Elementary school children are never too young to start learning about the Declaration of Independence. Even though the document contains complicated language and unfamiliar terms, teachers can explain the text and assign classroom activities to help students understand its significance. Lesson plans should focus on the history, purpose and context of the document and its importance in American history.
Explain what the Declaration of Independence is so kindergartners and first-graders learn how the United States began. Briefly discuss the historical background -- Great Britain's control over the colonies and the colonists' desire for independence. Show students pictures of the Declaration of Independence and famous Founding Fathers who signed the document, including John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Write the word "freedom" on your blackboard or white board and ask students to list what they think of when they hear the word. Give students a blank piece of paper and have them draw a picture of what freedom means to them.
Dispelled Myths Essays
Have students in grades two through four write a two-paragraph essay dispelling a myth associated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Each student must choose one of three myths: that members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776; that the Continental Congress celebrated the signing on July 4, 1776, by reading the document aloud publicly; or that the Declaration of Independence received unanimous support by the members of the Continental Congress. Students can use the Internet, library materials and their textbooks for the assignment, but help them discern which sites are credible and which aren't.
Discuss the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence with third- through fifth-graders, such as the British government's refusal to pass laws that supported the colonies, its unwillingness to protect the colonists against foreign aggression and its support of unfair tax laws. Ask your students to make political posters that solicit support for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Encourage them to list reasons why the colonists should pursue independence from Great Britain. Instruct them to make their posters visually appealing with colorful patriotic symbols and eye-catching slogans.
Ask fifth- and sixth-graders to summarize and rewrite the Declaration of Independence in their own words. Divide your class into groups of two or three students each and give each group a two-column worksheet that breaks down the Declaration of Independence into smaller sections. The first column should list exact phrases or sentences from the document, and the second should provide blank space for students to write their summaries in contemporary language. Students in each group can take turns filling in the information or appoint one student to be the writer. Encourage students to discuss the content with their group members, translating the terms and concepts into everyday language.
- National Education Association: Learning About Independence Day, Grades K-5
- George Mason University; Foundations of U.S. History -- Declaration of Independence Lesson Plan; Pamela Gernerd
- Read Write Think: "America the Beautiful" -- Using Music and Art to Develop Vocabulary
- Library of Congress: Winter 2009 Teaching With Primary Sources Quarterly Learning Activity -- Elementary Level
- Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Getty Images