American Presidents

Richard M. Nixon American Presidents Teacher Guide

Biographical Vignette on Richard M. Nixon
A Look at Watergate
Nov 15 - 20, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use:
Secondary Level

Before Viewing American Presidents
Tell students that they will learn about President Richard M. Nixon during this lesson. Invite students to volunteer one fact which they believe most Americans know about the Nixon presidency. Did they know that he was the only American president to resign from office? Tell students they are to engage in a study of Watergate, and other details from the life and presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

You may divide students into three groups, one to focus on each of the following three parts: (or students may work on all three parts.)

Part I
Students should create a timeline of the important events in President Nixon's life prior to and during his term as president-excluding Watergate. Write these events and number them on the left-hand column of a sheet of paper. Use this paper to take notes during the program.

Part II
Prepare students to watch C-SPAN's American Presidents program featuring Richard M. Nixon, by first reading his Inaugural Address. Print the speech from from C-SPAN's web site and make copies for each student. Draw some conclusions about the state of America, domestically and internationally, as indicated in the address. Identify the goals he had for the nation. List these goals on the left-hand side of a piece of paper.

Part III
Have students answer the question: What was Watergate?
Assign each student, or group of students, a different source: encyclopedias, almanacs, primary source new stories, and personal interviews. Have students share and compare the answers they solicited.

Come to an agreement on a two-sentence answer to the question. What questions do students have about Watergate? What people or institutions were involved? What events were significant?

Have students list what they know, and what they want to know about Watergate, on a sheet of paper, with blank spaces to fill in the answers to their questions.

While Viewing American Presidents
Directions: Watch the program attentively, adding to your page of notes, gathering specific information about President Nixon.

After Viewing American Presidents
At the end of the program, have students meet in groups to compare information. "Jigsaw" the groups to create groups of three, comprised of one student who is an expert in each of the three parts.

Then, have students answer the following questions together, drawing connections between the various phases of President Nixon's life, identifying his strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.

  • How did Richard M. Nixon get his start in politics?
  • Why was he chosen to be Vice President?
  • Why do you think the American people elected him as the 37th President of the United States?
  • What was his platform? What promises did he make?
  • What is the White House "plumbers" unit? How did they get their name?
  • At what point did President Nixon's political decline begin?
  • What physically took place at Watergate? What were the actions in question?
  • How did the American people perceive these events?
  • President Nixon was charged with obstruction of justice. Why was he accused of this crime?
  • How and why did President Nixon leave office?
  • Looking back on past events, how do you feel they have affected American history?
  • Can you think of a way these past events have or will affect your life?
  • What other events of President Nixon's life offer lessons or a legacy today?
  • What other events of President Nixon's presidency offer lessons or a legacy for today?

Additional Activities Assign students an essay, following up on their research. Make sure all students have copies of President Nixon's Inaugural Address.

Write an essay reflecting on the goals and ideas President Nixon put forth in his Inaugural Address to the nation, placing them in the context of his whole life and presidency. In addition to your own interests, you may consider some, or all of the following questions:

  • In light of the events that took place at the end of his presidency, what correlation and/or discrepancy do you find?
  • What was ocurring in the US and in the world at the time President Nixon was initially elected? Does he directly or indirectly refer to any of these events?
  • Did President Nixon take steps to achieve his goals? What were his goals and what actions did he take?
  • Are you surprised that the Watergate scandal took place? Are you surprised at President Nixon's involvement in the scandal? Does his participation in the Watergate scandal conflict with anything he says in his Inaugural Address?

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