Lesson Plan: Presidential Communication during Times of Crisis

Doris Kearns Goodwin on Presidential Leadership

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin offered her thoughts on presidential leadership qualities and how different presidents exemplified those qualities.


In this lesson, students will learn about the ways that presidents can communicate during times of crisis. Author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses ways that past presidents effectively communicated during crises and tragedies such as the Great Depression, the Challenger Explosion, September 11, and the Sandy Hook shooting. From these examples, students will create a list of strategies that future presidents can use to communicate during crises.


  • WARM-UP:

    Before beginning class, have the students think about answers to the following questions:

    • What makes a someone good communicator?

    • What characteristics should a leader have during a crisis?

    After reviewing answers to the warm-up questions, have the students view the following video clips and answer the questions listed below. Students can use the handout below to view the video clips and take notes.

    Handout: Presidential Communication during Crises (Google Doc)

    Video Clip 1: Doris Kearns Goodwin on Presidential Leadership (2:32)

    • According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, what qualities do good presidents share during crises?

    • How can presidents use the media and technology to communicate? What are historical examples of this?

    • What does speaking extemporaneously mean? Why does Ms. Kearns Goodwin warn presidents against doing this?

    Using the chart on the handout, students will view each of the videos of past presidents addressing the nation during a crisis or tragedy.

    Handout: Presidential Communication during Crises (Google Doc) On the chart, they should take notes on the following questions:

    • What crisis or tragedy was occurring at the time of this clip?

    • Describe how the president communicated his message.

    • According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, why was this effective?

    • Do you agree with her? Why or why not?

    After students have completed the chart have them perform the following task to apply what they have learned.

    Be a Presidential Adviser- Image that you are an adviser to the president. Your job is to develop a list of best practices and tips that the president should use when speaking to the public during a national crisis or tragedy. Based on the historical examples, identify and explain five best practices for communicating to the public that you would recommend to the president.


    C-SPAN Video Library Search- Using the C-SPAN Video Library, search for a video of a recent president addressing the nation during a national crisis. After viewing the video, evaluate how effect they were a communicating their message. Use historical examples to support your analysis.

    Presidential Communication Analysis- Choose one of speeches included in the video clips. Explain how that president used the following modes of persuasion. Provide specific examples to discuss how effective the president was in delivering his message.

    • Ethos- The credibility of the speaker

    • Logos- The reasoning and logic of the argument

    • Pathos- The emotional appeals in the argument

Additional Resources


  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Banks
  • Barack Obama
  • Empathy
  • Extemporaneously
  • Fireside Chat
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • George W. Bush
  • Great Depression
  • Humility
  • Inaugural Address
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Prayer Vigil
  • Prepared Speech
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Sandy Hook Shooting
  • September 11
  • Space Shuttle Challenger
  • Spontaneous
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • World Trade Center


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