Michelle Obama: The Force Behind The Power

In the past four years, First Lady Michelle Obama has gained tremendous popularity from many different sectors of American society. This article (from the book by Jodi Kantor, The Obamas) describes the challenges, triumphs, and transformation she has experienced in her role as First Lady.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post With Answer Key.

First Lady Michelle and President Obama. By Damon Winter/The New York Times

Excerpt: Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lady,  By Jodi Kantor,  New York Times

Michelle Obama was privately fuming, not only at the president’s team, but also at her husband…after the Democrats lost Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat in January 2010, Barack Obama was even-keeled as usual in meetings, refusing to dwell on the failure or lash out at his staff. The first lady, however, could not fathom how the White House had allowed the crucial seat, needed to help pass the president’s health care legislation and the rest of his agenda, to slip away, several current and former aides said. To her, the loss was more evidence of what she had been saying for a long time: Mr. Obama’s advisers were too insular and not strategic enough…The first lady never confronted the advisers directly — that was not her way — but they found out about her displeasure from the president. “She feels as if our rudder isn’t set right,” Mr. Obama confided…

First Lady Michelle Obama meets Queen Elizabeth II. photo: Doug Mills/NYT

The Michelle Obama of January 2012 is an expert motivator and charmer, a champion of safe causes like helping military families and ending childhood obesity, an increasingly canny political player eager to pour her popularity into her husband’s re-election campaign… she saw herself as a guardian of values. She was sometimes harder on her husband’s team than he was, eventually urging him to replace them… the tensions grew so severe that one top adviser erupted in a meeting in 2010, cursing the absent first lady…When she thinks things have been mishandled or when things are off the track she’ll raise it, because she’s hugely invested in him and has a sense of how hard he’s working, and wants to make sure everybody is doing their work properly…

A Harvard-trained lawyer, she had given up her career for what initially seemed to her a shapeless post… For all of the first lady’s newness, she was quick to identify problems. From the start she worried that the White House was not presenting a clear, compelling story of the president’s actions to the public… Michelle Obama never wanted to be the kind of first lady who interfered with West Wing business… And yet as the administration hit obstacle after obstacle in 2010 — Mrs. Obama became increasingly concerned… By then, Michelle Obama’s trajectory in the White House was changing. She was mastering and subtly redefining the role that had once seemed formless to her, and becoming more acclimated to her new life…

The article is based on Kantor’s controversial book The Obamas. Read the entire article.

Note: Students will need access to the entire article to complete the activities.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate -Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening.Vocabulary and

grammar activities are included.

Time: approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson)  article,  and video.
Objective: Students will review and discuss the political issues concerning the First Lady Michelle Obama. Students will practice their reading, speaking, writing and listening skills.

I. Pre-Reading Tasks

A. Prediction

1. Analyze headings and photos.

Directions: Have students read the title of the post, and of the article. Next have them  analyze the photos to see if  they can predict what  information the article will discuss.  Then based on this information,   direct students to make a list of ideas, words and phrases they might find in this article.

B.  Stimulating Background Knowledge

Pre-reading Discussion Questions: Directions: Have students discuss the following questions regarding the role of the wife (spouse) of the President or of the leader in their  respective countries.

1. To what extent does the spouse of the leader become involved in political issues?

2. Discuss to what extent the spouse tends to get involve in issues concerning Health, and Welfare, (e.g. Michelle Obamas’ Let’s Move program which focuses on the  health and well being of children).

3. Is the spouse seen as a role model by young people? If yes, explain in what ways.

II. While Reading Tasks

A. Vocabulary

1.  Word Inference: Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold (taken from the article) and use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.

  1. Michelle Obama was privately fuming
  2. …Barack Obama was even-keeled as usual in meetings…
  3. The first lady, however, could not fathom how the White House had allowed the crucial seat… to slip away,
  4. Mr. Obama’s advisers were too insular and not strategic enough…
  5. The Michelle Obama of January 2012 is an expert motivator and charmer…
  6. …an increasingly canny political player eager to pour her popularity into her husband’s re-election campaign.
  7. “The Obamas,” a new book, show that she has been an unrecognized force in her husband’s administration…and that her story has been one first of struggle, then turnaround
  8. Mrs. Obama is a supportive but often anxious spouse, suspicious of conventional political thinking…
  9. …a groundbreaking figure who has acutely felt the pressures…
  10. She was mastering and subtly redefining the role that had once seemed formless to her…becoming more acclimated to her new life.
  11. …the meeting was held to appease the first lady…
  12. The worse things got for her husband in 2011, the more she rallied to his side, buoying him personally and politically.
  13. Mrs. Obama gave a party for his 50th birthday, warning guests not to leave early and delivering a stemwinder of a toast in praise of her husband.
  14. The president, looking embarrassed, tried to cut her off, several guests said, but she told him he had to sit and listen.

B. Questions for Comprehension  True / False

1. Directions: If  the statement is true, students write (T) if  the statement is false they  write (F)  and  provide the correct answer from the article.

  1. Michelle Obama was angry because the Democrats lost Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat.
  2. She felt that Mr. Obama’s advisers were open and very strategic in their planning.
  3. The first lady always confronted the advisers directly…that was her way…
  4. …they found out about her displeasure from the President.
  5. Michelle Obama is interested in perpetuating childhood obesity…
  6. Mrs. Obama  is described as a supportive but often anxious spouse, suspicious of conventional political thinking…
  7. She was easy-going with her husband’s team, and  often complimented them.
  8. Michelle received her law degree from Harvard University.
  9. Mrs. Obama didn’t pay attention to what people thought about her and the Obama family in general.
  10. Michelle Obama never interfered with West Wing business.
  11. President Obama coaches his daughter’s basketball team.

C. Grammar Focus

Identifying Parts of Speech

Directions:  Students are to identify the verbs in the following paragraph. Have them use the verbs to write their  own paragraphs concerning the spouses of political leaders.  Students can add nouns from the article or use their own.

“Michelle Obama was privately fuming, not only at the president’s team, but also at her husband. In the days after the Democrats lost Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat in January 2010, Barack Obama was even-keeled as usual in meetings, refusing to dwell on the failure or lash out at his staff. The first lady, however, could not fathom how the White House had allowed the crucial seat, needed to help pass the president’s health care legislation and the rest of his agenda, to slip away, several current and former aides said.”

III. Post Reading Tasks

 

A. Reading Comprehension Check-Graphic Organizers

Directions:  Have students use a graphic organizer to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.  Click on either chart to see additional organizers. Also visit ESL Voices for Listings for additional charts and organizers

Cluster chart for Topic. By Eduplace

For more advanced students you might consider using a more intricate chart.

Organizer with Aspects and Details. By Enchanted Learning


B.   Writing

Directions:  Have students choose a topic and write an essay.  Review ESL Voices Modes of Essay Writing.

1. Describe some of the programs Michelle Obama has orchestrated and the people who have benefited from them (e.g., her Let’s Move Program for children)

2. Discuss the ways that you think the Mrs. Obama has helped her husband with his job as President of the United States.

3. Write an essay in which you describe the role of the First Lady in your country.

IV. Listening Activity

Video Title: The First Lady: A New Funding for Military Families “First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives’ Luncheon at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington about the fiscal 2011 budget and its impact on military families.” Washington, DC : 28 min.

Michelle Obama talks with Military families.

A. Pre-Listening tasks

Questions Questions for background knowledge.

Directions: The following questions are based on information from students’ countries. This may be a discussion  for the class or  in groups.

  • In your country can both men and women serve in the military?
  • Discuss the type of programs available for military persons once they return home for good. (For example, are there programs for free education, or vocational training?)
  • Are they provided with free health and medical care when they return home?
  • What additional provisions are made for the men and women of the military?

 

B. While-Listening Task (Sentence Fill-ins)

Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences.

  1. Michelle said that she and Jill Biden (Vice President  Joe Biden’s wife)  met with  military wives to get___ and guidance on how to ____.
  2. They also met with the Senior Enlisted Advisors’ wives to discuss___ in the ranks, and____.
  3. These conversations  gave Michelle and  jill critical ___ and ___for subsequent visits to bases and military communities around the country.
  4. Michelle stated that  she had  incredible experiences in the past year  the two people she mentioned having met were___ and ____.
  5. Name two of the military bases she  and the President visited.
  6. Name the two ships that Michelle speaks about during the video.
  7. At the time of her speech which ship returned to Haiti?
  8. The Coast Guard’s third National Security Cutter, the Stratton was named to honor which military female?
  9. Michelle tells the  inspirational story about the young Navy Seal who stepped on an  IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan and   lost ___, then 4 months later  he___.
  10. Michelle’s stated  that  her three goals which were to_____, ______, and  finally__________.
  11. What are some of the ways  that military families continue to serve their communities?

Post-Listening Tasks

1.  In groups,  have students make up questions they would like to ask the speaker.2. Place students in groups and give them  five minutes to sum up the main ideas in the video.

3. Role-Play:

Place students in groups  (or work as a class) and have them  produce a short play in which roles  are created for the First Lady, the President, the Vice President, his wife, other officials.

They might use some of the issues  Michelle spoke about in the video such as, the importance of the military, health care and medical benefits for military people, the good deeds these men and women perform, in spite of being hurt.

Fun Video: Michelle Obama Dances in India

Michelle Obama played hopscotch, danced and sang with 33 disadvantaged children from the Indian charity Make a Difference Saturday at the University of Mumbai. (Nov. 7)


 

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