Lesson Plan for Grades 6-8: Celebrate the Constitution
Overview: Students explore the various parts of the U.S. Constitution in a fun game, then complete a worksheet to apply their newfound knowledge.
Duration: about 50 minutes (1 class period)
Students will be able to:
- Define keywords related to the Constitution, including preamble, articles, and Bill of Rights.
- Understand the purpose and content of each section of the Constitution.
- Use their knowledge to decide whether various laws and actions are constitutional.
Materials: Computer(s) with Internet access; What's Your Constitution IQ? (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare: Preview the "Celebrate the Constitution" game prior to the lesson. Make a copy of the PDF for each student.
1. Explore what your students remember about the U.S. Constitution. Review that the U.S. Constitution is the highest law in our land. It explains how our whole government works and lists the basic freedoms that all Americans enjoy. Have students brainstorm some of those freedoms. Guide them to understand that the Constitution was written more than 200 years ago, but is still very important in our lives today.
2. Explain that the Constitution is divided into several sections.
- The first part, the Preamble, explains who is writing the Constitution and why.
- The second part, which is composed of seven Articles, explains how our government works.
- The third part is a list of amendments, or additions, that the Constitution writers thought were important.
These additions name the rights or freedoms that Americans have. Challenge your students to name that first set of 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. After the Bill of Rights, the Constitution includes other additional amendments approved by government over time.
Discuss with your class why amendments are an important part of the Constitution. They make it possible for the document to change over time to meet the changing needs of the nation. For example, the original Constitution writers lived at a time when only male landowners voted. Many decades later, an amendment was added to give African-Americans the right to vote. More than a century later, another amendment gave women the same right.
3. Have students log on to the Scholastic News Special Report about Constitution Day. Have them read the encyclopedia articles from Grolier Online and The New Book of Knowledge. You’ll find these in the Article Section of the Special Report. These articles will help students learn more about the different sections of the Constitution. If you'd like, divide your class into teams and have each team research a different part of the Constitution. Teams can then report to the class on what they found. Discuss unfamiliar terms as students encounter them.
4. Direct students' attention to the Constitution Game. Review the instructions, explaining that students will be given a series of four phrases or statements. They will need to decide where in the Constitution each piece of text belongs. Play once together, thinking aloud to show students how they might approach the task. For example, you might say:
"So...This says, 'The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court.' Which part of the Constitution sets up the Supreme Court and the other branches of our government?"
Show students that if they get stumped, they can click on the mystery statement for a clue.
5. Have students play the game independently as many times as your schedule allows (the game takes only a few minutes to play, and each round includes a new set of statements).
6. Once students have finished the game, distribute the PDF and explain that students will complete the first part of the sheet to review what they have learned about the U.S. Constitution. In the second section, they will read about two scenarios and use what they have learned to decide whether the actions described in each scenario are Constitutional. Students will also be expected to name the part of the Constitution where that issue or concept is addressed. Have students complete the PDF in class or for homework.
7. Quickly review the answers to Part 1 of the PDF, then discuss students' responses to Part 2. Explain that just as students reviewed these situations, the U.S. Supreme Court reviews cases every day to decide whether particular actions and decisions were Constitutional. If the justices decide that a state law or lower court decision is not in accordance with the Constitution, it must be changed. Guide students to understand that this is one way that the Constitution is a living document that affects all of us every day.
Supporting All Learners
Challenge your more advanced students by having them pair up and reread the items in the Bill of Rights. Have them name one responsibility that corresponds to each right that Americans enjoy.
Assess Students: Have each student hand in his or her completed PDF. Evaluate whether each student understands the purpose and content of the Constitution.
Match Up: 1. k; 2. d; 3. b; 4. i; 5. a; 6. j; 7. f; 8. c; 9. g; 10. h; 11. e; 12. l.
You Decide: In situation 1, students should understand that the President cannot Constitutionally create a law on his own. The Articles of the Constitution say that Congress must vote on a new law, then give it to the President to sign or veto. In situation 2, the woman's letters and signs are an example of the First Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights) in action.