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Thomas JeffersonThomas-Jefferson

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: One class period

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Thomas Jefferson was accomplished in many spheres of human activity.
2. Jefferson chose only a few accomplishments to highlight on his tombstone.


For this lesson, you will need:


1. Paraphrase President John F. Kennedy on the occasion of his hosting an official dinner honoring winners of the Nobel Prize. At that time, Kennedy said the White House had not seen such a gathering of talent since Thomas Jefferson had dined there alone.
2. Proceed to a class discussion of the accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson. The discussion should include at least the following facts:
  • After college, Jefferson became a lawyer.
  • He was then elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
  • He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.
  • He served as governor of Virginia during the Revolution.
  • He served as minister to France.
  • He worked as George Washington's secretary of state, as John Adams's vice president, and as America's third president.
  • He was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase.
  • He was a violinist, a horseman, and an inventor.
  • He established the University of Virginia.
3. Read to students the epitaph that Thomas Jefferson himself composed: Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and the Father of the University of Virginia.
4. Ask students to comment not only on which accomplishments Jefferson included in his epitaph but also on which he pointedly omitted. Give students an opportunity to conjecture how and why Jefferson came up with this particular wording. What does his choice of what to include and what to exclude tell us about Jefferson?
5. To underscore the challenge of writing an epitaph, invite students to write one for one or more of the following public figures still alive in the year 2000:
  • President William Jefferson Clinton
  • Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel
  • President Fidel Castro of Cuba
  • A rock star of their choice
  • An athlete of their choice
  • Another public figure of their choice
Remind students that an epitaph can be neutral or laudatory but is seldom if ever condemnatory.
6. You may want students to read their finished epitaphs aloud, perhaps having the class vote on the best written, the most poetic, the wittiest, the briefest, the one with the most superlatives, and so on.

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Have students research other epitaphs that had been composed by the deceased for themselves. Ask students to determine what, if any, qualities these epitaphs have in common.

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Discussion Questions

1. Analyze how different our modern society is from that of Thomas Jefferson's time in terms of class. Does anyone still inherit a place in the power structure the way Jefferson did?
2. Discuss what it might means to be an ideal American.
3. Analyze who has power in our society. Discuss who you think should have power.
4. Discuss the difference between Jefferson's views and his actions as far as slavery is concerned. How should he be judged?
5. In Jefferson's time, the press was political. How have things changed? Debate the role that a free press should play in politics.
6. Compare and contrast Jefferson's views regarding Native Americans with current ideas. Why do Native Americans remain America's poorest minority?

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Encourage students to help you make up a rubric for this assignment. Ask them what qualities you and they should look for in judging an epitaph ineffective, fair, good, or excellent.

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Revisiting History
Acknowledging the recent publicity about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, ask students to find stories about descendants of that union. Then ask students to comment on the pros and cons of bringing Jefferson's private life into the public arena.

What If . . . ?
Pose the hypothesis that Jefferson could come back to the United States of America for one week at the beginning of the 21st century. Ask students to deduce what they think he would admire about society, and what they think he would condemn. Students must be able to support their suppositions.

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Suggested Readings

Thomas Jefferson: Man on a Mountain
by Natalie Bober, Atheneum, 1988.
A biography of the author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson
by Kathie Smith, Messner, 1989.
Jefferson's life from childhood to adulthood.

Thomas Jefferson; The Revolutionary Aristocrat
by Milton Meltzer, Watts, 1991.
Biography of a president who was also an inventor, architect, farmer, statesman, and educator.

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Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson
If your students are interested in what it was like to live at Monticello this virtual visit is excellent! You can see what a day in the life of Thomas Jefferson was like, or see some of the fascinating innovations Jefferson invented at Monticello. There are also brief biographies about the lives of those who lived at Monticello and an interesting facts section.

The American Presidency
This site contains wonderful hypertext articles including a Thomas Jefferson biography, election results from the past, a collection of "Election 1996" web sites and biographical information on all U.S. presidents. This is a great resource site, updated daily, for information on the presidency!

The Presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Third President 1801-1809
This page, which is part of the White House web site, provides a brief biography of Jefferson, links to inaugural addresses, familiar quotes by Jefferson, and biographies of other Presidents of the United States.

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

speaker    gentry
Definition: People of high social position.
Context: This was met out by self indulgent gentry against whom the poor responded angrily.

speaker    revolution
Definition: The overthrow of a government or a political system.
Context: Virginia in Jefferson's youth was primed for revolution.

speaker    pamphleteer
Definition: A writer of pamphlets or other short works taking a partisan stand on an issue.
Context: Pamphleteers were as garrulous as talk show hosts and about as influential.

speaker    expansionist
Definition: A person who believes in the practice or policy of territorial or economic expansion by a nation.
Context: Jefferson was an American expansionist famous for his Louisiana purchase.

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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: 6-8
Subject area: United States History
Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system.
Understands the differences in leaders (e.g., Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson) and the social and economic composition of each political party in the 1790s.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Civics
Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values,beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy.
Identifies fundamental values and principles that are expressed in basic documents, significant political speeches and writings, and individual and group actions that embody fundamental values and principles.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: United States 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 social, political, and religious aspects of the American Revolution (e.g., opponents and defenders of England's new imperial policy; decisions leading to crisis of revolution; efforts by Parliament and colonies to prevent revolution; ideas of different religions; economic and social differences of Loyalists, Patriots, and neutrals).

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Summer Productions, Inc.

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