Imagine Big
Leadership lessons on teamwork and creativity

Grades 6—12
About This Lesson Plan


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Lesson 1: What Makes a Leader?

Students will identify characteristics of leadership by researching the lives of great American leaders.

Students will:

  • Identify leadership traits through one leader's life.
  • Research and analyze one American leader's leadership traits using background knowledge as well as Internet sources.
  • Compile and organize information from a variety of sources.
  • Express their opinions about one leader's leadership traits in discussion.

Leadership Qualities graphic organizer
Graph paper

Today we will be studying great American leaders. As a class, create a list of American leaders from the last century. Encourage students to consider leaders from a wide range of fields, including government, business, entertainment, philanthropy, and sports.

Whole Group
As a class, brainstorm aspects of leadership. Ask, “Based on what we already know about each leader in the list, what are some traits that leaders possess?” On graph paper, compile a list of leadership traits that students can use for reference during the rest of the lesson. Instruct students to record the list of traits in the Brainstorm section of their graphic organizer. Some traits might include honesty, vision, competence, ability to inspire, intelligence, persistence, charisma, passion, emotional intelligence, curiosity, and creativity.

Small Group
Have each student choose a leader that he or she wants to learn more about. Then, divide students into groups according to the leader they chose. If more than five students want to study one leader, divide them into two groups that focus on the same leader.

Instruct students to use Internet resources to learn more about their leader's life. As they work, students will identify four leadership traits and examples to include on the Leadership Qualities graphic organizer.

As they research, students should consider:

  • What elements of leadership are inherent to your leader? How do you know?
  • What elements of leadership did your leader learn during his/her life? What events show this learning?
  • What examples from your leader's life demonstrate each trait?
  • How did each leadership trait affect the leader's ability to have an impact?
  • What leadership traits do you share with your leader?

Allow students at least 30 minutes to research and complete the graphic organizer. In addition to the graphic organizer, students should prepare a list of sources used.

Closing Discussion
Ask one member of each group to share what they learned. As a class, discuss:

  • What traits are shared by all of the leaders?
  • What experiences did all the leaders share?
  • Do leaders have to demonstrate all the leadership traits to be effective? Why or why not?

As a closing activity, ask students to write a response to one of the following assessment questions:

  • Which character trait do you think was most helpful for your leader and why?
  • Which of the leadership traits do you possess? How might you use these leadership traits in your future career?

Extend the study of leadership with these activities:

  • Have students write a one-page analysis and reflection essay about someone that they consider a leader in their life. The essay should consider the questions: What qualities does your leader have? What experiences have shaped his or her life? What about him or her makes you want to follow or emulate him or her?
Helpful Hints
  • Students should remember that they are working as part of a collaborative team. It may be helpful to remind students of the expectations and responsibilities of teamwork before they start.
  • For students who are struggling to focus their research, provide guiding questions. For example, what was an important event in this leader's childhood? How do other people describe this leader?
  • For students who struggle with inferences, provide a choice of five or six traits that you know their leader possesses and ask them to find examples to show each trait.
  • As students cite information, provide them with a model for APA and MLA citing of Internet sources.
    o APA: Author (date). Article Title. Journal or Site Title. Date the information was received, from URL.
    o MLA: Author. "Article Title." Journal Title. Vol. Issue. (Year) Pages. Date retrieved information.
    o For more information on citing sources visit or

Guide students to these resources as a starting point for research:


Field Extension
Extend your class discussion of leadership with these Disney Youth Education Series adventures:

  • Principles of Disney Leadership at Walt Disney World® Resort aims to teach students Disney management skills and business strategies for becoming an effective leader. Specially designed activities help students explore their entrepreneurial skills, practice communicating with and empowering people, and discover how to inspire team excellence.
  • Disney's Approach to Leadership and Teamwork at Disneyland® Resort teaches students the four C's of Walt Disney leadership. Students will practice overcoming obstacles by working as a team and thinking creatively to develop solutions. Exercises designed to reinforce courage, curiosity and constancy aim to give students the confidence to set goals and accomplish their dreams.

Read detailed field study descriptions and enroll your students at


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