Skip to main content

Are you looking for a way to incorporate civics into your high school classroom? This learning resource connects the concept of informed civic agency to George Washington’s visual significance as a national symbol in artwork over the past 250 years.  Through the analysis of primary sources and a creative civics activity, this learning resource empowers students to see themselves as citizens whose voices matter and who have agency to participate in civic conversations.


Lesson Narrative (5Es)

This learning experience is inquiry-based and built on the 5E model. Students will be engaged by looking at some of the various ways that George Washington has been depicted in different media from the 1780s to the 21st century. Students will then explore and explain  the significance of national symbols and our engagement with them. Students understanding will be evaluated when they identify important themes, trends, and absences in these depictions by creating a museum exhibit catalog about them. Finally, learning can extend as students design and propose a depiction of George Washington that is suited to their community.

  • This learning experience can be modified to fit a range of grade levels.
  • This learning experience could fit one class session or be extended to fit multiple sessions.
  • This learning experience integrates reading, writing, speaking, listening, social-emotional, and civics learning skills.
  • This learning experience has other resources that can accompany the lesson or it can be taught solely with the documents in the lesson plan. 


  • A special exhibition at a museum typically curates a number of objects—paintings, artifacts, books, etc.—in order to present visitors with an overview and argument about a topic.
  • Museums often publish exhibition catalogues so that the exhibition is accessible and preserved for a wider audience. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for instance, has an archive of hundreds of these, dating back to the late 19th century.
    • Students can peruse these to get a sense of what the genre of exhibition catalogues typically looks like.


  • Based on student analysis and discussion on the images of Washington, students should choose 5-7 examples that they believe reflect important aspects of his status as a national symbol.
    • These will the foundation of the student's museum exhibition, and they will include all of the examples in their museum catalogue.
  • These examples should reflect some of the following:
    • Important stylistic conventions used to depict Washington;
    • Important qualities or characteristics attributed to him;
    • Important historical events or roles that he participated in;
    • Important absences or biases that students detect in these depictions,
    • Important dynamics that the work of art creates with the viewer.
  • Student analysis of these works can be based on both first-hand observation and background reading.


  • To these choices, students will create one final depiction of Washington to include in the exhibition catalogue.
    • This should be a piece of artwork—a stature or other monument, painting, performance, poem, etc.—that could exist in a specific public space somewhere in their state.
    • The depiction does not only need to be of Washington; it may include other spaces, contexts, and people who are connected with Washington. 
  • Students should design it in a way that reflects their beliefs and perspective about the themes of Civic Participation, We the People, and A People in the World.


  • Students can have the opportunity to actually publish their communication in a school newspaper, Twitter or Facebook page; they may also address it to the school, local parks department, or whatever agency or office that might have authority over the preservation or creation of the historical site in question.

Student Portal

Students can explore the timeline to learn more about George Washington as a National Symbol

Explore the Timeline

Civic Connections: Civic Participation, We the People, and A People in the World

This lesson focuses on the ideas of Civic ParticipationWe the People, and A People in the World, which have definitions within the Educating for American Democracy Framework. Here are the specific civic components that connect to this lesson:

9-12 Key Concept: Examine the values, civic virtues, principles, and role of the people in creating good governance at various levels.

Driving Questions:

History: HDQ1.4A. How did past generations of Americans understand and answer calls to civic duty in civil society, religious communities, and politics?

Civics: CDQ3.4B. How do my personal values, principles, and commitments relate to the shared values, principles, and commitments that define "We the People of the United States of America"?

Design Challenge 1: Motivating Agency, Sustaining the Republic

DC1.1: How can we help students understand the full context for their roles as civic participants without creating paralysis or a sense of the insignificance of their own agency in relation to the magnitude of our society, the globe, and shared challenges?

Educating for American Democracy