Washington Monument


All about the Washington Monument introduces students to the history behind this special structure. Students will learn why it was built and why it is still significant today. They will also discover some fun facts about the monument throughout the lesson.

There are quite a few additional suggestions in the “Options for Lesson” section that you could take advantage of if you have time. One such idea is to have students create a quote that would be inspiring to others that they would want read at a new dedication of the Washington Monument.

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What our Washington Monument lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Washington Monument explores the importance of this famous structure in Washington, DC. Students will learn why it was constructed and discover interesting facts about it. They will also be able to summarize its history. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. This lesson requires colored pencils or markers, scratch paper, and construction paper.

Options for Lesson

In the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page, you will see some suggestions for additional activities or ideas to add to the lesson if you want to. Students may work in pairs or in groups for the activity. For another activity, they could create a model of their design for the activity. Alternatively, larger groups of students may create a large model of the new Washington Monument design. Students vote for the best design, most likely to be used, most creative, etc. For an assignment, students create a time line of the Washington Monument beginning with Washington’s birth and other important dates. They could create their own inspiring quote that they would want someone to read at a new dedication of the Washington Monument. Invite a person who has visited the monument to speak to the students about their experience.

Teacher Notes

The paragraph on this page gives you a little more information on the lesson overall and describes what you may want to focus your teaching on. Your students may easily recognize the monument but not know much about its history. The blank lines are available for you to write out any thoughts or ideas you have as you prepare.


The History of Washington Monument

The Washington Monument lesson plan contains four pages of content. One of the greatest United States presidents of all time was George Washington. And one of the most recognizable and famous monuments of all time is the Washington Monument. It stands over 500 feet tall in Washington, DC, the capital of the United States.

One of its nicknames is the “giant pencil.” It was built between 1848 and 1884 as a tribute to Washington’s military leadership during the American Revolutionary War. That war lasted from 1775 to 1783 and led to America’s independence from Great Britain.

The obelisk design models those from ancient civilizations. When it was completed, the monument was the tallest building in the world until 1889. It stands at just under 555 feet and 6 inches and weighs over 80,000 tons. The Washington Monument Society held a competition to decide who would design the structure. The society had raised about $28,000 for construction of the monument. However, Mills’ original design had an estimated price tag of about $1 million (equivalent to $38 million in 2023).

The original design consisted of a 100-foot-high circular building. It would have been 250 feet in diameter. The 500-foot obelisk would rise from the center of the building. That would give the structure a total elevation of about 600 feet in total. The design would also include other features such as statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes and signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Due to the high price tag, the monument society decided to build only the obelisk. It would instead be 55 feet square at the base and 35 feet square at the top. It would have two large doorways on the monument’s east and west sides, be 15 feet high, and be 6 feet wide. The monument’s walls are 15 feet thick at its base and 1.5 feet thick at its top.

History Continues

Construction of the monument took place in two phases due to lack of funds, political turmoil, and uncertainty about the survival of the country. No construction took place between 1856 and 1876. During the first phase between 1848 and 1856, the first 150 feet of the monument was constructed and composed of a pile of bluestone gneiss unfinished rubble stones held together by mortar.

The other 350 feet of the monument was constructed between 1876 and 1884 and composed of finished marble surface stones and partially backed by finished granite stones. The difference in the shading of the monument can be seen where the construction was halted and later resumed with the marble from a different source.

Inside of the monument are spiraling iron stairs with an elevator in the center, both supported by eight iron columns. The stairs contain fifty sections with several landings. The landings included many inscribed memorial stones of various materials and sizes, which were once easily viewed when the stairs were accessible before 1976.

The top pyramid has eight observation windows, two per side, and eight aircraft warning lights, also two per side. There are two aluminum lighting rods connected via the elevator support columns to groundwater which protect the monument during lightning strikes.

In addition, surrounding the monument on the outside perimeter are fifty American flags flying 24 hours a day on a large circle of flagpoles centered on the monument. In 2011 an earthquake in the area slightly damaged the monument with over 150 cracks, with most of the damage occurring in the pyramid section at the top.

Time Line of the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument’s history has included a debate over its construction, protests, earthquake damage, and much more. However, the monument will always stand as a tribute to America’s first president, George Washington. Even before his death in 1799, the Continental Congress proposed they build a statue of him as a memorial to this great man and “Father of the country.”

On the third worksheet page, the lesson provides a list of events that were significant to the construction and development of the monument. For instance, in December of 1861, the Civil War began, and work on the structure temporarily stopped for nearly two decades. The formal dedication ceremony occurred on February 21, 1885.

An anti-Catholic group, the Know-Nothings, protested the monument’s construction in December of 1954. They threw a memorial stone Pope Pius IX had donated, into the Potomac River. A year later on the same day, they seized control of the Washington National Monument Society.

Due to the age of the monument, earthquake damage, and other issues, the Washington Monument has been plagued by problems. There were periods of time when they had to close the monument to visitors as a result of these issues. The last time it was closed was in 2016, and it remained closed for three years.

Interesting Facts

Prior to its construction, there were some people, Democratic-Republicans, who favored a monument to Jefferson over Washington. Early ideas for the monument included a separate statue atop a classical Greek column. Another design involved a tomb inside the Capitol Building, and another, Washington on a horse. In addition, the monument was originally going to have a flat top.

Mills died in 1855, and the United States Corp of Army Engineers took over the responsibility for its completion. The leader insisted on free hot coffee for the workers. Several items are buried inside a zinc case in the monument’s foundation. Such items include copies of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Washington city map, and census data. There are also a book of poems, a collection of coins, a Bible, list of Supreme Court justices, and other items.

Exactly 194 memorial stones line the Washington Monument, some with celebratory quotes. Others are less typical, such as one that supports the Prohibition, outlawing alcohol. In attendance during the monument’s construction in 1848 was current-president, James Polk. In addition, three future presidents attended as well—James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson.

The Eiffel Tower in France, at 986 feet, became the tallest manmade structure just six months later. As of 2023, the Washington Monument is still the world’s tallest all-stone structure. There are about 897 steps inside the monument. From the top, one can see 30 miles away. Steam powered the original elevator of the monument. It took 20 minutes to reach the top versus just one minute using the elevator today.

A law in Washington, DC, permits new buildings, but none can be taller than 555 feet. The dedication of the monument happened in 1885. Robert Winthrop offered these words at the ceremony, which remain true today: “The storms of winter must blow and beat upon it . . . the lightnings of Heaven may scar and blacken it. An earthquake may shake its foundations . . . but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure.”


The Washington Monument lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. These worksheets will help students demonstrate what they learned throughout the lesson and reinforce the lesson concepts. The guide on the classroom procedure page outlines when to hand out each worksheet to your students.


For the activity, students will create a new design for the Washington Monument. The design must be realistic as it would “replace” the current structure. Students should also include as many details as possible, such as engravings, background information, and so on. In addition, they should present multiple perspectives of the monument that would help viewers understand the design.


The practice worksheet divides into two sections. On the first part, students will decide whether 10 statements are true or false. The second section requires them to answer a series of 10 questions based on what they learned in the lesson. You can decide whether or not they are allowed to use the content pages for reference.


Similar to the practice worksheet, there are two sections on the homework assignment. First, students will look at 10 years and describe what happened to the Washington Monument in those years. On the second section, they will describe the significance of 10 terms and phrases as they relate to the monument.

Worksheet Answer Keys

There are answer keys for the practice and homework worksheets at the end of the lesson plan document. Correct answers are in red to make it easy to compare them to your students’ work. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


Social Studies


3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade

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