American Presidents Teacher Guide
Thomas Jefferson: Historical Opinion and Slavery
April 2, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use: Secondary
Lesson Plan provided by
James G. Schmitt, who teaches at
Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Florida.
C-SPAN provided to his area by MediaOne.
In this unit, students will be responsible for developing a multimedia
presentation that incorporates historical information and modern cultural
perspective in a persuasive debate forum.
Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with his slaves has been a much
discussed, topical issue that has sparked divergent opinions on his
position as a standard bearer for the philosophy that "all men are created
equal." Was he the father of our independence, a man who codified the
ideals of the United States position on freedom, or was he a slave owner
who created a set of standards for a country that he himself could not
This issue has come to a head recently, as historians and scientists have
used DNA studies to support the finding that Jefferson had a relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves.
- understand that a historical period or figure can be interpreted
in more than one way.
- develop and enhance multimedia presentation skills.
- integrate current research with historical fact while learning about
the third president of the United States.
- develop interpersonal skills in the cooperative preparation of a classroom presentation.
Materials & Tools
- Text materials on Thomas Jefferson/ pictures of Jefferson and the
- Recent newspaper articles on Jefferson and Sally Hemings
- Copies of the Declaration of Independence and materials on Jefferson's philosophy of equality
- Library/media center access
- Videotape of C-SPAN's American Presidents programs on Jefferson
airing the week of March 28, 1999
- The American Presidents
web site and Thomas Jefferson biography web page
- Access to computer lab with at least one computer per cooperative team, Internet access and
- Computer with software to scan pictures and graphics for presentations
Two week cooperative project that emphasizes student-centered teaching.
1. Developing Opinions
Guide students through a discussion on
the value of using facts to develop historically sound opinions.
(See research by Santa, Dailey, Nelson, 1985 for information on developing
opinion-proof notes.) Create a two-column chart
(opinions on left; proofs on right) on which students can
identify three facts for every opinion they develop.
Pick an issue ( ie., mandatory school uniforms) and develop
an arguement that demonstrates the relationship between facts and
opinions. After using this strategy on a current issue, suggest
and argue an issue in history to set the stage for the Jefferson project.
2. Decide the Issues
Divide students into teams of four and
assign each team a position on the issue of Thomas Jefferson, equality,
and slavery. "Should Thomas Jefferson be praised for his philosophy or
vilified for his hypocrisy?" (See research by Robert Lynn Canady,
University of Virginia, and others for information about cooperative
learning.) Student-groups will choose one side of the issue and develop an argument
while researching their presentation.
3. Begin Research
Guide students through research and
development of their arguments. Emphasize that each team should
develop four to five major points within their argument.
4. Collect Materials
As research continues, make sure students
collect pictures, create graphs, and find graphic displays both in text and
on the Internet. This will need to be saved on disk so that they can be
added to the presentation slides.
5. Create Interactive Presentation
Students should build their
four to five major points into fifteen to twenty multimedia slides. Remind students of basic rules for graphic presentation: pictures and charts support a presentation well, and limit written words to "5x5 Rule" (five words across; five bullets/lines down).
6. Before Presentations
the class a grading rubric that divides the presentation project into three
categories: Teamwork, Arguement, and Presentation. Allowing
students to establish the criteria for grading under each category will
help them to focus their efforts more exactly, and will encourage them to identify the qualities of a good presentation.
Students present their argument to the class
with the use of the presentation slides to emphasize points and enhance
8. After Presentations
Students should be encouraged to develop,
in writing, a persuasive response to the position taken in one of the group
Review, in retrospect, the stances you have taken after viewing C-SPAN's
American Presidents programming on Thomas Jefferson. Have any of your opinions changed on primary issues?