Monday, February 18, 2013


Playful prompts can help students to explore history and writing in ways that reinforce lessons in both.  Applicable at any time during the year, this exercise can be especially appropriate for Presidents’ Day.

1.  Tell kids about the pets owned by U.S. Presidents.  George Washington had a favorite horse, Nelson, whom he rode when the British surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown in 1781, which ended the Revolutionary War.  Abraham Lincoln’s sons kept rabbits, goats, and a turkey named Jack at the White House.  Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon, and Theodore Roosevelt’s six kids happily tended dogs, cats, guinea pigs, birds, snakes, a badger, and a bear during their father’s administration.

2.  Read and talk about First Dog Fala by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Michael Montgomery (Peachtree 2008).  Fala was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s beloved Scottish terrier.  She lived with him during his presidency from 1940 to his death in 1945; and her bronze sculpture sits beside that of her master in the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC.  Ask the class what a presidential pet like Fala might notice.  How might he describe the president and an important historical event? Would a pet’s perception be different from what people might notice?  Why or why not?

3.  History/Writing Prompt #1:  Choose a President or ask students to choose a favorite to research.  Have children research the particular President’s important accomplishments as well as worries, mistakes, or low points of his term(s).  Ask students to take the point of view of the President’s pet and, as that pet, to write about what they notice/feel about the President and about that historical event.  Or they might write from the perspective of a “hidden” animal (spider, mouse).

4.  History/Writing Prompt #2:  Choose a historical event and discuss its importance with the class.  Talk about what happened.  Then ask students to become an animal witnessing that historical event or living during a certain point in time (an ox pulling a wagon West, the horse of a Pony Express rider, a dog welcoming his soldier master home from a specific war).  Have students write from the point of view of that animal and describe what the animal saw, heard, smelled, and felt. 

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