A Close Reading of the First Four Presidents: Washington through Madison

Title: A Close Reading of the First Four Presidents:  Washington through MadisonAuthor:  Rachel Quill
Subject(s):  English Language Arts, Social Studies and Information and Technology Literacy
Grade Level(s):  8Total Time:  4-5 days, 45 minutes classes

Overview / Description:

Students will read an article online about the first four presidents.  The online article provides scaffolds for vocabulary and reading.  Students can use the online quiz to check for understanding.  Students will then perform a close reading of the article following six text dependent questions.

Learning goals/objectives:

After completing this activity, students should be able to . . .

  • Determine the best digital tools to increase comprehension of a text.
  • Cite textual evidence to support analysis.
  • Use text structure to build meaning while reading specifically problem/solution and cause/effect.
  • Connect historical events to the present and suggest implications.

Workplace Readiness Skill: (place an X in front of all which apply)

X Social Skills                     X Communication

X Teamwork                        X Critical Thinking

X  Attitude and Initiative        X Planning and Organization

X Professionalism                X Media Etiquette

Content Standards:(Copy and paste all relevant standards. Make sure to drill all the way down to the performance indicator level, as that will be what you need to link when uploading to the WISELearn platform.)








  • Standard SS.Hist1: Wisconsin students will use historical evidence for determining cause and effect.
  • SS.Hist1.a.m Use multiple perspectives to analyze and explain issues or events within and across time periods, events, or cultures.
  • SS.Hist1.b.m Use multiple perspectives to analyze and explain effects of issues or events within and across time periods, events, or cultures.
  • Standard SS.Hist2: Wisconsin students will analyze, recognize, and evaluate patterns of continuity and change over time and contextualization of historical events.
  • SS.Hist2.a.m Explain patterns of continuity over time in the community, the state, the United States, and the world.
  • SS.Hist2.b.m Explain patterns of change over time in the community, the state, the United States, and the world.
  • SS.Hist2.c.m Analyze how the historical context influenced the process or nature of the continuity or change that took place.
  • Standard SS.Hist3: Wisconsin students will connect past events, people, and ideas to the present; use different perspectives to draw conclusions; and suggest current implications.
  • SS.Hist3.a.m Compare events from United States or world history to a current issue or event.
  • SS.Hist3.b.m Apply historical perspectives to describe differing viewpoints of current events.
  • SS.Hist3.c.m Hypothesize the direction of current events and outcomes based on the past.
  • Standard SS.Hist4: Wisconsin students will evaluate a variety of primary and secondary sources to interpret the historical context, intended audience, purpose, and/or author’s point of view (Historical Methodology).
  • SS.Hist4.a.m Explain how the historical context (situation) influences a primary or secondary source.
  • SS.Hist4.b.m Explain the significance of the intended audience of a primary or secondary source.
  • SS.Hist4.c.m Explain the significance of the intended purpose of a specific primary or secondary source
  • SS.Hist4.d.m Explain how the POV of the author can influence the meaning of a primary or secondary source
  • Standard: EL1 - Students leverage digital tools and strategies to take an active role in choosing and achieving their learning goals.
  • EL1.a.5.m: Create personal learning goals and select and manage appropriate digital tools to achieve those goals.
  • EL1.a.6.m: Utilize digital tools to reflect on and revise the learning process and make necessary revisions as needed to achieve goals.
  • EL1.c.3.m: Manage digital tools to customize learning by making adjustments to their personalized learning environments to maximize the learning process.
  • EL1.d.3.m: Collect performance feedback, and further data from features embedded in digital tools to analyze data and make learning adjustments.
  • Standard: EL2 - Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations and demonstrate the ability to choose, use, and troubleshoot current technologies.
  • EL2.a.3.m: Navigate a variety of digital tools to choose, use and troubleshoot technologies to create new knowledge.
  • Standard: EL3 - Students are able to transfer knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
  • EL3.a.3.m: Transfer and apply skills to begin troubleshooting and exploring emerging technologies.

Materials: (link all necessary handouts, videos, additional resources)

Article:  America From Washington to Madison

Graphic Organizer and Text Dependent Questions

Resources to build teacher knowledge

Buehl, D. (2001). Classroom strategies for interactive learning (2nd ed.). Newark, DE: International

Reading Association.
Frey, N. & Fisher, D. (2013). Rigorous reading: 5 access points for comprehending complex texts.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.


Describe each step of the learning activity including strategies that will be used to meet the learning objective.


T=Teacher Focus Lesson

WG=Whole Group

SM=Small Group



State approx. amount of time for each task

Day 1Teacher will begin the lesson with a connection, activating schema. The teacher will share with the students about a time they read a nonfiction text.  After the reading the text, the teacher felt like s/he had a good understanding of what the text was mostly about.  However, after learning about close reading, the teacher realized there are many more layers to a text than a reader can gather from one read.  This activity will scaffold students through close reading of a nonfiction text.  The teacher will take students to the website to access the article “America From Washington”.  The teacher will walk through the students through the digital tools available to support comprehension:  read aloud option, vocabulary, and multiple choice assessment. Students are to read the article and fill out the graphic organizer.  The teacher will explain what should go in each box:  the problems each president faced, what he was able to change, and how this changed America.  The teaching point for the day readers will identify the text structure of a text to determine which events are important.  T, I45 min.
Day 2
1. Students will begin the lesson in small groups.  The teacher will do use a think aloud to explain how s/he found the information in the text for George Washington.  This requires have the text displayed in front of the students, point out evidence that answer each of the 3 questions, and sharing your thinking around each piece of evidence and why it answers the questions.(10 min.)
Then, direct students to compare notes and fill in any missingparts. (15 min.)2. The teacher will then share the next step in close reading is identifying key details.  The teacher will display the graphic organizer that the teacher filled out.  To determine the key details, a reader needs to look for patterns across a text.  These patterns will repeat.  Again, using a think aloud, the teacher will highlight words or phrases repeated in each column or by each president.  The teacher will point out that each president dealt with the same problems throughout his presidency. (10 min.)3. Another part of close reading is identifying text structure.  In nonfiction text, text structure can be problem/solution, cause/effect, compare/contrast, sequential, etc.  When looking through the text and the evidence we collected, one could say this text is arranged in a problem/solution and cause/effect structure.  This structure is important to know because the structure allows our brains to make meaning as we read.  Our brain knows it should be on the look-out for problems that occurred and the solutions to those problems or causes and effects. This text is also a hybrid in that there are two structures.  This happens quite a bit.(10 min,)
SM, I, T45 min.
Day 3We have been making our way through a close reading of a text.  So far you know how to:  1. Read for a general understanding. 2. Read for key details by looking for patterns.  3.  Make meaning of the text by identifying the text structure or structures.  Today, we are going to talk about the vocabulary the author used and go deeper and determine the author’s purpose in writing this text. (2 min.)The vocabulary an author uses influences the message the author is sending and gives evidence as to the type of reader the author is anticipating.  In this text, there are many complex words.  Some are everyday words that we know, some are words that mature readers know, and some are words that content experts know and in this case historians.  Looking over this list, what kinds of words are listed here:navigate, trajectory, emergence, hyperbolic, predecessor, seizing, embroiled, isolationist, distinction, neutrality, proponent, tenets, repealed, impressmentDoes the author do anything to help us understand the meaning of these words in the text, use context clues?  The teacher can model with the first word or two if the author indeed gives us context clues.  Have students continue working in their groups to determine if they understand what the words mean and how they know based on the context. (15 min.)Every time an author writes a piece of text, there is a reason.  This can be to inform, to persuade, report facts or simply describe.  Looking at this text, work with your group to determine what the purpose of this writing is.  Whose story is being told in this text?  Who is missing from the text during this time? (10 min.)Groups can share out through: discussion, chart paper or online discussion forum. (15 min.)T, SM45 min.
Day 4Ok.  The last two steps! The next step in close reading is inferencing.  (If this is the first time your class has done a close reading, I would model this part instead of working in small groups). To review, an inference is an idea or theory you develop based on what was read and what you know, or background knowledge.  The answer will not be right there in the text.  You will have to read, and think, and read, and think.  You may need to talk to someone to really figure out what you are thinking and why you are thinking it.  To make this easier, I have a question for you to answer:  What influenced each president’s approach to foreign policies?  Give examples from the text.  To approach this work, I would start by looking at the graphic organizer again.  What notes did you take on foreign policy if any?  Do your notes give you an idea of how the presidents approached foreign policy?  If not, go back to the text and find this evidence.  This may be the decision he made, the way people responded, or how the America changed.  This responses should be in paragraph form.  Talk to your group to help develop your ideas. (5-7 min.)The last step is to read across the text to develop an opinion/argument/intertextual connection on the topic.  In order to demonstrate you have created meaning while reading, you should be able to answer the question:  How have these events influenced the America we know today?  Support your answer with evidence.  This should be in the form of a constructed response.  Each step has prepared you to answer this question fully. (38 min.) Could add one more day for writing if you wish.T, I45 min.

Assessment: What evidence will you collect of student learning?  Link assessment tools here.

  1. Each step allows for a check for understanding.
  1. Main events of the text.
  2. Responses for each step of close reading.
  3. Formative or summative assessment can be taken from the inferencing and opinion/argument/intertextual connection steps.


Revisit objectives of the lesson with the class.  The purpose of these lessons is to show students the levels of meaning one can gain from a close reading.  Just when you think you have learned all you can from a text, performing a close reading of text will give you so much more.  Each of you will receive a visual of each of the components to help you dive deeper in a text.  Give each student a visual (bookmark, handout) of the steps of close reading.

Extension Activity:

Language:  Students can define the vocabulary list in their own words.

History:  This text could be used to create a timeline based on the events.  The text could also be used to compare and contrast with another text.

OER Commons License:Go to the OER Commons at https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/ and follow the steps under “Choose a License.” Once your OER Commons license has been created you can cut and paste the license directly into this lesson template.

ATTACHMENTS  Link additional resources not previously linked above. Go back and create bookmarks from the Materials section to these resources.

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