Role of Virginians in the Founding of the New Nation

Lesson 1: George Washington: Father of Our Country

Time Estimated: 2 days



Students will:

  1. Identify and interpret primary source documents to understand events in history.
  2. Analyze primary source documents.
  3. Draw conclusions and make generalizations based on analysis.
  4. Recognize the positive qualities and character traits of George Washington.
  5. Write an article for the newspaper defending George Washington’s title, “Father of Our Country”.







Day 1

  1. Hook: Display a picture of George Washington. Ask students to brainstorm what they know about George Washington. Tell them to think about what they have previously learned. Also have students describe character traits of a father. Confirm or correct responses and record them on chart paper to refer to later. If students give events, draw inferences about his character. Briefly describe the unit explaining that at the end students will be role playing the four Virginians in this unit and presenting a panel discussion.
  2. Tell them they will learn why Washington is called the “Father of Our Country”. To help them discover the reasons for this title they will be analyzing some primary sources along with secondary source information. Have them describe a primary source as review. By this point in the year students should have a good understanding of primary sources.
    • What is a primary source?
    • Identify the types of items that can be primary sources.
    • How do primary sources help us better understand historical characters and events?
    • Why would we use primary sources along with textbooks and other history books?
  3. This lesson is designed for use with the interactive websites and the teacher should preview and be familiar with the site before hand. Go to the Learning About Washington website G.W. Kids View slide one. [These primary sources are also included in this unit.]
    Have a volunteer read the overview and discuss the information. Have cooperative groups discuss and report out on the following questions.
    • Why do you think the Continental Congress choose George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the army?
    • What qualities did Washington have that would have made him a good choice for Commander-in-Chief?
    • How do you think the patriots must have felt if they seemed to be losing the war during the first two years?
    • What would have made them continue fighting?
  4. Have students make observations about the painting, George Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Ask them to analyze what the artist is representing about the historical event and make generalizations about Washington. Read the For Teacher notes to aid discussion.
    • What mood is the artist trying to convey in this painting?
    • Why would the artist portray Washington standing in the painting?
    • Do you think this is actually how the scene looked? How might it have really looked if you were an eyewitness?
    • Why would the artist choose to portray the scene in this manner?
  5. Go to the student question page and read the questions about the note Washington sent to General Howe. Have cooperative groups discuss the questions and record their responses to report to the group. The following questions are found on the website;
    • How many years ago was this note written?
    • What is General Washington returning to the British?
    • How did Washington know it belonged to William Howe? From the note, what would you say that “inscription” means?
    • Additional questions;
    • What does Washington’s gesture tell you about his character?
  6. Each group should report their answers comparing and contrasting different responses.
  7. Go to slide 2 and repeat the procedures from step 2-4 analyzing the information from the presidential years. After reading the overview ask the following question
    • Washington served as president of the constitutional convention. Why do you think he was chosen for this job? Would this be the same reason he was chosen as the first president of the United States?
    • How had his accomplishments in the past influenced how people felt about him and his character as a leader?
    • Why would Washington be careful about the way he conducted himself during his presidency?
  8. Analyze the painting of Washington by Gilbert Stuart. Then ask the following questions.
    • Point out the rainbow in the window above his outstretched arm. What do you think this symbolizes in the painting?
    • Point out the American red, white, and blue insignia on the chair. What is the significance of this in the painting?
    • What other items are in the painting and why do you think the artist included them?
    • How does Washington look in this painting? What kind of figure is he supposed represent?
  9. Go to the student page and read the song the girls and women of Trenton sang to Washington. The following questions are located on this page.
    • Why would the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey be especially glad to welcome George Washington to their town in 1789? What had he done there several years ago? Check back on Slide 1 for a hint. While you’re there, look for clues for the meaning of “mercenary.”
    • Thinking about what you’ve read on the slides so far, why might people have felt that Washington would make a good first president?
    • Why do you think George Washington would have written this song down for himself?
  10. Have each group make generalizations about Washington’s character based on the site viewed and discussed. Have groups report out and add any new information to the chart started at the beginning of the class.
  11. Wrap up: Have students summarize what they learned about Washington and write their response in their interactive notebook. Ask for volunteers to share their responses.

Day 2

  1. Hook: Ask students to recall what they learned about Washington the previous day from the paintings, overviews, and primary sources analyzed. Confirm their responses by showing them the chart responses. Add any new responses.
  2. Tell students they will view three more primary sources today. They will analyze these to help them draw a conclusion about why Washington has earned the title “Father of Our Country”. Hand out the primary documents, transcript of Washington’s Farewell address (first three paragraphs), Henry Lee’s quote: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” (excerpt from the eulogy to Congress), and Jefferson’s description written after Washington’s death (the excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Dr. Walter Jones). The documents will be read and discussed in whole group. Cooperative groups will then discuss and generate a list of characteristics that would make Washington the “Father of Our Country”. In this process they will generalize the similarities between Washington and a father. They need to be ready to defend their answers with evidence from sources analyzed.
    • What kind of documents is each of these?
    • What is the significance of the first three paragraphs of Washington’s Farewell Address? Why do you think he decided to step down from the presidency? What does this tell you about Washington’s character?
    • What kind of relationship do you think Lee and Jefferson had with Washington based on the information in these excerpts?
    • One of these documents was written immediately following Washington’s death the other about fourteen years later. Are there similarities and/or differences in the tone of the message written?
    • What type of person would Washington have been to have these kinds of statements made about him?
  3. Students will be given a choice sheet from which they will select an option for demonstrating their understanding of the reasons Washington is called the “Father of Our Country”. Their product will convey the evidence to support their conclusion. They will be given additional class time to work on their projects.
  4. Wrap up: Students will work in pairs to construct a graphic organizer that displays the characteristics that support Washington’s title. Students will share their work.

    The same rubric (the four criteria below) will be used for any product choice.

    • Provide clear evidence of reasons George Washington is called the Father of Our Country from primary and secondary sources studied.
    • Product connects characteristics of Washington and a father to support his title.
    • Accurately sequence historical events.
    • Conclusions supported with a defense.




  1. Students will brainstorm as a class to generate ideas that will be recorded on chart paper. This will assist those who cannot easily recall prior knowledge about George Washington.
  2. When viewing the websites in a whole group setting on the Smart Board student volunteers will read aloud the overview supporting less able readers. Cooperative groups with well-established roles will then discuss the questions for each slide and report out answers.
  3. Students will be given choices for accomplishing the assessment task drawing on the multiple intelligences. Choices will include write a newspaper article, write a poem or create a rap, create a poster, perform a role-play, or create a cartoon sequence.