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Differentiate Instruction With Paper Choice and Get Ready for Presidents' Day

By Danielle Mahoney on February 15, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Presidents' Day is less than a week away. Are you ready to teach your students about great leaders in history? Have you been looking for ways to talk to your students about the protests in Egypt? Let’s use this special day to inspire children to think about what it takes to be a great leader. I'll share my book choices here, as well as downloadable resources and links that will help you scaffold your students’ learning while differentiating instruction. If you think about it, we are educating future leaders! So make the time to plan for these lessons today.

What Are the Qualities of a Great Leader?

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with children in 1st, 2nd, and 4th grades. To create lessons on the same theme across these grades, I raided the library at my school for books on our presidents and thought about activities that would increase students' knowledge of government and leadership while allowing them to work on writing skills. I created a few paper choices for the activities and headed out to the classrooms. As you look at our work, think about the abilities and learning styles of your students and grab some of these resources to use in your classroom. Happy Presidents' Day!  


1st Grade

Ifiranforpresident Over the course of two classroom visits, I read If I Ran for President and engaged students in a discussion about what it takes to be a great leader.

After reading this story to your class, have children think about Ben, the main character, and all of the hard work he does to become president. What if your students had the chance to run for president? What would they do to get the most votes? Have students create a poster or speech that would convince others to vote for them.

Allow your students to choose between the poster paper and the speech paper. Model the kind of work you expect from each project with the whole class. Then, send your students off to write and draw. Giving students a choice in which project they work on will make them completely invested in their writing.


Some students will choose the poster page, just as Vanessa did . . .

. . . while others will write their own mini speeches, like Lauren and Aishah.



Be sure to give your young writers the opportunity to share their work with a partner or in small groups. 


Photo above: Maggie and Alexis talk about their writing while John listens in.

You will notice that some students will complete the task early while others need more time. Have a basket of books ready in your meeting area and invite students who finish early to browse, read, and discuss your books with others. 









Maggie enjoys learning about Barack Obama.

John (below) chose to read If I Ran for President, the book I used in my read-aloud. Your students will want to get their hands on the book you've shared with the class. Be sure to have multiple copies available.


Looking at student work will help you determine the needs of your students to plan for future instruction and get you thinking about additional ways to differentiate instruction. Revisit my post "Assess, Plan, Teach!" to find out more about on-demand writing pieces and about crafting mini-lessons based on your students' strengths and needs.

Here are some wonderful posters and speeches written by these fantastic 1st graders: 




2nd Grade

What does it take web

In order to activate prior knowledge and provide a starting point for their writing, I gathered my students together to create a class web. We collected our ideas about what it takes to be a great leader. I used the first page of a new flip chart and our Promethean board to record our thinking on a web.

Duck_For_President We read Duck for President (chuckling our way through the humorous text) and added new ideas to our web. After your read-aloud, have a discussion about the qualities of a great leader and compare them to Duck's character traits, based on evidence from the text. 

Your students will pick out some of the important presidential-themed vocabulary words repeated throughout the book. Create a list of these vocabulary words for your students to refer back to during the next part of this lesson — the writing assignment! 

Duck went from wanting to run the farm to wanting to run the state to wanting to run the country, and found that each job came with a lot of responsibility. Use the pattern, "Running a _______ is very hard work!" and ask your students to create their own poster or write a short but powerful campaign speech to convince the public to vote for them.


Vocabulary and rubric
I added additional lines to the original poster paper (with more lines) and speech paper (with more lines) and once again gave students a choice in their writing assignment. Regardless of paper choice, each student was held responsible for picking a group, organization, or place to write about (running a class, school, team, state, country, etc.), staying on topic, and providing at least three examples of why people should vote for them. 



Camila chooses a poster page, but gets to the writing right away!


Yasmin gets comfortable and chooses the page with more lines for writing.


Here are some of the convincing posters and speeches from this thoughtful group of 2nd graders:



4th Grade

Scaffolding work with a class web is a great start for younger writers. With older writers, you may want to follow up a talk on what it takes to be a great leader with an independent activity instead. Giving students the choice of making up a list of qualities or recording them on a web will help them get their ideas down on paper in a way that works best for them. I created both sheets on Pages and used clip art from Scholastic Printables. Download both paper choices and try them out with your students. It's obvious to us that children are being asked to complete the same task. However, they are being given a choice in the way they organize and record their information. Students will feel empowered and get to work right away. 


Amit chooses to write down his ideas on a web.


Dibisha chooses to organize her thinking by using a list.


Allowing older writers to independently record their prior knowledge lifts the scaffold we put into place with our younger writers. These 4th graders will now take their ideas and create their own campaign speeches to persuade others to vote for them. I look forward to working with them again this week!

DibishaList Tahmid





















Leadership in Egypt


Need more resources to explore a presidential theme in your classroom? This booklist will help you teach students about presidents and the election process. In addition, if you haven't spoken with your students about what has been going on in Egypt, the time is now. You can easily include lessons on these important current events using a special Scholastic News collection "Protests Sweep Middle East." You'll find articles, slide shows of amazing photographs, maps, fast facts, and historical background. It's a powerful collection of teaching tools. You can always count on Scholastic to provide teachers with child-safe resources on real world issues that are sometimes difficult to explain to young students. Hooray for Scholastic! 





Thinking about paper choice is just one small way of planning for differentiated instruction. Many teachers I speak with have been working hard to take into account their students' learning styles, strengths, and needs while differentiating tasks in their classrooms. This is important work, but it isn't easy. What methods have you tried that worked well for your students? Please share your ideas with us!

I know firsthand that running a classroom is very hard work! ;)  Best of luck with differentiating your instruction and teaching your students about what it takes to be a great leader. 

Comments (8)

Hi Irene!

I am so impressed that you took the paper choice idea and planned for it with your inventor reports. I actually saw that Christina took the idea and ran with it as well. Amazing! I work with some top notch ladies. . . 212 is lucky to have you both there!

=) Danielle

Eve!!! It was nice to see you! I had to laugh when I read your comment. It takes a great deal of time (and effort) to create these posts. . . I spent the whole week putting this together. Once I got home from our meeting, I just shared a link to the post with a click of a button on Facebook! But, it's nice to know you have that kind of faith in me!

=) Danielle

Hey Christina! As you know, it can be very difficult to plan for lessons across so many different grade levels. We teach students with such diverse needs and abilities. Careful crafting of paper choice is a great place to start for differentiating instruction. I'm so glad you found these ideas helpful!!

=) Danielle

Hi Monica, Thanks for the feedback! I hope you can use this lesson in your classroom. Yes, we try to squeeze in "character education" as much as we can!!

=) Danielle

This is a great start for my class. We are going to be doing Women Inventor Reports. I was thinking of giving different students different kind of paper. What a great way to get them started! :)

I am so impressed that you had time to post this tonight! You have great ideas!

I liked how you went through various grade levels and showed how you can modify it. I appreciate that since I see grades K-5. It gives me ideas not only about how to teach the Presidents, but also how to do this type of activity on a daily level in their responses to any type of literature. I also think that paper choice gives the students the chance to feel like they have success as they respond to what they have read. Thanks Danielle for the great ideas!!

I really like this post because although it is a vehicle for teaching about former presidents that have shaped this country, it also allows students the opportunity to recognize the qualities of a good leader and hopefully instill in them a bit of those qualities academically and personally. Thank you for the differentiated papers and level of instruction.

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