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Early American LeadersEarly-American-Leaders

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. A leader demonstrates certain traits, qualities, or characteristics.
2. Leaders exist in America today and existed in early American history as well.


For this lesson, you will need:
chart paper and markers
paper and pencils


1. In this project, students will identify men and women who are leaders in their community and in the world at large. From this more concrete experience, they will travel back to early America and learn on a more abstract level about leaders of the young nation.
Begin by asking students who the principal of the school is and what he or she does. Start, on the board or on poster paper, a list of leaders' qualities, traits, or characteristics. Such a list might include the following:
  • Makes up rules
  • Rewards and punishes people
  • Earns respect
  • Helps and comforts people
  • Makes people work hard
2. Go on to ask students to identify the persons who head up other groups or organizations that they may be familiar with and to list the heads' qualities, traits, or characteristics. Students may identify a person by name or by title. Consider talking about the leaders of the following groups or organizations. Add qualities, traits, or characteristics of each leader to the list you started in the preceding step.
  • Leader of the town or city in which students live
  • Leader of the fire department of the town or city
  • Leader of the police department of the town or city
  • Leader of the largest store or major business in the town or city
  • Leader of the local newspaper
  • Leader of the state
  • Leader of the country
  • Leader of another country
3. Tell students, or review with them, stories about one or more of the following:
  • Paul Revere and the minutemen
  • George Washington and the Continental Army
  • Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence
4. Convert the list of leadership qualities, traits, or characteristics, which you've been adding to, into a chart with the qualities, traits, or characteristics as column heads. Place the name of one early American leader in each row. Based on what students have learned about Revere, Washington, and Jefferson, ask them to tell you which leader demonstrated which qualities, traits, or characteristics—and when or how (that is, students should supply an example of when or how the leader demonstrated the quality). Have a student check off the columns that apply to Revere, Washington, and Jefferson.
5. When the chart is complete, help students interpret it. That is, ask them to look at the data and comment on them. What traits do all these leaders seem to have in common? What traits do none of them have? What traits do some but not all of them have?
6. After the class discussion, ask students to write one paragraph answering the following questions:
  • What does it take to be a leader?
  • Why is Revere, Washington, or Jefferson considered a leader?

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Tell students the stories about Revere, Washington, and Jefferson. Then ask them to tell you which of the men fit each of these categories:
  • Someone who bravely took on a difficult job
  • Someone who worked hard and made other people work hard
  • Someone who gave the country something to remember

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Discussion Questions

1. What qualities was the Second Continental Congress looking for in the person selected as commander in chief of the Continental Army?
2. How did George Washington compare in size to the average man of the time, and how did he use this difference?
3. What does it take to be a leader?
4. Why is Revere, Washington, or Jefferson considered a leader?

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You can evaluate each student's paragraph using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: clearly identifies several traits of leadership; clearly explains why one or more of the men is considered a hero; writes more than a minimum number of sentences (to be determined)

  • Two points: identifies at least one trait of leadership; explains why one of the men is considered a hero; writes the minimum number of sentences

  • One point: answers one but not both questions; does not write the minimum number of sentences

You can have your students contribute to the assessment rubric by having them determine a minimum number of sentences for the paragraph.

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A Letter Home
Tell students to pretend that they are members of the Continental Congress. Ask them to write letters back home explaining the importance of the document they have just signed—the Declaration of Independence. Students should acknowledge whatever concerns they may have about the document and should mention in the letters how the congress's decisions will affect the families back home.

"I Rode with Paul Revere"
Tell students to write a fictional story based on the historical events of Paul Revere's ride. Suggest they write in the first person as a fictional minuteman who was roused out of bed by Revere and rode off into the night with him.

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Suggested Readings

Paul Revere
Jan Gleiter and Kathleen Thompson, Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 1995.

A Picture Book of Paul Revere
David A. Adler, Holiday House, 1995.

Young George Washington: America's First President
Andrew Woods, Troll, 1992.

George Washington, Father of Our Country : A First Biography
David A. Adler, Holiday House, 1988.

Pass the Quill; I'll Write a Draft: A Story of Thomas Jefferson
Robert Quackenbush, Pippin Press, 1989.

Thomas Jefferson: A Photo-Illustrated Biography
T.M. Usel, Bridgestone Books, 1996.

A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson
John Wallner, Holiday House, 1990.

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Historic Valley Forge
This site is rich in resources that a teacher may use in the classroom. Topics include a museum tour, maps, time line, writings, kids' page, unsolved mysteries, etc. In addition you may want to use keywords such as "George Washington," "Continental Army," and "American Revolution," to conduct a Web search for additional information about George Washington and life during the American Revolution.

Patriots of the American Revolution

Thomas Jefferson: Third President 1801-1809
This is the official White House biography of Jefferson.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    independence
Definition: Freedom from control by others.
Context: 1775: The American colonists began to embrace the idea of independence from England.

speaker    minutemen
Definition: Members of the colonial troops who had promised to take the field in battle on very short notice.
Context: General Thomas Gage, the commander of the British forces, sent them to capture the weapons held by the colonial troops, or minutemen.

speaker    unite
Definition: Join together for a common purpose; make as one.
Context: But, more importantly, Adams knew that this man would have to unite the colonies.

speaker    revolution
Definition: A significant change in political organization; the act of changing politically by rebelling against the authority in place.
Context: In January of 1776 news arrived from England that King George III was sending an army to crush the growing revolution.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: K-2
Subject area: history
Understands how democratic values came to be, and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols.
Understands the roles and importance of revolutionary leaders.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: history
Understands how democratic values came to be, and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols.
Understands why Americans and those who lead them went to war to win independence from England.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands the causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in shaping the revolutionary movement, and reasons for the American victory.
Understands the events that contributed to the outbreak of the American Revolution and the earliest armed conflict of the Revolutionary War.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: history
Understands how democratic values came to be, and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols.
Understands historical figures who believed in the fundamental democratic values and the significance of these people both in their historical context and today.

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Tish Raff, administrator and teacher, Sequoyah Elementary School, Derwood, Maryland.

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