Thank you for your interest in educational resources about James
K. Polk. This page is divided into several segments: Lesson
plans, Related Activities, and For
Further Reading… These segments are intended to be fun and educational
and may be used in the classroom or by those who wish to continue
learning about the 11th President of the United States.
Lesson plans have been categorized by grade level. The lessons
may or may not be directly related to information on the rest of
the website. Other resources should be consulted. To see a list
of suggested resources see For Further Reading…
Lesson Plan 1: General Quiz (9-12)
To test and expand the students' knowledge of James K. Polk. The
quiz questions are phrased in the negative to spur discussion and
provide more information. This lesson can be assigned as homework
or completed in the classroom and should be used in the middle or
end of a unit on James K. Polk.
1. Teacher will explain purpose of exercise and demonstrate how
to connect to quiz (from educational resources
page, or follow link "To learn more about James K. Polk, take
our online quiz").
2. Students will complete the quiz.
3. Teacher will discuss the answers and lead discussion on any/all
of the topics illustrated.
Lesson Plan 2: Journal Writing (4-12)
President Polk saw the importance of keeping a journal to record
history and to explain important decisions made during his administration.
Make a direct connection between James K. Polk and students through
a mutual activity - journal writing.
To create a more historical feel, the teacher could provide quill
pens and ink for the students. (Quill pens available from Polk Home
Museum Shop). A session on making paper could also be introduced.
1. Quotes from the Diary of James K. Polk
could be assigned as homework or openly read in classroom.
2. Teacher will lead discussion about the importance of keeping
3. Students encouraged to keep a journal for one semester.
Lesson Plan 3: Presidential Portraiture (K-6)
For students to become more visually familiar with James K. Polk.
Teacher can download hard copies of the various portraits of James
K. Polk from the www.jameskpolk.com website.
1. Students may download different images of James K. Polk from
the Polk website.
2. Compare different images of Polk and discuss differences and
3. Compare the technical differences between portraits and photographs
James K. Polk developed an interest in politics while a member
of the dialectic society at the University of North Carolina. As
a member of the society, Polk learned how to make arguments and
defend his beliefs, skills that would serve him well in his law
profession and political career. Choose a topic that is important
to students of today. Divide the classroom in half, one side defending
the topic, the other criticizing it. The teacher or a student should
act as moderator.
2. Map Exercise
One of President Polk's greatest legacies is territorial expansion.
For the first time, the United States would stretch all the way
from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Some 800,000 square
miles would be added to the United States. To explore interactive
maps illustrating expansion during Polk's Presidency, connect to
the following sites: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~atlas/america/interactive/map01.html
- Territorial Expansion http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~atlas/america/interactive/map10.html
- Oregon Territory http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~atlas/america/interactive/map12.html
- Mexican Cession
Students should be able to identify territories vs. states. Students
can investigate what became of the newly acquired territories (states
of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada…) Consider
why these territories were important to the U.S. Were the territories
worth the price of war with Mexico and possibly Great Britain?
3. 19th Century Education
Sarah Polk was one of the first educated First Ladies. In a time
when women rarely had the opportunity to go to college, both she
and her sister Susan were sent to Salem Academy, a women's school
run by a religious group called the Moravians in Salem, North Carolina.
While a student, Sarah studied reading, grammar, geography, ciphering,
drawing, embroidery, and orthography.
How was Sarah Polk's education different from today's education?
Why were boys and girls taught different things? (Polk, while at
the University of North Carolina, studied geography, Biblical and
classical history, Greek and Roman literature, mathematics, natural
and moral philosophy, and English grammar).
How did Sarah's education prepare her for a life as a wife of a
Congressman, Governor, and President of the United States?
ATTENTION TEACHERS: Copies of the James K. Polk Home's twelve-minute
orientation video are available to school libraries for $10. With
the video, schools will receive the Home's educational packet that
includes materials for classroom use. To order the video, send a
check to the Polk Home, P.O. Box 741, Columbia, TN 38402.
For further reading…
Bergeron, Paul H. The Presidency of James K. Polk. Lawrence:
University Press of Kansas, 1987.
Borneman, Walter R. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency
and America. New York: Random House, 2008.
Bumgarner, John Reed. Sarah Childress Polk A Biography of the
Remarkable First Lady. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1997.
Byrnes, Mark E. James K. Polk: A Biographical Companion.
Denver, CO: ABC-CLIO, 2001.
Haynes, Sam W. James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse.
New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2002.
Lillegard, Dee. Encyclopedia of Presidents: James K. Polk.
Chicago: Childrens Press, 1988.
Merry, Robert W. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk ,
The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.
Pinheiro, John C. Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military
Relations During the Mexican War. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger
Security International, 2007.
Quaife, Milo Milton, ed. The Diary of James K. Polk During His
Presidency. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1910.
Seigenthaler, John. James K. Polk. New York: Times Books,
Sellers, Charles. James K. Polk Jacksonian. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1957.
Sellers, Charles. James K. Polk Continentalist. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.
Sinnott, Susan. Encyclopedia of First Ladies: Sarah Childress
Polk. New York: Children's Press, 1998.
See links page for related materials.