GW: Life & Times

Teacher Introduction

In this section of our site, we have endeavored to provide teachers and students with useful primary and secondary materials to help foster understanding of early America through the life of George Washington. These resources can work on several levels. First, the twelve slides themselves provide a general chronology of the life of George Washington as well as secondary information on the larger historical context. Ideally, this background material reiterates your own class text readings and discussion. From here we hope you'll link to the accompanying primary document and questions. Manuscripts like Washington's school book exercises, an address to the Senate, his will and others give students the chance to examine the life and times of a leading figure in American history firsthand and in greater depth. Finally, throughout the lessons, we've tried to communicate just what it is that "historians" do by referring to the editing process along the way and giving students a chance to try their own hand at a transcription.

While some of the lessons are more detailed than others, they are roughly 20-30 minutes in length. Each lesson can stand alone, or, if you have more time, there are a few combinations of documents that work well togther. For instance:

While in general, the lessons can be adapted for a range of middle and high school students, there are a few exceptions. The documents and questions used in conjunction with slides 3, 5, and 9 are at a high reading level, designed with advanced and/or AP American history classes in mind. The lesson accompanying slide 7 on the Constitution applies specifically to U.S. Government students. Also, slide 2, on surveying, incorporates basic math skills suitable for a wide audience. Similarly, slides 1, 2, 6, 11, and 12 should accommodate various levels of middle and high school classes. The lessons that accompany slides 2 and 12 require paper and pencil.

If this is a students' first encounter with eighteenth-century primary documents, you will want to explain that there was not yet a standardized American spelling or punctuation. You'll soon notice that spelling and punctuation varies widely, even within a single document. Locating and examining the discrepancies might prove a useful grammar exercise. In most cases, we have provided an "authentic" manuscript of the material, but also a transcription, especially for the lengthier documents.

We hope these materials will prove valuable for use with your students and welcome your comments and suggestions for improvement. Also, we encourage teacher and/or class-generated questions about the content itself. Please contact the office at the Papers of George Washington.

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*For teachers in Virginia, these lessons correspond to various history and social science Standards of Learning:
SOLs Topic
1.2, 4.3 Washington as a leading figure in U.S. history
4.1 expansion in Virginia
5.3, 11.3 key individuals and events in the American Revolution
4.4, 7.1, 11.4 key figures and issues involved in the writing of the Consitution
5.5, 11.5 major issues facing Congress and the first four presidents
4.7, 5.9, 11.17 interpreting primary documents, historical analysis