The United States Constitution provides the basis for the structure of our government and lists basic rights extended to all citizens. Students should have an understanding of the reasons for the Constitution, how it shapes our government's daily operation, and the rights this document grants them. Teaching the Constitution may include activities about its formation, structure and inclusion of the Bill of Rights.
Research the Founding Fathers
Students can gain context for the writing and basis of the components of the Constitution by completing research on the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Divide the class into 12 groups. Assign each group one of the delegates from the 12 states that sent representatives to the Convention. Each group will research its delegate, compiling and presenting the information in the form of posters, reports or multimedia presentations to share with the entire class. You may provide students with a list of resources or suggested websites to complete their research.
Determine the Six Big Ideas
The National Archives and Records Administration identifies six big ideas found in the Constitution that everyone should understand: limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers and popular sovereignty. Students can use the ideas as a means of outlining the Constitution during their reading. Write each of these topics on a panel of poster paper or a section of a white board, and ask student groups to fill in their understanding of each concept. The class can create an overall summary for each concept.
Study Primary Sources
Documents written prior to the Constitution can help provide context for understanding both its development and the reasoning behind amendments. Students can read other documents to determine the similarities and differences and why the founding fathers may have included or rejected certain aspects of historical writings. Documents may include the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation.
Understand the Bill of Rights
A traditional activity to teach the Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution is memorizing the first 10 amendments to get a basic understanding of our guaranteed rights under the Constitution. Students can also create presentations for each of the original and additional amendments, either illustrating or explaining each amendment. They can find examples of each amendment being upheld or violated in current news and present their finding to their classmates. Students can also debate the necessity of amendments to highlight abuses and protections afforded by the Bill of Rights.
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