students
Character Education, Social Studies

Teachers may introduce their younger students to the Presidential podcasts with a familiar president — George Washington. Play (Listen to approx. 26- to 30-minute time code markers) of George Washington: The man, the myth, the legend, Lillian Cunningham’s interview with Julie Miller, a historian at the Library of Congress.
• What qualities and interests of George Washington does Miller emphasize?
• What aspirations are indicated?
• What do you learn about Washington in this segment of the podcast?


Having previewed the episode, teachers can determine which additional sections will best meet their academic goals.


A Man of Letters and Other Correspondence
Business, English, Primary Sources, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Historians, biographers, scholars and students can learn a great deal about people by reading primary sources — diaries, letters, public records (deeds, marriage and death certificates, arrests and public notices), media coverage and interviews of those who knew the individuals or were eyewitnesses.


This is especially true of presidents. In this activity students are asked to focus on George Washington as he is revealed in primary sources. 

Teachers who want students to use primary sources are provided “GW Letters and Other Documents,” these are some of the best collections of George Washington documents — letters, political writing, his diary — referred to by Julie Miller. In the first Presidential podcast, Miller, a historian at the Library of Congress, refers to having “all kinds of records of Washington’s personal financial life,” (Listen approx. 36- to 39-minute markers.) and letters. Select one of the letters found in "GW Letters and Other Documents" to read and discuss with students. Discussion could include"
• What is revealed about George Washington through this letter?
• What might the recipient's response be?
• How might the information in this letter be used then and now?
• Why are these documents worthy of such effort to preserve and make available online?


The availability of personal letters between George and Martha Washington is very limited. Read “After George Washington died, his wife burned her letters. Except these.”


The letters of Abraham Lincoln are also an intriguing student of leadership. See “Eloquence and Empathy” and “What Doris Kearns Goodwin thinks Trump could learn from Lincoln’s ‘hot letters.’”


Having worked together on one primary source, teachers could ask students to select a president. Listen to the Presidential podcast about that president. Has the host or interviewees referred to primary sources? If yes, which ones? Ask students to locate two primary sources related to this president. Questions they may be asked to answer could include:
• Do these sources support what was stated in the edisode?
• Do these sources contradict anything that was stated in the episode?
• Do these sources reveal another dimension of the president you selected? 
• How do primary sources extend your understanding of this president, his approach to leadership or the time period in which he held office? 


What Would You Do?
Character Education, Leadership, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Wonder how you would respond if you were placed in Washington’s boots? Mount Vernon online gives you the opportunity in Be Washington. Select one of four scenarios to face a challenge to your leadership “in this first-person interactive leadership experience.”

Presidential Places and Papers
Resource Graphic 

Get to Know a Populist President
Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Teachers are provided “Honor in a Life of Violence and Misfortune” to guide students’ listening of the seventh episode in the Presidential series, Andrew Jackson: The violence, the fight. The questions may be divided into sections for students to work in groups or completed by each student listening at his or her own pace.


Compare and Contrast Presidents
Debate, English, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Teachers will find that there are a number of entry points to compare and contrast Andrew Jackson with the presidents that came before and after him.

• Andrew Jackson and George Washington: the frontier experience, involvement in battles and wars, their leadership styles

• Andrew Jackson and the six presidents who came before him

• Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams

Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump


Give students “Andrew Jackson — A Comparison and Contrast” to introduce this activity. In addition, the On Leadership article, “Doris Kearns Goodwin on life, death and the presidency,” could be used as a model of a Q&A approach to comparing and contrasting presidents and as a platform for discussing what presidential leadership means.


Follow the Trail of Tears
U.S. Government, U.S. History

Teachers may ask students what they know of relations of the American government with Native Americans in the past and the present. What examples can they give?


In the first minutes of episode 7 of Presidential, host Lillian Cunningham indicates students will hear of “the violence and sadness of Andrew Jackson’s personal life. It’s about the violence of his military campaigns and his policies as president against Native Americans.” If there is not time to listen to the entire episode, focus on the section in which experts discuss Jackson’s political philosophy and its impact on Native Americans (listen approx. 46- to 55-minute time code). Discuss the ideas presented.


To learn more about the Indian Removal Act and the tribes impacted, visit the National Park Service historic “Trail of Tears” website.  


For a 21st century encounter with Jackson read and discuss two Post articles. Teachers may need to tell students about the role that Navajo code talkers played in the war effort before reading “Andrew Jackson was called ‘Indian killer.’ Trump honored Navajos in front of his portrait.”  And  read “Trump called Andrew Jackson ‘a swashbuckler.’ The Cherokees called him ‘Indian killer.” 

It’s (Not) Just a Gift
Character Education, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History


Ask younger students to tell about the best gift they have ever received. What makes it so special. Read the KidsPost article, “They got him what!? A look into the art of presidential gift-giving.” Discuss the gifts, the reasons gifts are given during state visits and places gifts are taken.


Before beginning this activity, teachers should define "emolument." Older students might discuss “emoluments,” the U.S. Constitution and the presidents. Read “Move over, Trump. This president’s two lions set off the greatest emoluments debate.” When have different presidents been faced with and avoided entanglements? 


Would George — or Other Presidents — Succeed in Date Lab?
Character Education, Social Studies, U.S. History

Would the well-dressed, graceful dancer be a better date than the teetotaler? Would the person with the gift of gab who tells stories with gleeful humor be a more interesting blind date than the person whose conversation revolved around politics?


Listen to the Presidential podcasts to get a glimpse at the personal side of the men who would be president. Host Lillian Cunningham asks the experts if each individual would make a good date. What do you learn about each president through this question? What other questions might students like to ask about each of the presidents?


The Post’s Date Lab feature matches singles living in the Washington metropolitan area and sends them on a blind date to a restaurant. Select a Presidential episode to listen to — perhaps one of the little known presidents. After getting acquainted with him, with whom would you try a Date Lab match for him? What qualities does he have? To what qualities might he be attracted?

Read About Presidents

Lincoln’s Legacy? Eloquence and Empathy
Composition, English, U.S. Government, U.S. History,

Considering that volumes have been written about Abraham Lincoln, how does one put his person and presidency into the confines of a podcast? Lillian Cunningham finds a focus and engaging experts in the sixteenth Presidential podcast — Abraham Lincoln: His hand and his pen


The “Eloquence and Empathy” worksheet guides students through selected segments of this episode. The questions are built around the insights of Michelle Krowl, Civil War and Reconstruction specialist at the Library of Congress, and historian and Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin. Students are also asked to select a topic from a list to write an essay.


For additional background on and uses of primary sources, teachers may use the September 23, 2018, On Leadership article “What Doris Kearns Goodwin thinks Trump could learn from Lincoln’s ‘hot letters.’


May I Have His Address?
English, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Episode 16 of Presidential focuses on the eloquence of Lincoln, including in his two inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. 


Other presidents are known for their use of literary devices and memorable inaugural addresses. Give students “May I Have His Address?” They are taken through the speeches given by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Teachers may ask students to select another president’s inaugural address to summarize and evaluate. FDR would also provide an interesting study of his four addresses — how they reflect the changing condition of the country, its international involvement and the nation’s familiarity with his leadership.


The 2009 Post NIE curriculum guide Presidential Legacy and Language includes activities to compare and contrast past inaugural addresses, annotate Lincoln’s Second Address, and evaluate Lincoln’s Legacy which may be grouped into the following categories:
1. Inspiration for those of humble origins
2. Political ingenuity
3. Eloquence and love of words
4. Leadership in the time of adversity
5. Enunciation of reconciliation rather than revenge 6. Fulfillment of promises of past generations 


Why This Person For President?
Civics, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Why have Americans selected certain individuals to be their party’s candidates for president? Discuss the traits that the want-to-be-presidents held.


Think through the presidents as they are presented in The Post’s Presidential podcasts.
• What are some of the reasons that Washington’s fellow countrymen wanted him to be president?

• Which of Washington’s qualities made him seem to be a great leader?

• Different reasons and qualities emerged over the decades as Americans selected their candidates and their president. Give examples of two of these reasons and the person who embodied the changing perspective on leadership.

• In what ways may holding a different point of view than others in one’s political party help or hinder someone to ascend to prominence — and office?
• How important is it to have a vision for the country when campaigning and taking office? Does this promise make an individual more admirable to others?

How Do the Traits Add Up?
Character Education, Social Studies, U.S. History

The Post’s Presidential podcast series presents leadership skills and personality traits of the individuals who held the office. Use “Two Presidents, Four Years and Six Traits” to compare and contrast any two of the presidents. If teachers are doing decades projects, you might ask students to select a president in their group’s decade and one from another decade or two who served in the same decade.


How Important Are Legacy, Leadership and Precedents?

Civics, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

The suggested activity in “Presidential Legacy, Leadership and Precedents” assigns students a series of steps that lead to the production of their own essay, podcast or speech in which they compare and contrast two presidents.


For the presidents they select (or are assigned), they are to listen to the entire Presidential episodes that feature these leaders.

What is the Tyler Precedent?
Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Should the vice president automatically become the president? We accept this succession today, but this was not always true. Listen to the Presidential episode John Tyler: Ghosts and the vice presidency. A Virginian, Tyler is the vice president who became president to everyone’s surprise when President William Henry Harrison died soon after his inauguration. Listen to the Presidential podcast about Tyler and discuss the precedent he set. Questions might include:

• Why had he been selected as the vice president? 
• Did he carry on the policies of the president whom he replaced? 
• How did he add to the stature of later vice presidents who became presidents?


Students could be grouped, each one becoming an expert of the vice president who became president. Use the John Tyler episode as the foundation for this study of the vice presidency, the Tyler precedent and the 25th Amendment. (Students might even select their vice president based upon what they learn in this episode.)

It’s a White House Family

Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

In late August 2018 nearly 50 descendants of America’s presidents gathered in D.C. for a four-day summit hosted by the White House Historical Association. Among those present was the 93-year-old grandson of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States.

Read “Oval Office family circles” by Ellen McCarthy.


If you were present at this event that was open to the public, what questions would you have asked? Who would you want most to talk to about the presidents, their leadership and their personal side?


Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 


Autocracy  Form of government in which unlimited power is hold by one individual


Federal department heads that report directly to the president; appointed by the president

Camp David

Rural Maryland retreat of the American President; names after President Eisenhower’s grandson

Confirmation When the Senate approves a presidential appointee
Democracy  From the Greek “demos,” meaning ordinary, common people and “kratos” meaning power or strength
Electoral College An indirect system for electing the U.S. President; it becomes possible to win the presidency without receiving a majority of votes nationwide 

Emoluments Clause

Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any person holding a government office from accepting any present, emolument, office, or title from any "King, Prince, or foreign State," without congressional consent. This clause is meant to prevent external influence and corruption of American officers by foreign States.  
Enumerated or expressed powers  

Specific powers given to Congress or the president by the Constitution


Executive One of the three main branches of government (legislative and judicial, the others); executes the law of the land through departments, agencies and public service employees; areas of governing result in a separation of powers
Executive agreements    

Presidential promises to other nations that do not require Senate approval; not binding on future administrations


Executive business 

Nominations and treaties submitted by the president to the Senate for its "Advice and Consent;" the Senate treats such business separately from its legislative business


Executive calendar The list of treaties and nominations that are (or soon will become) eligible for consideration by the full Senate; also, the official document that contains these lists and other information about the status of items of executive business 
Executive order 

An order issued by the president that has the effect of law

Executive privilege  The right of officials of the executive branch to refuse to disclose some information to other branches of government or to the pubic
Great Society Ambitious vision pursued by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s

The House of Representatives brings formal charges against a public official; the Senate then holds a trial to determine if the officeholder should be expelled from office

Kitchen Cabinet

Informal name for the president’s closest advisers

Manifest Destiny  Belief that the U.S. was destined to spread across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean
Pardon Release from punishment for criminal conviction; the president has the power to pardon

The political agenda or formal statement of a candidate or party; an indication of presidential plans and policy

Pocket veto When the president rejects a bill by refusing to sign it or to veto it; after ten days the bill dies if Congress is not in session 
Presidential Relating to the president and presidency; having qualities and bearing that respect the office of the president, i.e., dignified and confident 
Presidential commission  Body that advises the president on some problem, making recommendations; some are temporary, others are permanent
Presidential message  Written statement presented to the Congress, such as the President's Budget or the State of the Union address 

Recess appointment

A temporary presidential appointment, during a recess of the Senate, of an individual to a federal government position, where such appointment usually requires the advice and consent of the Senate


Special envoys

Individuals engaging in diplomatic communications on the president’s behalf who do not require Senate confirmation

State of the Union Address

Constitutionally mandated message, given by the president to Congress, in which the president reports on current conditions and lays out plans for the coming year


An agreement negotiated and signed by the executive that enters into force if it is approved by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and is subsequently ratified by the President

Truman Doctrine

Commitment of the U.S. to protecting “free peoples” of Europe from attack


Sources: American Government Glossary; Glossary; Glossary of Political Terms; Glossary of Terms in U.S. Government and Politics; Oxford Dictionary


ANSWERS. “How presidents celebrate their birthdays”

• Born on the Fourth of July: Calvin Coolidge (1872); • John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe; • On a yacht on the Potomac River • With a White House BBQ and dancing. • Responses will vary.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies. Students explain how the present is connected to the past, identifying both similarities and differences between the two, and how some things change over time and some things stay the same (Grades 3-5, Chronology and Cause and Effect)


Social Studies: Describe Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his significant writings and speeches and their relationship to the Declaration of Independence (e.g., his House Divided speech in 1858, Gettysburg Address in 1863, and inaugural addresses in 1861 and 1865) (Grade 8, Civil War and Reconstruction, 1830-1877)


Social Studies. 8.9.2: Describe the election of Andrew Jackson as president in 1828, the importance of Jacksonian democracy, and his actions as president (e.g., the spoils system, veto of the National Bank, and opposition to the Supreme Court). (A New Nation, 8.9.2)


Social Studies. Students describe the cooperation and conflict that existed among the Native Americans and between the Indian nations and the new settlers. 6. Identify the influence and achievements of significant leaders of the time (e.g., John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Chief Tecumseh, Chief Logan, Chief John Ross, and Sequoyah). (Settling the Colonies to the 1700s, 4.6)


Social Studies. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts. (Grade 8, RH.6-8.7) 

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies. Analyze the historic events, documents, and practices that are the foundations of our political systems. (Political Science, Standard 1, Indicator 2)


Reading. Apply and refine comprehension skills by selecting, reading, and analyzing a variety of print and non-print informational texts, including electronic media. (Standard 2, Indicator 1) a. Read, use, and identify the characteristics of primary and secondary sources of academic information such as textbooks, trade books, reference and research materials, periodicals, editorials, speeches, interviews, articles, non-print materials, and online materials, other appropriate content-specific texts. 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

United States History to 1865. The student will apply social science skills to understand the challenges faced by the new nation by

a) explaining the weaknesses and outcomes of the government established by the Articles of Confederation;

b) describing the historical development of the Constitution of the United States; and

c) describing the major accomplishments of the first five presidents of the United States. (USI.7. Revolution and the New Nation)


Virginia and United States Government.  The student will apply social science skills to understand the political philosophies that shaped the development of Virginia and United States constitutional government by

f) evaluating and explaining George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and James Madison’s leadership role in securing adoption of the Bill of Rights by the First Congress. (GOVT. 2)


Virginia and United States History. The student will apply social science skills to understand the issues and events leading to and during the Revolutionary Period by

a)   describing the results of the French and Indian War; (VUS.4. Revolution and the New Nation)


Virginia and United States History. The student will apply social science skills to understand the development of the American political system by

a)   describing the major compromises necessary to produce the Constitution of the United States, with emphasis on the roles of James Madison and George Washington; (VUS.5. Revolution and the New Nation)


Virginia and United States History. The student will apply social science skills to understand major events in Virginia and United States history during the first half of the nineteenth century by

d) analyzing the social and cultural changes during the period, with emphasis on “the age of the common man” (Jacksonian Era);

e)  evaluating the cultural, economic, and political issues that divided the nation, including tariffs, slavery, the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, and the role of the states in the Union;

f)  explaining how Manifest Destiny and President James K. Polk’s policies impacted the nation; and

g)  evaluating and explaining the multiple causes and compromises leading to the Civil War, including the role of the institution of slavery. (VUS.6. Expansion)


Virginia and United States History. The student will apply social science skills to understand the Civil War and Reconstruction eras and their significance as major turning points in American history by

b) evaluating and explaining the significance and development of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and political statements, including the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the principles outlined in the Gettysburg Address;

c)  evaluating and explaining the impact of the war on Americans, with emphasis on Virginians, African Americans, the common soldier, and the home front; (VUS.7. Civil War and Reconstruction)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts Standards, Writing. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (Research to Build and Present Knowledge, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9)


English Language Arts Standards, Writing. Apply grades 11-12 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning [e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court Case majority opinions and dissents] and the premises, purposes and arguments in works of public advocacy [e.g., The Federalist, presidential address]”). (SSCC.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9B)


Common Core standards may be found at