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        Discovering Alexander Hamilton

        In this lesson inspired by the PBS program Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton students learn about Hamilton's contributions to the United States when it was a young nation. This includes his time as the Secretary of the Treasury.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson, students explore the question “Who was Alexander Hamilton?” In the Introductory Activity, students look at US paper currency and identify which of the featured individuals served as President of the United States. In the Learning Activity, students explore video segments from the PBS program Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton to learn about Hamilton’s contributions to the United States and his role during George Washington’s presidency. In the Culminating Activity, students write an article, poem, song, speech or story about Alexander Hamilton.


        Students will be able to:

        • Identify the individuals featured on US paper currency;
        • Describe 5 facts about Alexander Hamilton;
        • Explain the role of the Secretary of the Treasury;
        • Discuss the role Hamilton served during George Washington’s presidency.

        Grade Level:

        4 - 6

        Suggested Time

        One 45-minute class period

        Media Resources

        Introducing Alexander Hamilton

        Alexander Hamilton and George Washington


        U.S. Bills handout

        Web Sites

        These sites can be used in this lesson’s Culminating Activity:

        Alexander Hamilton: The Man who Made Modern America
        This online New York Historical Society exhibit contains a variety of information, images and activities about Alexander Hamilton.

        Alexander Hamilton and the Creation of the United States
        This online exhibit, developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, contains information about the life and contributions of Alexander Hamilton.

        This site can be used in the Optional Activityat the end of this lesson:

        Design your own bill
        In this interactive, students can design their own $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 or $100 bills.

        Before The Lesson

        Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

        Print out the U.S. Bills handout, printing out each page on a separate sheet of paper. Make enough copies so that each group of 3-4 students has the entire handout (7 pages).

        Part I: Introductory Activity

        1. Divideyour students into groups of 3 - 4 students each. Distribute a copy of the U.S. Bills handout to each group. (Each group should receive all 7 pages of the handout.)

        2. Ask each group to identify the people featured on the bills and divide the bills into two piles. One pile should include the people who were presidents and the other should include those who were not. Let students know that only 2 of the men were never president.

        Note: Encourage students to discuss and debate about who should go in each pile. Ask students to use process of elimination to try to sort the piles. (For example, they can start by placing the men they definitely know were president in the correct pile.) Encourage students to use books, classroom posters, the Internet and other available resources, as needed, to correctly sort the piles.

        3. After students have created their piles, ask them to reveal which men were presidents. (George Washington- $1 bill; ThomasJefferson-$2 bill; Abraham Lincoln- $5 bill; Andrew Jackson- $20 bill; Ulysses $50 bill.)

        4. Ask students to reveal the names of the men who were not presidents. (Benjamin Franklin- $100 bill; Alexander Hamilton $10 bill.)

        5. Ask students to tell you what they know about Benjamin Franklin. (He was a scientist and inventor and considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.)

        6. Ask students what they know about Alexander Hamilton. Write their responses down for all to see. (Include the following facts: He was not a president. He is featured on the $10 bill.)

        Part II: Learning Activity

        1. Explain that in today’s lesson students will explore the life of Alexander Hamilton. Let students know they will be watching a video adapted from the PBS program Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton. Ask students to identify at least five facts about Alexander Hamilton as they watch the video.

        2. Play Introducing Alexander Hamilton. After showing the video, ask students to discuss facts about Alexander Hamilton, which were presented in the video.(Possible facts to include: He created the American financial system and started the federal banking system. He created the first monetary system, the government’s first accounting systems, the first central bank, the first Coast Guard and the first Customs Service. He was never president of the United States.)

        3. Let students know that Alexander Hamilton worked very closely with the person who served as president from 1789 to 1797 and who is also featured on one of the US bills. Ask students if they can identify that person. (George Washington.) If needed, provide a hint that this man was the first presidentof the United States.

        4. Ask students to watch the next video to identify what role Alexander Hamilton played during George Washington’s presidency.

        5. Play Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. After showing the segment, ask students what role Hamilton played in George Washington’s presidency. (Hamilton Washington served as George Washington’s first Treasury Secretary and as an advisor to Washington. He helped take care of the country’s debt. He wrote’s farewell address.)

        6. Ask students to look at the backs of the different US bills and observe what buildings are featured. Ask them what building is featured on the back of the $10 bill and why they think it is featured on the same bill with Alexander Hamilton. (The U.S. Treasury building. Alexander Hamilton was the first U.S. Secretary of the Department of the Treasury.)

        7. Ask students to describe what they think the Secretary of the Treasury does. Explain that the Secretary of the Treasury oversees the US Department of the Treasury, which is responsible for maintaining a strong economy and making sure the United States is financially secure. The Secretary of the Treasury advises the President on economic and financial issues and is a member of the President’s Cabinet (which includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments).

        Part III: Culminating Activity

        1. Ask students to summarize what they knowabout Alexander Hamilton. Write these down for the class to see.

        2. Explain that Alexander Hamilton was a good writer and was praised for his use of words. He relied on his strong writing skills throughout his career and wrote newspaper articles, letters, essays, official documents and speeches (including George Washington’s famous farewell address). Ask students to write an article, essay, letter, poem, song, speech or story about Alexander Hamilton, including at least 5 facts about him.

        Encourage students to use resources, including the following websites, to gather more information about Alexander Hamilton, as needed:

        Alexander Hamilton: The Man who MadeModern America

        Alexander Hamilton and the Creation ofthe United States 

        3. After students have written their pieces, ask them to share them with the class.


        Ask students to think about who they would like to see on a US bill. They can draw their new design on a sheet of paper or design their own bill online at:

        Design Your Own Bill


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