The Democracy Project

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Dear Presidential Diary

Subjects: Language Arts/Social Studies

Estimated Time of Completion: six to eight fifty minute class periods

  1. I. Summary
  2. II. Objectives
  3. III. Materials Needed
  4. IV. Procedure
  5. V. Classroom Assessment
  6. VI. Extensions and Adaptations
  7. VII. Relevant Standards

I. Summary

Students will use a series of Web sites and other sources to experience a day in the life of a president. Students will discuss and become familiar with the President's surroundings and tasks during a typical day. This lesson will challenge students to participate in presidential tasks such as writing letters, meeting with foreign leaders, working on a budget and giving a speech. This lesson will culminate with the sharing of information learned about a president's life.

II. Objectives

  • Students will practice sequencing skills.
  • Students will improve map-reading skills.
  • Students will discuss and write about the president's daily life and activities.
  • Students will learn about keeping journals and/or diaries.
  • Students will improve their creative writing skills.<.li>

III. Materials Needed

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Writing supplies or computers with word processors for completing diary entries
  • Optional: overhead projector and transparencies of diary entry examples and/or maps to use in explanation of lesson

IV. Procedure

  1. Ask one student to come up and role play what he or she did that morning while other students guess. (Examples: got out of bed, ate breakfast, talked on the phone, brushed teeth, rode in the car to school, walked dog, etc.)
  2. Share an overhead transparency in the style of a personal diary entry describing the teacher's morning routine; time and task will be included. Example: 7:00 A.M. teacher woke and had coffee, 7:10-7:25 teacher dressed for school, 7:25-7:30 teacher greeted students at the door, etc. Ask students to prepare a page that would look like a diary entry for their day. They will include time and task.
  3. When students have completed their diary entries, display an overhead projection of a former president's typical day. A page from President Ford's diary may be viewed at the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum Web site, courtesy of the LBJ Library (a simplified version of this diary entry is also available. If no overhead is available, print the diary entry to share with students. Or you might use a very simplified and imaginary presidential diary entry as a model for students.
  4. Compare and contrast the life of a president to students' lives. It would be helpful here to create a chart, use the board or utilize an overhead projector to record the comparisons. Students may make observations as: the president has long hours, meets with important people, takes many phone calls, has many people depending on him, etc. Prompt students to think of other presidential activities that may not be listed here.
  5. Next, have students visit the PBS site to play "President For A Day." When visiting this site, students will have the opportunity to role play a virtual day in the life of a United States president.
  6. Instruct students that they will be keeping a fictional diary for one day of being president, and students will record their creative and original presidential activities.
  7. Give students a day or two to gather data and ideas about how a president spends the day. Students should examine several sources of media for glimpses into the President's life. The President's meetings, speeches and appearances are catalogued at the White House Web site. The evening news offers some explanation about the life of the President. The newspaper also offers insights into the President's life.
  8. Once students have been exposed to some possibilities for a presidential day, students will create a presidential calendar page and five diary entries (described below) about specific events in that day.
  9. The student will use the current date for recording the day's entries. The students will then account for the entire day. Example: Oct. 1, 2005, would be a heading on the paper with times listed down the margin. A student might take a look at the time the president might begin the day and continue until a president's bedtime.
  10. Students must choose and complete five items from the following list of possible presidential activities and attach the written evidence of their participation in that activity to their calendar page.
    • Suggest a Law:

      According to the Constitution, Congress makes the country's laws. However, most Presidents often suggest laws to Congress. Think of a topic for a law that you would suggest. It might have to do with pollution, animal welfare, education, health, poverty or another issue.
    • Hire Personnel:

      The U.S. government is the nation's largest employer. Presidents manage these workers with the help of department heads. They form a group of advisors called the "Cabinet." Use an almanac and research to learn about current Cabinet members and their posts. Hire classmates for Cabinet posts such as foreign relations, military, parks, business, travel, education, money, agriculture, labor, energy and veterans' affairs. Write a paragraph to identify the classmate chosen for a specific post, and explain why he/she would make a good Cabinet member. The White House Cabinet site will be helpful.
    • Work on the Budget:

      Practice creating a budget by making a pie graph. The pie graph will be divided four sections: national defense, social security, environmental protection and education. Decide which of the four should receive the highest percentage or slice of the pie. Divide your pie graph according to the priority you assign to each item, and explain your reasoning.
    • Suggest a New Idea for the Future:

      One of the president's jobs is to help create a vision for the country's future?like a big wish. History books often remember presidents by their contributions to society. Kennedy's was space travel, Johnson's was the "Great Society" without poverty, etc. What is your one "big wish" for the country in 50 years? It might be to explore the ocean depths, establish communication with other planets, travel in time machines, or build robots to help people. Write a paragraph and describe your big idea.
    • Handle Crisis:

      If a crisis develops, the president has to help solve it. A president must be a problem solver and a quick thinker. Imagine a crisis (it can be a war, a stock market crash, a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a computer virus that crashes all computers). Write a speech that the president would make explaining the crisis to the American people and motivating them to continue cooperating in a spirit of togetherness.
    • Entertain Guests:

      The White House is not only home to the president, but a museum visited by Americans and others from around the world. The president's job may include showing visitors the White House, famous monuments, or famous museums. If you were president, what would you show out-of-town visitors? Create a tour for guests to visit the White House, a famous monument or a famous museum. Some suggestions: the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Library of Congress, the United States Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution or the Washington Monument. Who would be your favorite guest either from the United States or from a foreign country? What foreign country would you like to visit as president?
  11. Students will share their favorite diary entry with the class.
  12. Students will discuss if they would like to be president for the day. Why or why not? What is the best part of the president's day? The worst?

IV. Classroom Assessment

  • Excellent:

    Students have enthusiastically participated in all activities, including discussions. Students visited the appropriate Web sites, properly researched the activities of a president and wrote a fantastic, original diary entry demonstrating knowledge of the lives of presidents. Paragraphs are well-written and accurate information is clearly presented.
  • Good:

    Students have participated in all activities and discussions. Students visited the appropriate Web sites, properly researched activities of a president and wrote a creative, original diary entry demonstrating knowledge of the lives of presidents. Paragraphs are fairly well-written and information is presented with some elaboration.
  • Fair:

    Students have participated in most activities and discussions. Students visited the appropriate Web sites, adequately researched the activities of a president and wrote an acceptable diary entry demonstrating some knowledge of the lives of presidents. Paragraphs lack details and information is presented with little elaboration.
  • Poor:

    Students participated in few classroom activities and discussions. Students visited some Web sites, did little research on the activities of a president and wrote little or none of the diary assignments.

V. Extensions and Adaptations

  • Once students learn about the daily duties of the president, students can write letters to the president with comments about how he/she spends the day. They can elaborate on the best parts, the hardest parts and what could be done to do a better job as president.
  • Encourage students to read biographies of past presidents and give book talks on the presidents.
  • Encourage other writing activities. What would you change about the community or school if you were president for a day? Write a campaign speech for the president. How do you think the president feels when he has to leave the White House? What is the best part of being president? What is the worst thing about being president?
  • Role-play events, situations or activities of the president.

VII. Relevant National Standards

These are established by McREL:

Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts
  • Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning
  • Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions


  • Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs including the Internet

Social Studies

  • Understands ideas about civic life, politics and government
  • Understands the concept of a constitution, the various purposes that constitutions serve and the conditions that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government
  • Knows that the United States is one nation and that it interacts with every other nation in the world
  • Knows the major ways nations interact with each other such as trade, diplomacy, cultural contacts, treaties or agreements and use of military force
  • Knows what political leaders do and why leadership is necessary in a democracy
  • Knows the major duties, powers, privileges and limitations of a position of leadership (e.g., class president, mayor, state senator, tribal chairperson, president of the United States); and knows how to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of candidates in terms of the qualifications required for a particular leadership role
  • Understands how certain character traits enhance citizens' ability to fulfill personal and civic responsibilities
  • Understands the importance of political leadership, public service and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy responsibilities