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Lesson Idea: President Obama's Cabinet


Students will identify the President's cabinet members and understand their individual roles.

Time Frame:

One 90-minute block period or two 45-minute periods

Materials Needed:

  1. A computer
  2. A screen to project computer and video images
  3. LCD projector
  4. Graphic Organizer - Identifying the President's Cabinet (PDF)

Vocab Words:

  • Executive Branch
  • U.S. Constitution
  • Nominee
  • Cabinet
  • Advisors
  • Confirmation


  1. Ask students to describe what makes up the Executive Branch. What positions are involved other than the president and vice president?
  2. Explain to students that a president is in charge of selecting several people to head up the Executive departments. This tradition dates back to the beginning of the presidency. Ask which article of the U.S. Constitution addresses Executive power.
  3. Project the text of Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Highlight the portion from which the president draws the power to select a cabinet. Read aloud or select a student to read the portion to the class.
  4. Ask students how many Executive departments currently exist. Do they know which Department was most recently created? As a group have students identify some of these departments. Ask students if they can identify any Cabinet members under President Bush or any of President-Elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet nominees.
  5. Pass out the graphic organizer, Identifying the President’s Cabinet. This activity can be done either in groups or individually.
  6. Play the C-SPAN clips below. After each clip, have the students write down the names under the appropriate Department on their graphic organizer. Below their name have students list their qualifications.

    Play   Secretary of Treasury – Tim Geithner

    Play   Secretary of State – Sen. Hillary Clinton

    Play   Secretary of Defense – Sec. Robert Gates

    Play   Secretary of Homeland Security – Gov. Janet Napolitano

    Play   Attorney General – Eric Holder

    Play   U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – Susan Rice

    Play   Secretary of Commerce – Gov. Bill Richardson (*withdrew 01/04/09)

    Play   Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Gen. Eric Shinseki

    Play   Secretary of Health and Human Services - Tom Daschle (*withdrew 02/02/09)

    Play   Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Shaun Donovan

    Play   Secretary of Energy - Stephen Chu

    Play   Secretary of Education - Arne Duncan

    Play   Secretary of the Interior - Ken Salazar

    Play   Secretary of Agriculture - Tom Vilsack

    Play   Secretary of Labor - Hilda Solis

    Play   Secretary of Transportation - Ray LaHood

    Play   Secretary of Commerce - Judd Greg (*withdrew 02/12/09)

    Play   Secretary of Commerce - Gary Locke

    Play   Secretary of Health and Human Services - Kathleen Sebelius

  7. Discuss each nominee with the class. Call on individual students or groups of students to name the nominees and list their qualifications. Ask if the students are familiar with the nominee? Where may they have heard of this person before?

Wrap Up:

Explain to the students how a nominee becomes a Secretary. Ask why the nominees have to go through a confirmation process. Which body of government must confirm the nominees?

Extension Activity:

  1. Have students note which cabinet positions have not yet been filled. Ask the students to select a person that they think could fill one of the empty positions. List their qualifications, and have students write an essay on why this person would be a good selection.
  2. Print out the biographies of the nominees listed below. Hand these out to the students, and have them fill in more information about each person’s qualifications.
  3. Ask students to research the primary functions of one or more cabinet position/positions. Have them create a job posting for a cabinet position listing the qualifications necessary to fulfill the position.

Helpful Websites:

C-SPAN’s Presidential Transition site
President Elect Obama’s Transition
Tim Geithner biography
Hillary Clinton biography
Robert Gates biography
Janet Napolitano biography
Eric Holder biography
Susan Rice biography
Gary Locke biography
Eric Shinseki biography
Katheleen Sebelius biography
Shaun Donovan biography
Stephen Chu biography
Arne Duncan biography
Ken Salazar biography
Tom Vilsack biography
Hilda Solis biography
Ray LaHood biograghy