Classroom Activities: 

Home      Elementary      Middle School      High School

What's the Monumental Story? Lincoln's Era & the Washington Monument

Lesson Overview

Overview: This lesson utilizes primary source documents to help students investigate the story of the construction of the Washington Monument. Drawings, lithographs, wood engravings, and Congressional Records guide students toward understanding why the monument was built and some of the stories behind the iconic tribute to our first president.
Grade Range: 3-5
Objective: After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
  • Analyze and ask questions about primary source documents.
  • Communicate ideas and facts about the Washington Monument. 
Time Required: Four class periods of 25 minutes
Discipline/Subject: Social Studies/English
Topic/Subject: Presidents, Architecture, Cities and Towns
Era: Civil War and reconstruction, 1861-1877, Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900


Illinois Learning Standards: Social Studies:
14-Understand political systems with an emphasis on the United States.
14.D-Understand the roles and influences of individuals and interest groups in the political systems of the United States. 
14.F-Understand the development of the U.S. political ideas and traditions.
15-Understand economic systems, with an emphasis on the United States.
15.B-Understand that scarcity necessitates choices by consumers.
16-Understand events, trends, individuals and movements shaping the history of Illinois, the United States and other nations.
16.A-Apply the skills of historical analysis and interpretation.
16.B-Understand the development of significant political events.

Language Arts:
2.B-Read and interpret a variety of literary works.
Goal 4-Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations.
Goal 5-Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information. 



Analysis Tools: KWL Analysis Tool (page 8 of PDF)
Primary Source Analysis Worksheet (pages 10-11 of PDF
PowerPoint: Available on PDF
Other: Washington Monument Student Assessment (page 9 of PDF
Library of Congress Items: Title of Source: National Washington Monument
  Title of Source: President Lincoln and his son Thaddeus, the last photograph the president sat for.
  Title of Source: Washington Monument, Fifteenth Street between Independence and Constitution, Washington, District of Columbia DC
  Title of Source: 572 feet high-Setting of the Capstone
  Title of Source: National Washington Monument
  Title of Source: Bills and Resolutions, House of Representatives, 25th Congress, 2nd Session, Read twice and ordered to be engrossed and read the third time to-morrow. Mr Jenifer, from the Committee for the District of Columbia, reported the following bill: A Bill Authorizing the Officers and Managers of the Washington Monument Society to erect a monument to the memory of George Washington on the Public Mall.
Online Resources: Title of Source:NPS Washington Monument-National Parks Service
Description: NPS website for the Washington Monument. 
  Title of Source:Determining the Facts Construction of the Monument
Description: National Parks Service website that gives facts about the construction of Washington Monument. 
  Title of Source: Visual Evidence: Robert Mill's design for the Washington Monument
Description: National Park Service website that gives information about the design of the Washington Monument. 


  Day One:
1. Review the concept of primary source documents and communicating for a variety of purposes.
2. Invite students to explain what they see in the photograph of Lincoln & Tad. Encourage them to act as detective to help find the clues to solve the mysteries of the Washington Monument. Utilize the Washington Monument Teaching Guide (SMART) throughout the lessons to enhance understanding. (page 7 of PDF)
3. What inferences can be made about the photo?
4. Allow students to work as partners to examine the photo for more details.
5. Utilize the KWL tool (page 8 of PDF) to assist students in gathering and recording information.
6. Compare and contrast student information about the photograph.
7. Guide students toward the drawing of the Washington Monument in the background of the photo. Draw conclusions and summarize information specific to the monument.
  Day Two:
1.  Model the use of Primary Source Analysis tool (page 10-11 of PDF) to analyze the Washington National Monument Drawing to guide students through questioning to determine possible responses. 
2.  Divide students into groups to allow students to work as partners to explore one of the following: Setting the Capstone on the Washington Monument , architectural drawing and design of the Washington National Monument (Robert Mills)
3. As a whole group, share information from the primary source documents and solicit questions. 
  Day Three:
1. Examine Written primary source document (Authorization to Erect Washington Monument). Complete the Washington Monument Student Assessment (page 9 of PDF) as a whole group. Guide the students through the process using the PowerPoint (available on PDF). utilize the websites from the National Park Service provide students further background and photographic information about the history of the monument and its construction.


Teacher observation, student participation, KWL Chart, Primary Source Analysis Tool, Washington Monument Reflection Analysis.


1. Students will write a letter from George Washington's family about the monument. The letter will express point of view in the expression of gratitude and ask questions about the building of the monument.

2. Students will create a tribute to the current president. Students may create 2D or 3D designs, write a song, poem or a play which students feel depicts the life, times and accomplishments of the president.

3. Student will utilize print and web resources to find monuments and tributes built to honor other individuals. 

Authors Credits:

Carl Sandburg Elementary