Why George Washington? Analyzing a Text and Painting

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SWBAT...explain and write how the author and illustrator used reasons and evidence to support why George Washington was chosen to be the commander of the Colonial Army

Big Idea

Leadership skills are something that we all can develop if we work hard and never give up on our goals. We will evaluate both a painting and a text to determine why George Washington was chosen to lead our country.

Creating the Purpose

10 minutes

This was a great lesson unit presented at one of our district training sessions that helped students connect to the war in both visual and evaluative formats. I adapted their presentation into four consecutive lessons that help to build understanding of the war and the turning points that helped the Colonists eventually win – George Washington and his role in the war, timeline of the battles and events of the war, journal entry from perspective of a war participant and “rewriting” the Declaration of Independence. The lessons also focus on the hardships and determination of the soldiers and their “group mentality” which are life skills I’m always trying to instill in my students.I wanted students to understand why key players were important, what battles were the turning points of the war, the length and struggles faced by soldiers and what type of society colonists hoped to create as their new government.

I start out this unit by giving my students a visual to build their interest and to begin to get them into the place of the war and thinking about the hardships soldiers faced. I project the painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware on the board and ask students to share what they see in the picture? I do have many who recognize George Washington and many other features of the painting. (I just want their curiosity increased and to build a conceptual picture of the events we will discuss in the lesson at this point - they will dive deeper into their evlaution of the painint later in the lesson) I then share that they are correct – this is George Washington and that this painting depicts the time he was the leader of the Continental Army and going into an important battle with his men. (SL 5.1d, SL 5.5)

I introduce the objective that we are going to analyze this painting along with a passage on George Washington to build understanding about why he was chosen to be a Continental Army leader, and how his crossing of the Delaware River was a turning point in the war.

Guiding the Learning

15 minutes

I move away from the painting for a bit to build background knowledge on George Washington. I ask students what makes a good leader? I take responses and write them on a What Makes a Leader chart. (SL 5.1c) I share my thinking that these are probably some of the traits that made George Washington chosen as a leader of the army?

I introduce the background article on George Washington and the Continental Congress. We discuss what his job was and the possible difficulties he may have faced (lack of skilled fighters, lack of ammunition, lack of clothing and money, etc.)

I now refer back to the chart we made on leadership qualities and ask which ones did Washington demonstrate? We go through all the traits and I expect for some students say they cannot answer because they don’t have enough information – yeah! I hope they will say this because we want them to identify evidence for all their responses. If they don’t mention this you could prompt with “what about _____ - can we state he was ____with the evidence we have been given so far?”

I now pass out copies of the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware to groups of 3-4 students. I project the 3-2-1 analyzing images worksheet on the board and ask students to respond on their whiteboards to the three prompts with text evidence to support their claims (RI 5.9, RI 5.1). I give 10 min and then ask for sharing (SL 5.1a). 

I ask the following questions to have students think further about what they are seeing and the accuracy of the information. Here's a clip of the discussion we had:

Independent Practice

20 minutes

I read the following Commander George Washington passage (from the text George vs George by Rosalyn Shanzer) to my students to build background knowledge.

I then share that they will read the passage, summarize it (RI 5.2), and use close reading markers (W 5.9b) to mark up the text with their comments and questions. (I use this strategy because it forces students to read the text more closely and to really think about what points the author is sharing. For example - they use questioning text marker and write their questions on the side which makes them look for the answer in the text while they read; they use identifying interesting facts with a exclamation point which reminds them of a learning point to share in our follow-up discussion or make a connection to something they learned prior) We do a quick review of what each marker indicates (they have used these before) and I share the expectation that they need to identify 8-10 areas in the passage.

Students work independently unless they are struggling students – these I pair with partners or have work with me at the back table in a small group. This passage was a bit difficult for them so I reviewed it first with them looking for unfamiliar vocabulary (changed to kid friendly words) and phrasing (discussion with their marking up of clues) before they read so they could complete the responses independently. I had them continue after the review as a small discussion group and had them use the markers so that I could get an idea of what they still didn’t understand or any misconceptions they were making.

The mark up of this section went quickly for my higher students and I had them respond to the text questions (w 5.9b) that were on the back of their articles. My struggling students responded to these as a small group discussion group before they wrote their responses. This helped them to think about their ideas and hear what others ideas were before they were expected to write their thoughts down.

Closing the Loop

10 minutes

Next, I signal to my students and call on random names to share some markers for each part. I asked for peer support to help with areas of questioning or unfamiliar words (RI 5.4) In particular, I think this will be was great for my struggling students because they had already done the vocabulary with me and could participate and help others in the classroom. We close by reviewing a few of the key questions and having students add on to each others responses to build understanding (SL 5.1a).


I clos by asking students what leadership skills from our chart were demonstrated by George Washington in the article. We adapt our chart with stars and circles to show which we can prove with support from the article (stars) and which have not yet been proven (circles). (SL 5.4) I chose to end this way because I want them to continue to evaluate the reasons for decisions our Founding Fathers made back then and how they influence us today. I also want to reinforce leadership skills as a focus for our classroom community and this was a great example they could connect with. As we read about the war and the difficult fight we will refer back to this chart and the "never give up" attitude demonstrated by Washington and others.