Why do you think the Constitution requires the president to give Congress an annual update on his or her agenda?
In what way, if any, do you think television has changed the State of the Union address?
If you were president of the United States, what would be the most important message in your first State of the Union address?
The State of the Union address is supposed to be the President's annual update to Congress. Do you think that is still its primary purpose in the 21st century? Why or why not?
- Remind students that presidents deliver an annual State of the Union address because the Constitution requires them to update Congress on their agenda once a year. On January 8, 1790, President George Washington delivered the first one. As a class, visit George Washington's Mount Vernon website to learn more about Washington's address and read the text.
- Guide students to understand that presidents talk about what is important to them in their State of the Union addresses. For Washington, those issues were defense, foreign policy, economic, education, and immigration related topics. These are still important issues today, though the details and context are different.
- As a class, review the basics of writing a speech. Inform students that it is important to focus on the main message but identify and build upon at least three supporting points. As they write a speech, they must keep the audience in mind, be tactful and brief. When they deliver a speech, it is important to speak loudly and clearly and use eye contact and gestures to pull the audience in.
- Instruct students to select a past president. Have them conduct research to learn about the most important issues America faced when that person was president. Encourage them to find and read the president's annual messages to Congress, now called State of the Union address, to learn which issues were most important to that president.
- Based on what they learned, have students write a short speech for that president. Encourage them to tailor the speech to a specific audience.
CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:
America’s Presidents is an exhibit that lies at the very heart of the National Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through individuals who have shaped the country. Explore this site to view the exhibition and conduct research on U.S. presidents.
More than just waging a war of independence, American revolutionaries took a great leap of faith and established a new government based on the sovereignty of the people. Explore this National Museum of American History exhibition to learn about this radical idea, which entrusted the power of the nation not in a monarchy but in its citizens.
Studying the presidency offers students a new way to explore American history. This package of Smithsonian History Explorer lessons, designed for students in grades 4-6, addresses campaigning, inauguration, the roles of the president, life in the White House and assassination and mourning.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson offered his own huge book collection as a replacement when British troops burned the Library of Congress? Or that John F. Kennedy was the youngest ever elected president—and the youngest to die in office? In this Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access activity, students can click on portraits to learn something about each president.
Discover a new side of the Commanders-in-Chief, from whiskey seances and magazine cover boys, in this article from Smithsonian magazine.
The goal of this History Explorer inquiry is to help students in grades 9-12 understand the central debate about the government’s role in fostering economic opportunity over the past half century. As this is a historical inquiry, it focuses on the motivations, actions and impacts of two particular U.S. presidents: Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.
In this History Explorer activity, students in grades 6-12 will review the roles of the presidency by using objects, images and documents in the section of the online exhibition The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden. Students will explore the complex duties of the president and how they have helped to determine their actions and policies.
Nearly a third of our forty-five presidents were vice presidents. Watch this Smithsonian Channel video to learn more about this maligned yet misunderstood position from curators of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, who offer stories and insights into the office of the vice president.