George Washington and Benjamin Franklin

Lesson Two: Elementary Post Viewing Lesson

Grade Level: Elementary School: 3rd to 5th Grade Duration: Fifty minutes

Activity I – 20 minutes

  • Have students view the scenes from the film with the Join or Die cartoon, and/or print out Handout A: Join or Die. Explain to students that the cartoon was drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1754. At the time, there was a superstition that a snake cut into pieces would come back to life if the pieces were joined together before sunset. In 1754, Franklin wanted the colonies to come together during the French and Indian War. His cartoon became popular again in the 1770s. Ask students:
    • What do the snake segments represent? (individual colonies)
    • Why do you think cartoon became popular again in the 1770s? (The cartoon become popular again as the colonies united against British tyranny.)
  • Ask students to brainstorm why Franklin might have believed the snake was a good symbol for the US.
  • Read Ben Franklin’s explanation of the symbolism to the class. If needed, define the words in bold for students.

    “I collected that her eye excelled in brightness…and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be [seen as] an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of…true courage.— … the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those [do not know]  her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak…; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal: —Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her. —Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?” (1775)

  • Ask students to respond to Franklin’s description. You may also ask: What other symbols of America can you think of? What do those symbols mean to you? Do any of these symbols show unity, like Franklin was concerned with in the Join or Die cartoon?

Activity II – 20 minutes

  • Tell students that another way the Founders were concerned with symbols was the Presidency. The President had to be different from a King not just in practice, but in the symbols of the office. One “symbolic” part of the Presidency that George Washington, our first President, was especially concerned with was his title. The Congress originally proposed, “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties.” Many, including Washington, did not like this. Why did George Washington want instead to be called “Mr. President”? (They thought it sounded too much like a King’s title.)
  • Distribute Handout B: Why did George Washington want to be called “Mr. President”? Working as a large group and using Handout B as a guide, have students brainstorm the qualities of a monarch—a King or Queen—as well as those of the President of the United States. Students should fill in the chart as the conversation goes on.
  • As a class, go over possible responses to the questions below the chart.

Wrap-up – 10 minutes

Have students use colored pencils and poster board or presentation software to create a collage that demonstrates the contributions of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or both, to the United States of America. The collages should illustrate the ideas and concepts that were important to Franklin and Washington—unity and democracy.


  • Have students draw their own political cartoon about the United States using a symbol other than a snake, and write a one-paragraph explanation of the symbol on the back.
  • Have students draw a scene that illustrates the difference between a King and the President of the United States. They should write a one-paragraph explanation on the back.


  • Handout A: Join or Die
  • Handout B: Why did George Washington want to be called “Mr. President”?