How to Use Inauguration Day in the Classroom

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

In case you have forgotten the inundation of political advertising we survived just a few short months ago, we had an election. The spoils of said election is Inauguration Day, one of the great historical events because it is minutely scheduled and documented and it almost always occurs on a school day. These facts make it the perfect educational tool, even for math and science. Here are some great lesson ideas for January 21st.

Public Speaking in Action

As President Obama’s inauguration speech will probably be the most-watched of the year, it’s natural to use it in exercises having to do with public speaking. Have the kids “rate” the speech from a public speaking standpoint, counting the unnecessary pauses and stutters while tracking the points the president makes. It may be hard to believe, but kids make great critics.

A Living Lesson in the History of Poetry

It’s tragic, but the poem delivered by Richard Blanco during the ceremony will be many Americans’ only exposure to poetry in four years. Poets have appeared at inaugurations since Robert Frost was asked to deliver a piece at John F. Kennedy’s ceremony. More recently, Maya Angelou’s contribution to Bill Clinton’s first ceremony was heralded as a renaissance of American poetry. Now is a great time to compare and contrast those works with Blanco’s contribution this year.

Historic Weather Conditions

Since inaugurations have been meticulously documented for centuries, the weather conditions in which they have taken place have also been noted. Students from elementary to high school can do some Internet hunting to find the best and worst inaugural weather days, including the days where the ceremony had to be moved inside. Perhaps a graph can even be used to track the effects of global warming in more recent times.

Politics: Now a Young Person’s Game

Education World has a great lesson on using graphs to track the ages of the presidents at the time of their inaugural. It’s interesting to note to the kids that the presidency used to only be an option for people who had attained a considerable amount of experience (also called “old”), but now age is considered a liability when running for the highest office in the land. It will be interesting for the kids to see this trend graphically take shape.

The Tried and True Letter to the President

For decades, teachers have been using the inauguration to have their students write letters to the president, either to advocate for issues that are important to them or to simply ask questions. Letter writing is a dying skill (particularly by hand), so don’t be surprised if your students are unfamiliar with typical conventions like salutations and formatting. Whatever you do, move them away from text language. Our president might be a modern guy, but he still won’t respond to “TTYL”.