Digging Deep on Presidential Responsibilities

April 17, 2017

Layering lessons and resources for effective learning!


In my 8th grade Social Studies classroom, we spend half the year exploring civics, government, and politics.  One of the most valuable and important parts of our exploration is making sure that students can grasp the purpose and role of each of the branches of government.   When we studied the executive branch this year, our focus was on understanding the many roles of the President.

Naturally, I first turned to iCivics and our studies first began with “All in a Day’s Work”.  Students read the reading which concisely explained, in student friendly terms, the many jobs and roles of the President of the United States.  Then, using the awesome matching exercises that iCivics provided, I extended the activity by playing a Kahoot! to formatively assess student understanding of the reading and the roles/jobs of the President.  Students were asked questions such as “Which job of the President includes the power to ‘Decide whether to let someone out of prison based on the prisoner’s good conduct and particular circumstances’?” (they needed to identify “Pardon someone for a crime, canceling their punishment”).   By the end of the lesson, students could clearly identify and describe many roles, powers, and jobs of the President, including Commander in Chief, Chief Executive, Head of Party, deliver State of the Union Address, and carry out or execute the laws. 

The next day, I introduced our project for this unit of study, which was collaboratively designed, instructed, and implement with our school’s awesome Instructional Technology teacher, Gregg Newton. Students would be creating a 30-45 second video highlighting one role/job of the President (the model given was the power to pardon, with special focus on the annual turkey pardon as we completed this work right before Thanksgiving).  Students began by researching the role or job of their choice in greater detail.  On the second and third day of the project, students worked on creating a storyboard to show the plan for their video and they looked for any images that they wanted to use in the video.   We then introduced students to the WeVideo program for students to create their videos!

Students worked for about 2-3 days in and out of class to film and edit their videos.  A green screen (green plastic tablecloth hung from the wall) even enabled some students to film right in front of the White House or in the Oval Office!  Students were able to do all filming and editing using Chromebooks. When the videos premiered, the students were excited to share their own videos and learn about the many roles that the President has; formal roles such as negotiating treaties and informal roles such as setting a legislative agenda.

To conclude our unit of study, students were assigned to read iCivics “A Very Big Branch”, to learn about the wide array of departments and agencies that the President supervises as Chief Executive.  Finally, students played “Executive Command” and were engaged and entertained, as always by the game (the measure of that is the number of students who have told me that they have gone back to play an iCivics game at home or outside of class!) As December began, I felt confident that my students had a strong grasp of the many roles and jobs of the President and the Executive Branch, thanks to the tremendous resources of iCivics.  I have taught 8-12 grade, Civics, U.S. History, and Advanced Placement Government and Politics and have found the iCivics resources to be extremely effective with students of many ages, interests, and abilities.  iCivics is the BEST civics and government curriculum available today!


Laura Pagington teaches 8th Grade Social Studies at Luther Burbank Middle School in Lancaster, MA.  She has also taught high school Social Studies, including Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics.  Follow Laura on Twitter @lpagington where she shares content and pedagogical tweets with her followers.  Laura is a proud member of the iCivics Educator Network.