A key component
of any culture is governance. Our shared culture as citizens of
the United States is influenced by the values in the Declaration
of Independence and the United States Constitution. This lesson
fosters an understanding of these documents and their impact on
the daily lives of Americans.
will identify basic beliefs and ideals stemming from the Declaration
of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
will discuss the significance of these documents in promoting
democratic ideals, protecting civil liberties and fostering
our understanding of America as a nation.
Copies of the following handouts: Declaration of Independence,
Our Shared Beliefs as Americans, Preamble to the Constitution,
and The Bill of Rights and Selected Amendments, current
newspapers, chart paper and markers or chalkboard and chalk
least two class periods
research skills, large-group discussion, small-group work, reaching
Amendment, preamble just
(adj.), domestic, defense, welfare, representative, non-transferable,
self-evident, equal, inalienable, life, liberty, justice, tranquility,
posterity, equity, belief, ideal, democracy, pursuit, literally, contradict
Part I: The
Declaration of Independence
1. Prior to
class, read the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.
Be prepared to discuss the following themes with students: (1) supreme
power vested in the people or their elected representatives; (2)
all men are created equal; (3) nontransferable or birthrights; and
(4) the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
copies of the Declaration of Independence handout to the
3. Have the
students read the handout.
4. Write the
following themes on chalkboard or chart paper:
rests with the people or their elected representatives.
All men are
to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
5. Use the following
questions to discuss the document:
Why do you
think the writers of the Declaration of Independence believed
that supreme power should be given to the people or their elected
some ways that people exercise their power in government?
you think is meant by the phrase "all men are created equal?"
the role of women during the time period that the Declaration
of Independence was written?
Do you think
that the ideas presented in the Declaration of Independence
were intended to extend to women, or do you think that the phrase
"all men are created equal" was meant literally? Explain
slavery exist in a society where all men were created equal?
Why do you
think that the authors of the Declaration of Independence included
that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
Why is it
important for government to protect people's safety and happiness?
Is this possible?
the Our Shared Beliefs as Americans handout. Have students
write Y (Yes) by each statement they think most Americans believe
or N (No) next to each statement that they think most Americans
do not believe.
7. As a large
group, or in small groups, have students discuss their responses
to the statements. In addition, have students discuss whether or
not there are beliefs on the list that most Americans would say
they share even though their actions will oftentimes contradict
what they say.
Procedure: Have the students write an essay about the role
of government in protecting personal equality and individual
Strategies and Procedures:
1. Have students
research why the Declaration of Independence was written. Their
research should also include what life was like in 1776, how the
country was governed, who was able to vote, own property, go to
school or start a business. Have students compare the society of
1776 to today's.
2. In small
groups, have students rewrite the Declaration of Independence using
modern-day language, gender-neutral pronouns and so forth. Have
groups share their revised documents with the class and explain
the rationale for the changes they made.
3. Have students
research how historical events (e.g., the French Revolution) and
prominent writers of that era (e.g., Thomas Paine) influenced the
founders' decision to write the Declaration of Independence.
was based upon "Our Shared Beliefs as Americans," The
Wonderful World of Difference, Copyright 1986, Anti-Defamation
Part II: The
1. Read and
be able to discuss with students the Preamble to the Constitution,
the Bill of Rights and additional Amendments XIII, XIY, XV, XIX,
XXVI. Have several newspapers available for students to use during
this part of the lesson.
the Preamble handout to students. Have one of the students
read the Preamble aloud.
3. Write the
following words and phrases on the chalkboard or on chart paper:
4. Divide the
students into small groups. Assign one of the words or phrases to
each group [NOTE: Several groups will be working with the same word/phrase.I
After each group has selected a recorder, instruct students to work
together to develop a working definition of the word or phrase.
They should also describe the role of government in providing practical
applications of these concepts.
5. After all
groups have had an opportunity to complete the task, have each group
present its ideas to the class.
6. Have students
remain in their small groups and distribute the Bill of Rights
and Selected Amendments handout. Have students compare the Bill
of Rights and the additional Amendments to the ideas in the Preamble.
Identify which Amendments match which concepts and/or provide for
7. While the
students are still in their small groups, give each group a newspaper
and have students search for items related to the Bill of Rights.
Circle those articles to share with the large group.
8. Have each
group share the articles circled in the newspaper, explaining which
Amendment they believe the article illustrated.
9. Draw three
columns on the chalkboard or on chart paper. In column 1, write
"No Bill of Rights"; in column 2, write "No XIII,
XIY, XV, XIX or XXVI Amendments"; and, in column 3, write "Bill
of Rights and Amendments." Start with column 1 and ask the
students what a society without the Bill of Rights would be like.
Write their ideas under the column 1 heading. Move to column 2 and
have students brainstorm what a society without Amendments XIII,
XIV, XV, XIX, and X)(VI would be like; write their ideas in this
column. Finally, ask students to brainstorm a list of rights protected
by the Bill of Rights and Amendments XIII, XIV, XV, XIX, and XXVI,
and write responses in this column. Compare the lists.
Procedure: Divide students into small groups. Have each group
decide if they could only have five of the 10 Amendments, which
would they choose. Instruct groups to come to consensus on the
top five, ranking in order of importance. Have each group share
its ranking with the class and the reasons for their choices.
Compare the groups' responses.
Strategies and Procedures:
On July 11,
1988, the United States Congress passed a resolution to acknowledge
the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development
of the United States Constitution. The resolution reads in part:
the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the
development of the United States Constitution and to reaffirm
the continuing government-to-government relationship between Indian
tribes and the United States established in the Constitution.
original framers of the Constitution, including, most notably,
George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, are known to have greatly
admired the concepts of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy;
confederation of the original Thirteen colonies into one republic
was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois
Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were
incorporated into the Constitution itself....
Have students research the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy
and prepare a report about the government, structure and values
of the Confederacy. Compare the political system of the Iroquois
Confederacy to the U.S. Constitution. Have selected students present
their research findings and reports to the class. Compare and contrast
the values, beliefs and practices of U.S. society and the Six Nations
of the Iroquois Confederacy.
2. Have students
continue checking newspapers and magazines for articles that illustrate
that the Bill of Rights is a "living" document. Identify
a bulletin board where the articles can be posted. Review and discuss
historical events surrounding Amendments XIV, XV, XIX or XXVI and
report findings to the class or have students prepare a time line
that illustrates when Amendments XIV, XV, XIX and XXVI were ratified
in the context of other historical events.
to students that there have been polls that indicate that if today's
electorate were to vote on the Bill of Rights, it would not pass.
Using secret ballots, have students vote on the Bill of Rights and
each of the Amendments. Post the results and discuss. Conduct similar
polls with family members, classmates and school personnel and discuss