Teaching Students About Commodore Dewey

Commodore George Dewey’s significant contributions to American history cannot be overlooked. As the only officer to attain the rank of Admiral of the Navy and his vital role in the Spanish-American War, he proves to be an essential figure for students to study. This article will explore effective ways to teach students about Commodore Dewey and instill a profound understanding of his significance in American history.

1. Setting the Stage:

Begin by providing some background information on Commodore Dewey’s early life and career. Discuss his education at the United States Naval Academy, his service during the Civil War, and his ascent through the ranks. Give an overview of America’s political landscape at this time and explain key events that contributed to engaging in foreign conflicts.

2. The Spanish-American War:

The Spanish-American War serves as a defining moment for Commodore Dewey. Explain how this war began and its central goals. Detail Dewey’s role as commander of the Asiatic Squadron, establishing a context for his actions at the Battle of Manila Bay.

3. The Battle of Manila Bay:

Explain the tactics employed by Commodore Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898, including his famous order, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Discuss how these strategic decisions helped secure a decisive victory for America over Spain’s Pacific fleet.

4. Hero Status and Legacy:

After Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay, he was instantly hailed as a national hero. Talk about how this fame affected his life afterward, including promotions and unprecedented appointments (e.g., Admiral of the Navy). Use primary sources like newspapers from that time period to display public sentiment during this era.

5. Classroom Activities:

Divide your article into suggested activities teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans on Commodore George Dewey.

Activity 1: Roleplay – Have students act out the events of the Battle of Manila Bay using props or by designing a stage.

Activity 2: Debate – Divide students into two groups, with one group arguing for the necessity of the Spanish-American War while the other argues against it.

Activity 3: Research and Presentation – Assign students to research a particular aspect of Dewey’s life or career and present their findings to the class.


Commodore George Dewey played a crucial role in shaping America’s military and diplomatic history. Teaching students about this fascinating figure not only adds depth to their understanding of American history but also encourages them to consider how military leaders’ decisions impact global politics. With a mix of lectures, discussions, and interactive activities, your students will gain valuable insights into the life and times of Commodore Dewey.

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