Lesson PlansBack to lesson plans archive September 16, 2013
Constitution Day Lesson Plan
By Katie Gould, Teacher Resource Producer for PBS NewsHour Extra
History, government and civics
One 90 minute class period
Middle School and High School
Warm Up Activity
Creating your Classroom Rules
This lesson involves some deception, but provides an authentic experience of building a government. It also lays the foundation for an appreciation of the Constitution of the United States.
- Tell students that you are going to give them an assignment – to produce a document – but that they will need to do it on their own as a class. You, the teacher, have some grading to do and cannot be bothered for the next 15 minutes.
- The assignment for the students is as follows:
- You will come up with a set of six classroom rules that students and the teacher must abide by.
- You can come up with the rules any way you want, just get it done.
- You can use the board, paper, whatever you need to accomplish this task.
- You have 15 minutes to complete your class rules.
- Let the students get going, and start fake-grading papers or whatever fake task you choose to be doing in the back of the room. You will actually be taking narrative notes on the students’ process of governance, which you will be reading back to them at the end of the 15 minutes.
- At the end of 15 minutes, take back charge of the class and tell them the truth – that you were actually eavesdropping. Explain to them that you wanted them to experience the process of building a constitution.
- Constitution- the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it. (Merriam-Webster)
- Go over the notes you took of the students’ attempt to create a class constitution and read to them key parts of their effort including:
- Who made the decisions?
- How were the decisions made?
- Were there discussions?
- Did they change from any of their original ideas? How did it happen?
- Did any factions in the class develop?
- Pass out the “Glossary and Facts” handout (ask students to use this as a resource throughout the lesson if needed) and the “Summary of the US Constitution”. Review the summary together and ask students the following questions for a brief discussion:
- Were any of their rules were like ones in the Bill of Rights?
- Would they like to add any of these rights to their constitution?
- Do they see any rights in the constitution that have been taken away at school?
- How can a school legally take away their rights?
- Pass out the “Background” handout and read it together as a class. Now show the class how the Constitution was developed through one of two videos:
- As a class discuss the following:
- Did you feel like your experience was anything like the one in the video?
- What were the main problems with the Articles of Confederation?
- How important was the founders’ ability to compromise?
The Constitutional Convention Simulation
- Explain to the students that creating the Constitution took a great deal of hard work and compromise. They are now going to see what it feels like to try to come up with laws for the Constitution concerning the issues of how states would be represented in the government and the issue of slavery. Their goal is to play their assigned roles and create laws that everyone agrees with that can go into the Constitution.
- Split the class into four equal groups, send them to four corners and assign the groups as follows:
- The Small States- who will be arguing for the New Jersey Plan
- The Large States- who will be arguing for the Virginia Plan
- Southern States- who will be arguing to legally protect the institution of slavery
- Northern States-who will be arguing against legal protection of slavery
- Pass out “Constitution Day Simulation Roles” handout to each student, and in their groups have students read, and process the document together. Then have each group outline the laws they wish to see in the Constitution and be able to explain why they are important.
- Keep the student groups in their corners and invite one person from each group to speak and present the laws that they believe should be in the constitution. After each group has gone, give the students time to think of a rebuttal to the other groups’ statements.
- Allow at least 15 minutes for students to try to come up with a compromise and actual laws that will go into the constitution. Write any laws that everyone agrees to follow up on the board. The students may not be able to come to a compromise and create laws, but that is okay. You want them to experience the frustration and difficulty that the original founders of the Constitution did.
- Debrief with the class and discuss the following questions:
- Was this simulation difficult and why?
- If you were able to come to any agreement on laws, how did you do it?
- What did you have to sacrifice in order to create the laws?
- Show students the Student Reporting Labs’ story on the first amendment that involves school and social media.
- After the video is over, as a class, discuss the video:
- Are the students’ rights being violated?
- If so, specifically which ones?
Recommended Extension Activities and Resources
- Breathing new life into the traditional civics lesson, Peter Sagal (host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) travels across the country on a Harley Davidson to find out where the U.S. Constitution lives, how it works and how it doesn’t; how it unites us as a nation and how it has nearly torn us apart. Watch this 53 minute film “A More Perfect Union” with your class!
- Have students pick one of the 27 Amendments and illustrate what it “looks like” today and in their life or what that amendment means to them.
- Check out iCivics for games, videos and free lesson plans on the Constitution!
- Summary of the Constitution
- “Government by the People” by Burns, Peltson, and Cronin
The Materials You Need
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Common Core Standards
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Relevant National Standards:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9 Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
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