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CNN Student News Learning Activity: U.S. Secretaries of State

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  • Examine the history of the U.S. State Department
  • Explore the backgrounds and accomplishments of former U.S. secretaries of state
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(CNN Student News) -- Learn about the history of the U.S. State Department and the backgrounds and accomplishments of former U.S. secretaries of state.


Survey students to see how much they know about the duties and function of the U.S. secretary of state. Then, refer them to their textbooks and other resources to learn about history of the U.S. State Department and why the post of secretary of state is so important. After students share their findings in class discussion, have them list some of the major issues and challenges that the incoming secretary of state might face. Write students' responses on the board.

Next, direct students to to access a list of former U.S. secretaries of state. Have each student select a different secretary from the list and conduct research to learn about the background and accomplishments of the individual. Then, ask each student to assume the role of the former secretary of state. Have students write letters to secretary of state nominee Sen. Hillary Clinton that give her advice on how to handle the nomination process and the challenges that might lie ahead for her if she becomes secretary of state. Have students share their letters with the class and discuss them.

Correlated Standards

Social Studies

Standard V: Individuals, Groups and Institutions: Students will explore how institutions are formed, what controls and influences them, how they control and influence individuals and culture and how institutions can be maintained or changed.

Standard VI: Power, Authority and Governance: Students will understand the historical development of structures of power, authority and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary U.S. society as well as other parts of the world.

Standard X: Civic Ideals and Practices: Students will examine the ideals, principles and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies ( are published by the National Council for Social Studies (


U.S. secretary of state, nominee, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, confirmation

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