PBS: By the People, Election 2004
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The President: Politician in Chief

In this lesson students will examine the formal and informal powers of the president, as well as the political skills required to win office. They will also assess the personal qualities needed to win office and to carry out the responsibilities of the presidency. Using criteria they have developed, students will compare current contenders for the office.

Estimated Time of Completion: 7-10 hours

I. Objectives
II. Necessary Materials
III. Teaching Procedure
IV. Assessment Recommendations
V. Extension/Adaptation Ideas
VI. Online Resources
VII. Relevant National Standards

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I. Objectives

  • Students research the formal and informal powers of the President
  • Students form hypotheses with respect to personal qualities needed to carry out the office
  • Students observe media coverage of the current presidential election
  • Students assess the value of information provided by campaign literature and advertisements
  • Students develop criteria for evaluating presidential candidates
  • Students compare presidential candidates' qualifications for office

II. Necessary Materials

  • U. S. Constitution
  • Student textbook on U.S. government and politics
  • TV
  • Campaign literature
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Current newspapers and periodicals

III. Teaching Procedure

1. Using the U.S. Constitution and their textbooks, students will list the formal or constitutional powers of the president. These include the power to command the armed forces, negotiate treaties, veto bills, administer federal laws, and nominate cabinet members, federal judges and other high federal officials. Students will add to their list the informal roles or responsibilities of the president. These include legislative leader, crisis manager, budget setter, party leader and national spokesman.

2. Students will decide on the personal qualities needed to carry out the president's formal and informal powers. They may cite experience in public office, intelligence, the ability to work with others and sound judgment. To demonstrate their understanding of personal qualities needed to fulfill the formal and informal responsibilities of the presidency, students may:

  • Write a "help wanted" ad which lists qualities required to carry out presidential duties
  • Create a diagram which demonstrates links between personal characteristics and presidential duties
  • Write a fictional account of how the ideal president uses his or her powers to manage a national or international crisis

3. Students will collect campaign literature on presidential contenders, watch TV ads and political talk shows and investigate presidential web sites. They may conduct these activities individually or in teams.

4. Students will decide on the qualities necessary to win presidential election. These may include personal attractiveness, speaking ability, persuasiveness, organizational skills and the ability to raise money. Students will compare their list of qualities needed to carry out presidential responsibilities with those needed to win election.

5. Students will form conclusions: To what extent are the qualities the same? To what extent are they different? How can this knowledge help voters to make an informed choice among presidential candidates?

To demonstrate their findings, students may:

  • Create a voter's guide to help citizens focus on important characteristics of presidential contenders
  • Draw a cartoon which illustrates obstacles to informed voting
  • Make up a "smart voter's quiz" which enables citizens to assess whether they are using informed criteria to make political choices
  • Design a flow-chart which shows steps to sound voter decision making‹with hazards along the way

Using their list of qualities needed to carry out presidential responsibilities, students will evaluate the current contenders for U.S. president. They may use information from newspapers, web sites, the media and campaign literature they have collected. While all should use their developed criteria, they may use various forms of evaluation. For example, students may:

  • Form debate teams, with each team using their evaluation to support a particular candidate
  • Write a campaign speech for one or more of the candidates, using their evaluation as a basis for urging voter support
  • Use the evaluation to develop a web site for one of the candidates
  • Develop a chart comparing two or more candidates
  • Design a media ad that uses key points in their evaluation
  • Write a newspaper editorial using their evaluation to support a particular candidate

IV. Assessment Recommendations
To assess student projects teachers may wish to consider factors such as clarity of presentation, adherence to the evaluation scheme and creativity, as well as number and quality of sources used.

V. Extension/Adaptation Ideas
Students may determine the value of the campaign literature, newspaper articles, Web sites and media in helping voters to make informed choices. Using the material they have reviewed, students may develop a scheme to determine its relevance. For example, they may ask:

  • How much space/time is devoted to a discussion of the candidates' qualifications and stands on issues?
  • How much space/time is used to discuss the candidates' campaign schedule or strategies?

Based on their analysis, students will form conclusions as to which sources are most useful.

Students may present their findings by

  • Developing a chart which rates material according to its educational value
  • Write a paper in which they analyze the value of one source of information, i.e., TV talk shows or candidates' Web sites
  • Write a paper in which they analyze the value of one source of information, i.e., TV talk shows or candidates' Web sites

VI. Online Resources
George W. Bush

Wesley Clark

Howard Dean

John Edwards

John Kerry

Dennis Kucinich

Joseph Lieberman

Al Sharpton

VII. Relevant National Standards
These are established by McREL at


Understands ideas about civic life, politics and government

  • Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life
  • Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections and associations and groups in American politics
  • Understands the importance of political leadership, public service and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy

Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes
  • 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

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