The Constitution in Today's America
This lesson will teach students about the development and role of the Constitution of the United States. Students will learn how the Constitution created the structure necessary for a functioning nation. Through a research activity, they will study different sections of the Constitution and what those sections signify. Last, they will create an essay that considers what the country would be like without the Constitution.
History: Knows how to view the past in terms of the norms and values of the time; Understands that specific ideas had an impact on history
Civics: Knows the fundamental values of American democracy; Knows the fundamental principles of American democracy; Knows that constitutional government is a fundamental principle of American democracy; Understands the importance to individuals and to society of major due process protections
Language Arts: Uses content, style, and structure appropriate for specific audiences and purposes; Writes expository compositions; Writes compositions that address problems/solutions; Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics
1. Distribute the U.S. Constitution Fact Sheet (PDF). Inform students that this document can be used as a reminder and study guide as they learn about the U. S. Constitution. Review the information on the sheet with your students to help them access prior knowledge about the Constitution.
2. Explain to students that, prior to 1787, the country was guided by a document called the Articles of Confederation The articles provided the states with a lot of power, but the central government gained very little. As outlined in the Articles of Confederation, the central government could not collect taxes and did not wield enough power to make the colonies work together as a union. Thus, in 1787, a Constitutional Convention was called to create a new governing document. The result was a document that addresses specific needs, creates government institutions, and provides protection for its citizens.
3. Lead a class discussion with students about the huge task that faced the delegates at the convention. Ask students what difficulties they think the delegates might have faced. On the board, write a list of all the difficulties. Then, ask students to list aspects of the Constitution. Write these on the board as well. Finally, have students connect the difficulties the delegates faced to an aspect of the Constitution that solves the problem. For example:
- Difficulty: giving individual states power in the central government.
- Solution: the legislative branch of government, which had representation from each state.
4. Tell students that the Constitution created some organizations directly within the document (such as the Supreme Court), while other organizations it empowered Congress to create (such as the U.S. Mint: see Article I, Section 8). Remind students that the delegates included a clear process for amending the Constitution and provided the federal government with the power to add new organizations in the future. Ask students why they think the delegates would allow this flexibility.
5. Distribute The Constitution Comes to Life (PDF) worksheet. Tell students that, in this activity, they are going to explore how the Constitution created—and continues to create—vital government organizations. Instruct students to use a copy of the Constitution to fill in Part I of the worksheet. 6. Then, instruct students to read the instructions for Part II. In this portion of the activity, they will write a one-page journal entry explaining what they think would have happened to the country if the Constitution had not been ratified. This activity can also be given as a homework assignment. When complete, ask for volunteers to read their entries aloud to the class.