President Kennedy was the first U.S. President to hold live televised press conferences. During his years in office, he held one, on average, every sixteen days.
In this lesson, students act as members of President Kennedy’s Press Office with an assignment to prepare a briefing for the President on topics that may come up in a specific press conference. To fulfill this assignment, students explore the Kennedy Library website, using both primary and secondary sources. As a culminating activity, students participate in a simulated press conference.
National History Standards Connections
U.S. History: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s), Era 9: 2A, 2B, 2C, 3B, 4A.
World History: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes, Era 9: 1B.
Historical Thinking: 1A, 1B, 1C, 2A, 2B, 2F, 4A, 4B, 5A, 5B, 5C, 5D, 5E.
MA Frameworks Connections
USII.19(B); USII.25; USII28; WHII.32 (E); WHII.38(A).
- discuss major events that occurred during President Kennedy’s administration.
- discuss the role of the presidential press secretary and press conferences.
- analyze primary source documents and web-based materials.
- create press briefing materials for selected press conference dates.
- evaluate and write appropriate press conference questions and answers.
- present orally their questions and answers for the press conference.
Materials/Resources Needed for Lesson
- Distribute the "Launching into the Sixties" article (doc). Ask students to read the handout and answer the questions. This will provide them with some background information about the time period. (This can be assigned for homework.)
- Ask students to read the web page, “The Presidential Press Office.” (This can be assigned for homework.) Discuss the extensive preparation by Kennedy and his staff for each press conference. Why might Kennedy have chosen to participate in so many press conferences during his tenure in office? Why might Kennedy have spent so much time preparing for these press conferences? Do they believe a President should have frequent press conferences? Why or why not?
- Distribute the “Press Program Worksheet.” (doc) Divide students into groups of 2-5 and give each group a press conference date. Have students complete the worksheet, either in groups or individually. Remind them that they need to use at least one primary source available on the website as part of their background information. They should not use Kennedy's press conferences as a primary source. Suggest that they use the search function on the JFK Library website to find relevant information.
- Ask each group of students to put their selected question on one blank sheet of paper and the answer to the question on another blank sheet of paper.
- Have students choose someone in their group to be President Kennedy and another person to be a reporter.
- Have students give their page with the question to the reporter in another group.
- Begin a simulated press conference with each reporter asking each President Kennedy a question.
- After each President Kennedy answers a question, the groups will discuss the information provided by the President and each group will create a potential newspaper headline based on the presentation. It can be a headline found in a more "serious" daily newspaper, or a tabloid type headline. A spokesperson in each group will share their headline with the entire class.
- Award a point to the group that you determine has the most creative headline. Tally up the points at the end and identify a winner.
- Have students use their completed worksheets to create a formal press briefing document that includes (a) a potential question Kennedy may be asked on their press conference date, (b) a “current situation report,” and (c) “suggested points for the president’s reply.” They should follow the form of the August 10, 1961 press conference briefing paper.
- Have students research any additional information that they did not find on the Kennedy Library website that would have been useful to their briefing.
- Have students read the transcripts from President Kennedy’s press conference. Assign them to write a report on the actual questions asked at the press conference and whether or not one of their questions and/or answers matched those of President Kennedy. Was there a particular focus of the questions asked by reporters? Were students surprised by the issues raised or questions asked? If the issue the students raised in their simulated press conference matched one in actual the press conference, how closely did Kennedy’s answer match their own? How might they have strengthened their answers?