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Teaching Guide

Teaching the Executive Branch & Presidents

Leader of the (national) pack.


Grab your pruning shears (and this teaching guide), and help your students trim back some of the foliage to get a look at how the executive branch was originally intended to be run—and how it's grown over the generations.

In this guide you will find

  • assignments analyzing historical symbols, quotes, and documents.
  • modern resources, like articles bickering over presidential power.
  • historical connections to biographies of influential presidents like FDR, JFK, and others who aren't identifiable just by their initials.

This teaching guide will help you branch out.

What's Inside Shmoop's Civics Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring civics to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 4-10 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

"The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands."
— Lyndon B. Johnson

Explore the meaning of this quotation with your students. What exactly was Johnson saying? To what was he admitting? After a preliminary discussion of the quotation, review the major events of Johnson’s presidency. You may choose to have them respond orally or you may ask them to respond individually on paper.

  • Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam. Congress never declared war and accused him of taking advantage of the vaguely worded Tonkin Gulf Resolution to send more than 500,000 troops. Could this be relevant to the quotation?
  • Unable to make progress in Vietnam and facing a challenge from within his own party, Johnson decided not to seek re-election in 1968. Could this be relevant to the quotation?
  • Johnson launched a hugely ambitious program to build a “Great Society” by fighting poverty and discrimination and increasing funds for education. Could this be relevant to the quote? To the first part or the second?
  • He resolved to fund his Great Society and wage the war in Vietnam without raising taxes. As a result, inflation increased by the end of his term. Could this be relevant?

You might conclude this discussion by focusing on the first half of the quotation. What exactly is Johnson suggesting about the presidential office?

  • Does it inspire lofty ambition?
  • Does it lead to arrogance?
  • Does it do both?

(Lesson aligned with CA 12th grade American government standards 12.7.8)

Instructions for Your Students

Read this quotation from President Lyndon Johnson:

"The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands."

What do you think Johnson was saying about the presidential office? Is this some sort of confession? Is it an admission of failure? In the first part of the quote, is he suggesting something positive or negative about the office? Be prepared to discuss these questions in class.


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Just the Facts    Key Concepts    History    Timeline    Quotes    Questions    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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