January 19, 2020

Learning from the Source: Monumental Men

Mount Rushmore, Rapid City, South Dakota
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt were monumental men who made significant contributions to the United States. Through the lens of both primary and secondary sources, students learn about the characters and contributions of these presidents and determine for themselves the qualities and accomplishments that make someone worthy of a lasting tribute.

To complete this project, students will . . .

  • review the purposes of monuments and contemplate the qualities and accomplishments that make someone worthy of a lasting tribute.
  • learn basic facts about Mount Rushmore.
  • identify various types of primary sources.
  • learn fun facts about the characters and contributions of the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore.
  • use objective and subjective techniques to analyze portraits of the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore.
  • compare and contrast the characters and contributions of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
  • decide if they agree or disagree with the selection of these four men for this great national monument.
  • suggest other leaders who deserve a similar tribute.
  • compile autobiographical information and reflect on contributions they would like to make that would merit receiving a lasting tribute.
  • add their own images to Mount Rushmore.

Upon completing this project, students will be able to . . .

  • understand the purpose of monuments.
  • identify and describe Mount Rushmore.
  • identify various types of primary sources.
  • identify as well as compare and contrast facts about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
  • analyze historic images using objective and subjective techniques.
  • discuss how portraits convey information.
  • determine the qualities and accomplishments that make someone worthy of a lasting tribute.

This project meets the following Common Core State Standards for grades 3-5.

Reading Standards for Informational Text: 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Writing Standards: 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10

Speaking and Listening Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4


Review background information: Students will need basic understanding of primary sources to complete this project. For ideas on how to present this information, take a look at one of the online interactives listed below.

Be flexible with implementation: Consider having students work individually, in pairs, or in groups.

Allow for sufficient time to implement: Working independently and collaboratively, students will need approximately five 40-minute class sessions and approximately 30 minutes outside of class to complete this project.






Session 1

  1. Ask students to define what a monument is. [monument: “a lasting evidence, reminder, or example of someone or something notable or great”[1]
  2. Ask students what types of people deserve monuments. What qualities should they possess? What contributions are worthy of a memorial tribute?
  3. Ask students to list national, state, or local monuments, keeping a list of all those identified.
  4. Inform students that national monuments are created for the public, often with public funds and the advice of the public. [national monument: “a place of historic, scenic, or scientific interest set aside for preservation usually by presidential proclamation”] [2]
  5.  Tell students that they will be learning a bit about one of our country’s, and the world’s, most famous monuments. (You may wish to have students guess before telling them which monument it is.)
  6. Ask students what they know about Mount Rushmore, making sure to list each of the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore. Using what they know about these presidents, discuss why they think these presidents were chosen to be memorialized. Be sure to keep a list of these reasons on chart paper or to write them on the board and have students copy into their notebooks. (For more information on this subject, you may consult the websites listed below.)
  7. Direct students to read the Mount Rushmore text individually or in groups and then answer the questions on the Mount Rushmore Fact Sheet.

Homework Assignment After Session 1

If needed, have students finish filling out the Mount Rushmore Fact Sheet at home.

Session 2

  1. Review the answers to the Mount Rushmore Fact Sheet as a class.
  2. Explain what primary sources are: Primary sources are the raw materials of history, created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, which are accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience.
  3. Have the students brainstorm a list of primary sources [original documents, images, recordings, objects, and media]. This list can be written on the blackboard, whiteboard, or poster paper. Suggest other types of sources, asking students if each is an example of a primary or secondary source.
  4. Explain to students that they will be reading secondary source texts and reviewing several primary sources to learn more about George Washington Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
  5. Divide the class into four groups and assign one of the four presidents to each group.
  6. Further divide each group into smaller groups. Give each student one section of the biographical materials about the assigned president; if there are more than four students in a group, pair students together or have one act as group secretary.
  7. Direct each student to read aloud his/her text to the group.
  8. Ask students to work collaboratively to answer the questions on their assigned president fact sheet.

Session 3

  1. Divide the class into new groups of at least four students so that each group has one student expert on each president.
  2. Direct these groups to work together to fill out the Comparing Leaders Venn diagram.
  3. Share group findings in a class discussion. For each president, create a list of his qualities and contributions to the United States. Encourage students to add to the lists based on any background knowledge they may have.
  4. As a class, discuss why, or why not, these men deserved to be memorialized on Mount Rushmore, keeping a list of reasons for and against.

Session 4

  1. Explain to students that they will be analyzing images of George Washington Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt both objectively – describing only what they see – and subjectively – describing what they think and feel. They will then use what they’ve learned to draw their own conclusions about how images portray people and, sometimes, influence what we think about the person portrayed.
  2. Divide students into four groups and give each group a presidential portrait and the corresponding image analysis worksheet.
  3. Direct student groups to complete the image analysis worksheets for their assigned president.
  4. As a class, share group findings. Then discuss how the images reinforced or changed their views of the presidents.
  5. Using the voting cards, have each student vote for or against the worthiness of each president as deserving of memorialization on Mount Rushmore.
  6. Tally the votes and discuss the results.

Homework Assignment After Session 4

Have students fill out the Student Fact Sheet at home.

Session 5

  1. Ask students to share their desired future contributions notated on their Student Fact Sheets
  2. Work in groups to take a digital picture of each student with an expression suitable to Mount Rushmore that they will add to the Mount Rushmore illustration. (If digital cameras are not available, you may advise students to bring in a photo print of themselves or to draw their portraits.)
  3. Direct students to add their image to Mount Rushmore. (Students may print out a picture and paste it into the .pdf illustration or may add their digital image to the .jpg file using a photo editing program.)

[1] monument: Mirriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary  (accessed 02/13)

[2] national monument: Mirriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary  (accessed 02/13)

Extension Activities

Social Studies Connection: National

Have students research another president or other national leader and provide a written and/or oral argument about why this person should be added to Mount Rushmore.

Social Studies Connection: Local

Have students research a local leader and provide a written and/or oral argument about why this person should be added to Mount Rushmore.

Language Arts Connection: New Mount Rushmore Dedication

Have students write a press release (tips) or presidential address (example) detailing the dedication of their own faces being added to Mount Rushmore.

Science Connection: Geology, Flora, or Fauna

Have students conduct research and prepare a presentation on the geology, flora, or fauna of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Math Connection: The Mass of Mount Rushmore

Have students conduct research to determine the dimensions of Mount Rushmore and the amount of rock removed to create the monument.

Art Connection: Mount Rushmore Sculpture

Have students create a clay sculpture of Mount Rushmore, including their own visage.

Music Connection: Mount Rushmore March

Have students listen to a portion of the Mount Rushmore March. Ask them if then can identify the instruments they hear. Then ask students if they think the song befits the spirit of this great national monument. Next ask students to consider what type of music, using what type of instruments, would best capture the spirit of Mount Rushmore for their generation today.

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