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October 1, 2012

Lincoln’s words: Transcending time and political party – Lesson Plan


Secondary History, Government, Civics, Social Studies, Speech and Communication Arts

Estimated Time

One to two 45-90 minute class periods

Grade Level

7 – 12


Students will:

  1. Participate in a class brainstorming and discussion session to activate prior knowledge about Abraham Lincoln.
  2. View, take notes over and discuss several video clips related to the influence of Lincoln on U.S. politics.
  3. Complete small group research and analysis of selected Lincoln quotes used by various presidents throughout history.
  4. Share their findings by presenting their learning in visual form and posting it as part of a historical timeline.
  5. Draw conclusions about Lincoln’s ability to transcend time and political party and share them verbally and/or in writing.


In a nation filled with rich political history and many larger than life leaders, Abraham Lincoln stands out as a man who continues to transcend time and political party.  Embroiled in the controversies of the Civil War while in office, Lincoln has become one of the most widely referenced and quoted presidents of all time.  Admired by many who followed him, the question “What would Lincoln do?” is one that has guided U.S. presidents in decision making over the past 150 years.

Even more interesting is the fact that Lincoln’s popularity as a leader goes beyond political party lines.  Revered and referenced by both democrats and republicans, Lincoln’s broad appeal adds even more clout to his leadership and contributions to America.  While in office, presidents have quotes and misquoted Lincoln, using his words to do everything from justify political positions to sooth the hurt and wounded.   It has often been said, “If you have Lincoln on your side, you can’t go wrong.”

Examining how the presidents that followed him have used Lincoln’s words, we can judge for ourselves whether Lincoln was, in fact, the best, most influential president of all time.


  • Write Abraham Lincoln on the board/overhead.
  • Direct students to share descriptive words, phrases, nicknames and ideas that come to mind when they think of Lincoln.  Record these on the board/overhead.
  • Explain to students that Lincoln is consistently ranked as our best and most influential president.  Using the list brainstormed earlier and additional prior knowledge, discuss why Lincoln might be viewed in this way.
  • Introduce the video clip by asking students to look for evidence to support their ideas about why Lincoln has remained such a popular president, despite being out of office for over 150 years.
  • Direct students to take notes on the Viewing Guide as they watch “How Lincoln Shaped American Politics, Popular Culture” at (questions 1-2), “Quoting Abraham Lincoln” and “Leaders on Lincoln:  President George H.W. Bush“.
  • Discuss the video clips using information students noted on the viewing guide.  Encourage the use of specific examples,and reference the videos a second time as needed to enhance the details of the discussion.
  • Break students into small groups or pairs and provide each group with 1 of the quotes listed on the Famous Lincoln Quotes sheet.
  • After students have read their quote, direct them to examine the history of the use of the quote by doing research and
  • Explaining what was happening historically in the U.S. at that time
  • Discussing how the quote could be used as a way to justify a particular policy or political action (i.e. war, etc.) taken by the President
  • Discussing how the President might have been able to connect with citizens or voters by using the quote
  • Creating a visual representation of the quote that includes the date, names the president, and summarizes what they have learned in their research.
  • When all research has been finished and visuals are prepared, provide each group with the opportunity to present their findings.
  • Display the visual representations of each quote on a bulletin board or wall in timeline order.
  • Close the lesson by returning to the final question on the viewing guide and discussing it again or turning it into a written response to see if ideas have changed based on what was learned from the research and presentations.

Extension Activities

  • Learn more about Lincoln’s oratory skills by researching the Lincoln-Douglas debates and discussing how this series of debates shaped the political landscape and the art of debate.  Re-enact one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates using transcripts found here.
  •  Research the misuse of Lincoln quotes by finding examples of quotes mistakenly represented as Lincoln’s or quotes commonly thought to have been said by Lincoln but never substantiated.
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  • The Materials You Need

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    Relevant National Standards:
    • Standard 10: Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life
    • Standard 27: Understands how certain character traits enhance citizens’ ability to fulfill personal and civic responsibilities
    • Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
    • Working with Others
    • Standard 10: Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life
    • Standard 10: Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life

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