Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

First Lady Fashions
Tanya Foster
Communication Arts and History
Time Frame:
2-3 Weeks
Descriptive Writing

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Middle school students love fashion. Ask most sixth and seventh graders what one of their most important decisions is each morning and they will answer, "Deciding what to wear." Using fashion is a great way to generate interest in writing descriptively or identifying with a period of history. This unit asks students to research and learn about the fashion of a certain time while identifying with the personal convictions and tastes of the famous first ladies of the past. It also encourages students to practice what they have learned about adjectives to describe what they can see and create. The unit gives students something to real — actual dresses worn by first ladies and outfits they will create — to identify with. It is a fun way for them to connect what they love, CLOTHES, to the past. It also can show the importance of being able to describe something to make it appeal to others.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Missouri Standards

Goal 1 — Acquire the knowledge and skills to gather, analyze and apply information and ideas.

Objective #4 — Use technological tools and other resource to locate, select and organize information.

Objective # 9 — Identify, analyze and compare the institutions, traditions and art forms past and present societies.

Goal 2 — Acquire the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively within and beyond the classroom.

Objective #1 — Plan and make written, oral and visual presentations for a variety of purposes and audiences.

Communication Arts —

Objective #1 — Speaking and writing standard English (including grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling and


Objective #3 — Reading and evaluating nonfiction works and material (such as biographies, newspapers and technical manuals)

Social Studies —

Objective #6 — Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 2: The student writes expository text using the writing process.

2. Clearly defines the main idea by selecting relevant, logical details that meet the reader’s informational needs. (Ideas and Content: prewriting, drafting, revising: N,E,T,P)

3. Selects and uses (1) personal experience (2) personal observations (3) prior knowledge (4) research to meet the reader’s needs and to create appropriate point of view. (Ideas and Content: prewriting, drafting, revising: N,E,T,P)

4. Expresses information in own words using appropriate organization, grammar, word choice, and tone sufficient to the audience. (Ideas and Content: prewriting, drafting, revising: N,E,T,P)

9. Writes a complete piece that contains a clear introduction, reasonable body, and satisfying conclusion. (Organization: prewriting, drafting, revising: N,E,T,P)

10. Arranges information within each paragraph in logical order (typically 4-6 sentences). Organization: prewriting, drafting, revising: N,E,T,P)

Technology Required:

Resources and Technology Used


The following web sites will be helpful in gaining information on the first ladies of the United States. Many sites show dresses First Ladies wore on special occasions.

Full description of activity or assignment.

Preparation for Learning Adventure


  1. Teach a comprehensive unit on adjectives. Show students examples of pieces of descriptive writing, both creative and technical, that effectively use adjectives.
  2. Familiarize students with Microsoft publisher. Give a one day workshop on how to use the program to create brochures or newsletters.
  3. Acquaint students with web searching skills and strategies.


Scope of Student Work


The following schedule is a suggested time frame for the activities involved in this unit. More time may be needed for certain segments of the unit such as researching and gathering information and working to complete brochures or "magazines".

Day 1 — Introduce the project by doing two different activities. The first activity is used to illustrate the importance of fashion and how it illustrates personality/culture. The second activity is to show how vivid adjectives are important to description.

Activity 1 — Have several volunteers go to the front of the classroom. Ask the class to describe what they are wearing. Allow for comments to explain why each student may have chosen his/her outfit. Reasons may include: weather, popular style, comfort, peer pressure, role models, advertising, etc. This should later be equated to the dresses of the first ladies.

Activity 2 — Ask the students to work in teams of 4 or 5. Each team will break into two parts, the describers and the guessers. The team describers will be given 3 students from other groups to describe to their guessers. They will have to write out their descriptions and will then play the game aloud in front of the other groups. Secretly give the instructions that only 2 of the groups are allowed to use adjectives in their descriptions — the other groups may not use adjectives. Go around the room and keep score — giving one point per correct guess. This activity will show the students that it is nearly impossible to describe a person, or his/her outfit, etc. without the use of adjectives. After playing one round unfairly — have the groups switch guessers and describers and play another round where all groups are allowed to use adjectives.

Day 2 — Place students into cooperative groups. Hand out worksheet and allow time for students to research. Students should have plenty of time to browse the listed web sites and try to look through the library for books which could help them complete their worksheets.

Day 3 — Allow students to complete worksheet one and hand out the project requirements handout. Thoroughly go over the requirements and then allow time for students to browse through clothing magazines you have brought for them to see how some descriptions are done. (I have found that the Coldwater Creek company has wonderful descriptions in their clothing magazine. I have listed them as a resource.)

Day 4 — Students should begin a rough draft description of the dresses they chose from the first ladies. These will be entered into the magazine or brochure they create.

Day 5 — Students brainstorm and work together to complete worksheet number two. This worksheet will help them to develop an outfit for both a boy and girl which could be worn if they were to be sworn in as class president.

Day 6 — Students should write their rough draft descriptions of their modern outfits to go into their magazine or brochure. These should sound similar to the descriptions written for the dresses of the first ladies. While this is being written some group members should begin drafting pictures of the modern outfits and collecting pictures of the first ladies’ dresses they have chosen.

Day 7 — Students edit the descriptions they have written and attempt to add more descriptive adjectives wherever possible. Students then begin work on the computer to create their "magazine" or brochure to present their "clothing line."

Day 8 — Continue working on final copies and project.

Day 9 & 10 — Finish final projects. Present and display them to the class.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Assessment will be done through class presentations