Teacher’s Lounge: George Washington . . . and YOU!

Yes, I know . . . we already celebrated President’s Day.  But when I was a kid, and not the crabby curmudgeon I am today, we celebrated Washington’s Birthday when it was really, you know, Washington’s Birthday.  If there are any teachers out there who would like to at least acknowledge the Father of His Country on a close approximation of his birthday (it’s Feb. 22), here’s an interesting way to do it while at the same time getting in a little education.  First of all, get a copy of this picture, or sit the kiddoes down in front of their computer screens and post it up.  Try to get a clear full-screen view:


Yes, you’ve seen it: the object of many a parody.  But even though we’re too sophisticated to be moved by such obviously heroic scenes, it’s still a awesome painting in all kinds of ways.  The original canvas is 21’4″ by 12’5″ (you read that right) and was painted by Emmanuel Leutze in Dusseldorf, Germany.  Leutze has come from Germany to America at the age of nine, then moved back to Germany where he opened a successful art school and waylaid any Americans who passed through to model for him, especially when he started his great canvas of Washington.  The local Germans, he felt, were too short.  Worthington Whittredge, an American admirer of Leutze, came by to visit when the artist was first sketching out his canvas, and he became the model for Washington: “Spy glass in one hand and the other on my knee, I stood and was nearly dead when the operation was over.”  He was standing because Leutze wanted him standing to suit the composition of the picture, even though Washington almost certainly sat down during the actual crossing, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, tell your students the story of that Christmas Eve in 1776 that changed the fortunes of America–here’s an account from the Mt. Vernon website, and another with more background and an eyewitness account, and here’s one for kids.   Once they have the story straight, ask your students to study the paining and choose one man in the boat to write about (decide for yourself whether to eliminate Washington–or you can be Washington.  That way you can insure the Father of Our Country gets some respect!)  They’re going to write a paragraph about that night from their chosen character’s point of view, following these guidelines:

  • Write what someone says.
  • Include two sounds and one smell (hint: there animals present, and people didn’t take baths much back then).
  • Tell what you’re looking at, including color, texture, and/or motion.
  • Tell what you’re doing.
  • Tell how you feel, without using the words “I feel.” Remember, it’s Christmas Eve!

After everybody is done, choose some students to represent each character in the boat and ask them to arrange themselves in imitation of the painting (life-sized vignette, anyone?).  Then ask them to read their accounts aloud  or choose a good reader to read all the accounts, going from left to right.

Does anybody want to share???



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