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Let your students take a look at the leadership qualities of George Washington and the establishment of the first cabinet. By sorting and categorizing primary source excerpts in group-generated categories, students are offered an opportunity to associate character, virtues, and values with traits of good citizens and leaders today.

Lesson Narrative (5Es)

This learning experience is inquiry-based and built on the 5E model. Students will be engaged by listing character traits that make a good leader. They will then explore primary source quotes about leadership and explain how historical figures viewed George Washington. They will partake in group discussion to evaluate their understanding of the content and understand who may be missing from the primary source quotes. Finally, learning can extend as students consider Alexander Hamilton's descriptions of Washington and relate those characteristics relate to their own life.

  • This learning experience can be modified to fit a range of grade levels.
  • This learning experience fits one class session.
  • This learning experience integrates reading, writing, speaking, listening, social-emotional, and civics learning skills.
  • This learning experience has sources that can accompany the lesson.


  • Introduce the lesson by showing George Washington as a military leader.
  • Invite students to self-identify characteristics that match George Washington’s military leadership qualities.


  • In small groups, distribute the set of 22 quotes about George Washington
    • Have groups sort and categorize qualities by similarities and differences.
    • Do a gallery walk to review each other’s work.


  • Ask students whose voices are not represented.
  • Which characteristics describe themselves?
  • Which characteristics describe leaders in their life?
  • Which characteristics can they be working on?


  • Focus on one additional quote (Alexander Hamilton is suggested)
  • Does the describe a successful leader? Are you reflected in that quote? Why and how?
  • Shuffle and start again with all new categories.

Student Portal

Students can explore the timeline to learn more about George Washington's different leadership positions.

Explore the Timeline

Civics Connections: Civic Participation

This lesson focuses on the ideas of civic participation, which has a definition within the Educating for American Democracy Framework. Here are the specific civic components that connect to this lesson:

K-5 Key Concept: Learn and evaluate the characteristics of leadership.

Driving Questions:

History: HDQ1.2 A. Why and how do people take action in order to solve problems that affect them and others?

Civics: CSGQ1.2 C. What qualities of character, virtues, or values make a good citizen, resident, and/or leader?

Design Challenge 1: Motivating Agency, Sustaining the Republic.

DC1.1. How can we help students become engaged citizens who also sustain civil disagreement, civic friendship, and thus American constitutional democracy?

Educating for American Democracy