American Presidents

John Adams American Presidents Teacher Guide

Thomas Jefferson: Historical Opinion and Slavery
April 2, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use:

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 maintain? 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.


    Students will
  • 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 period

  • 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 presentation software.

  • Computer with software to scan pictures and graphics for presentations

Time Frame
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
Establish with 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.

7. Presentations
Students present their argument to the class with the use of the presentation slides to emphasize points and enhance their arguement.

8. After Presentations
Students should be encouraged to develop, in writing, a persuasive response to the position taken in one of the group presentations.

Additional Activity
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?

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