American Presidents

Andrew Jackson
Teaching Martin Van Buren in the Classroom

These teaching ideas are provided by Jane Miller, from Martin Van Buren Elementary School in Kinderhook, NY. To learn more about Martin Van Buren, try these activities, or adapt them to learn about another U.S. president.

1. DINNER WITH MATTY VAN...1859/1999
Introduce students to the personal side of the president and also provide a lesson on the use of primary source materials.

Using the national historic site as a resource, contact the historian or curator and obtain copies of primary source materials such as letters, diaries, or journals, menus, etc. which might give information on the kinds of foods which were served either at the White House or at Lindenwald. Perhaps a park ranger could deliver a lesson to students on primary sources and their importance in historical interpretation. Have students take notes and design a 'hand lettered menu' for an 1859 dinner party at Lindenwald. As a contrast students can also plan a 1999 dinner menu, consisting of foods they'd like to be served if they attended a dinner party at Lindenwald today. These menus can be created using a word processor and decorated with computer graphics. A 'then and now' bulletin board will be the end product, with each student sharing their menus and explaining their food choices. This lesson can be used with other social activities such as entertainment, vacation trips, etc.

The primary goal of this lesson is to teach interviewing skills while learning about a local historic site.

First, introduce students to the principles of effective interviewing techniques. This activity might include a visit by a reporter from the local newspaper or television station to the classroom. After, have students prepare questions on the history of a local site named after a leader in your community - we used the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. Send these questions to the superintendent and invite him or her to your class to be interviewed. Have the students select a panel of their peers to act as reporters. All students will take notes and record the information obtained during the interview. Taking the data collected, have students create an illustrated pamphlet which details the history of the park. Have each student share the completed work with the class. Some of the best products (which could be selected by the art teacher and other classroom teachers) can be offered to the park to be copied and given to visitors.

Teach students about a president's life as well as give them a glimpse into the fascinating social history of this country.

Using reference books, have each student in the class research facts, including dates, about 'happenings' in the United States from 1782 to 1862 (the time period of Van Burenís life.) Suggested references include: Encyclopedia of Presidents, historical encyclopedias, and other nonfiction books, such as Chronicle of America, (Chronicle Communications, 1993) and Martin Van Buren, by Jim Hargrove (Children's press, 1987). The Chronicle of America is an excellent resource for social history facts. Students can also visit C-SPAN's American Presidents web site to research Martin Van Buren.

Each student should research two facts, one directly related to Van Buren and one 'social' fact. Students will create small illustrations to accompany both facts, which will be lettered on 3x5 index cards. Using rolled project paper, create a large time line entitled "The Life and Times of Martin Van Buren, 1782-1862." Use colored markers, such as red and blue, for lettering. Arrange the illustrated facts on the timeline. Have each student share his information and explain his illustration.

Created by America's Cable Companies.