Skip to Main Content

American Heroes, Past and Present

Guiding Question:

  • How have Americans shown civic virtues throughout history?


  • Students will understand the civic virtues practiced by Americans throughout history.
  • Students will analyze the virtues, attitudes, and actions of those individuals.

Facilitation Notes: Students will consult Appendix A: Founding Principles and Civic Virtues Organizer and Appendix B: Being an American Unit Graphic Organizer from the first lesson in this curriculum.


Distribute What Is a Hero? Graphic Organizer. Ask students to discuss with a partner or do a quickwrite responding to the following prompts:

  • What does it mean to be a hero?
  • Who is one of your personal heroes? Why?

Lead a brief class discussion on answers. Ask students: Is a hero the same as a celebrity? A leader? Encourage students to explain their reasoning. Create a class definition of a hero.


  1. Distribute one card from Character Cards to each student. Ask students to read the character card and take a few minutes to complete the relevant row on their chart in the handout. Students should consult Appendix A: Founding Principles and Civic Virtues Organizer to help them complete the handouts.
  2. After completing their analyses, students will play the hero on their card and take part in a historical networking event. Give students 10 to 15 minutes to circulate through the room, introducing themselves to other heroes and providing a glimpse into the life, personality, and achievements of their American hero. As students learn about another hero, they should fill in the appropriate row on their chart. Depending on class size and time allotted, students may not be able to speak to every individual, but that is not necessary.
  3. Optional: Form mixed groups of four that will represent different time periods, genders, beliefs, careers, etc. In these new groups, students will have a “dinner party” in character where they will get to know the other historic figures. Students should act in character and engage in a conversation that allows them to compare their assigned heroes’ lives, accomplishments, values, opinions, and heroic actions.

Assess & Reflect

  1. Bring students back to complete their analysis and discussion questions as themselves (drop character). Debrief with a large-group discussion on student answers.
  2. Have students return to Appendix B: Being an American Unit Graphic Organizer from the first lesson in this resource and complete the applicable row as an exit ticket.


  • Have students write a three- to five-line social media post for one or more of the heroes. Students can use the internet to research their heroes if needed.
  • Ask students to think of a time when they acted in a heroic manner (even on a small scale). Have them draw superhero comic strips that chronicle their deeds.
  • Have students interview a hero living in their community. Students can share the results of this oral history project through transcripts of the interviews, photo essays, a community “quilt,” or collage.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Capstone Project: What Does “Being an American” Mean to Me?

Related Resources