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White House Scandals


Two class periods



U.S. History

Gretchen C. Surber, history teacher, Woodbridge Senior High School, Woodbridge, Virginia.


Students will understand the following:

1. The events referred to as Watergate lead to major repercussions and much investigation.

2. Watergate can be compared and contrasted to other scandals associated with the White House.


For this lesson, you will need:

Reference materials (news stories and analyses) published at the time of the scandals under study and materials published subsequently
Index cards for note taking

1. After your class has studied Watergate, initiate a discussion of other White House scandals. Students or you should bring up at least the following four: Teapot Dome, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, and Lewinsky. Regardless of how much or how little students seem to know initially about the four other scandals, explain that you expect each of them to become fully informed about one. Explain that you also expect each student to write a detailed and fully documented comparison-and-contrast report on Watergate and one other White House scandal.

2. Review as necessary the respective meanings of comparisonand contrast. The first refers to finding similarities between two people, objects, or concepts; the second refers to finding differences between two people, objects, or concepts.

3. As with any comparison-and-contrast report, remind students that writers must identify features or categories according to which their two entities can be legitimately compared and contrasted. That is, the writer cannot simply say that Watergate was similar to one of the other scandals or was different from one of the other scandals; the writer cannot simply say that one scandal was worse than or not as bad as the other scandal. Rather, the writer must detail howor in what waythe two events were similar or different.

4. Also, as necessary, direct students to sources that will help them keep detailed and accurate bibliographic records of each source. They can find instructions in Modern Language Association bibliographic style at mla.

5. If students seem to have difficulty in determining along which lines Watergate and one other scandal should be compared and contrasted, suggest the following:

- Nature of the alleged illegal or improper act(s)
- White House person(s) who committed illegal or improper act(s)
- President's reaction to accusation of illegal or improper act(s)
- Media coverage of the scandal
- Determination of whether the term illegalactually applies to the act(s)
- Impact of scandal on prestige of presidency
- Short-term outcome of the scandal
- Long-term outcome of the scandal

6. Having conducted research, taken notes, and chosen the features or categories by which to compare and contrast Watergate and another scandal, students should use one of the following prewriting graphic organizers for ordering their thoughts:

- Comparison-contrast chart with three columns, the first headed “Feature,” the second headed “Watergate scandal,” and the third headed with the name of the other scandal
- Venn diagram with similarities between the two events noted in the overlapping sections, particularities of Watergate listed in the left section, and particularities of the other scandal noted in the right section

7. Students should write their first drafts, following their graphic organizers and noting each point at which they must cite a given source. Remind students that they should proceed in one of two ways: (1) mentioning a feature and covering each of the two scandals in terms of that feature before moving on to another feature; (2) writing about all the similarities first and then writing about all the differences between the two scandals. Determine if you want students to engage in peer editing or if you will be the sole reader of the reports.

8. Students should hand in their reports to you after revising, editing, and proofreading their work.

Have students work in small groups to prepare comparison-contrast charts or Venn diagrams to illustrate how Watergate stacks up against another White House scandal, but do not assign preparation of written reports.

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