About This Lesson Plan

SUBJECT
Constitution and Bill of Rights

GRADE
6-8

DURATION
60 Mins

COLLECTION
Constitution Day Lesson Plans

Lesson 3: Voting and the Constitution


OBJECTIVE

Students will learn about the Constitution’s many provisions for voting, including how votes affect the makeup of the government and its branches. The lesson and lesson extensions will have students engage in activities and participate in discussions about how officials are chosen in the three branches of government and how the election process includes the Electoral College.

A lesson activity and lesson extension will have students discuss the importance of voting rights in a democracy, how the Constitution has been amended to keep up with the times, and what differentiates a country with equal and legal voting rights from a country in which these rights do not exist. The students will integrate the information presented in different formats or media, as well as in writing, to fully explore and understand voting rights and their history in the United States.

Essential Question:
Write the question below on the board. Explain that the lesson activities are geared to help students explore and then respond to this question later, during the Lesson Wrap-up.

How is voting the cornerstone to maintaining a democratic society in the present and growing democracy in the future?  

Skills Supporting Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies:

  • Identify key ideas and inferences along with text support
  • Determine the central idea
  • Provide a summary
  • Analyze examples
  • Determine the meaning of words
  • Trace and evaluate arguments  
  • Comprehend complex nonfiction texts
  • Write arguments with support
  • Organize reasons and evidence in written argument
  • Write with clarity
  • Maintain a formal style of writing
  • Write conclusions to support arguments
  • Organize information in tables or charts
  • Use appropriate and precise language
  • Use technology to produce and publish writing
  • Write responses based on research
  • Use and correctly cite information from multiple sources
  • Trace and evaluate arguments as per grade reading standards
  • Write over varying time frames
  • Participate in group discussions
  • Prepare for discussions
  • Follow rules for discussions, set goals and deadlines, and define roles
  • Pose and respond to questions
  • Review ideas from more than one perspective
  • Distinguish claims through reason and evidence
  • Present claims and findings
  • Adapt speech to fit the context of a task
  • Employ a formal style consistently
  • Provide concluding statements for arguments
  • Organize ideas in tables or charts
  • Use transition language for shifts
  • Conduct short research projects
  • Write over varying time frames
  • Pose and respond to questions
  • Review ideas through reflection and paraphrase
  • Distinguish claims through reason and evidence
  • Present claims and findings
  • Adapt speech to fit the context of a task

Lesson Duration:
40–45 minutes for the main activity; 15 minutes for each of the suggested Lesson Extensions

MATERIALS

DIRECTIONS

Activity Directions (Part 1):
• Explain to students that one of the foundations of the Constitution is the citizen’s right to vote. Point out that voting is the first step in running a democratic government; nothing can happen before leaders are elected. Since the Constitution is the framework for the government, it had to include rules for how government officials are elected to office.

• To show students how those rules affect the makeup of government, distribute the Our Three Branches Reproducible. Point out that the methods by which officials are elected or selected differ for the three branches of government. Divide the class into groups of three or four. Ask each group to use a copy of the Constitution and other resources to research how each branch’s officials are chosen. Allow students to work for 15 minutes to complete their worksheets.

Once they are finished, go over the answers as a class. Answers could include: 

Legislative Branch: Members of the House are elected every two years for each state. The winner of the majority of each popular vote wins the election. Members of the Senate are elected every six years. Initially, senators were elected by state legislatures, but the Seventeenth Amendment called for the direct election of senators by people in their states.

Executive Branch: The Electoral College, not the popular vote, elects the president and vice president. The electors are chosen by the states, and each state gets as many electors as it has senators and representatives. After the November election every four years, these electors vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidates who received the majority of their state’s popular vote.
 
Judicial Branch: The public does not vote for any federal judge directly, but has some measure of representation in the nomination process. The president nominates justices for the Supreme Court, but the Senate must approve of the selection, as it must approve of the many judges in minor federal courts. In the state court systems, the public usually elects judges.

Lesson Extensions Alert: To further investigate the three branches of government and complete Part 2 of Our Three Branches Reproducible, see Lesson Extension 1. To further explore the Electoral College and popular vote for president in a class discussion, see Lesson Extension 2.
 
Activity Directions (Part 2):
• As an example of how amendments affect rules for voting, distribute the Voting Vocabulary and Voting Timeline Reproducibles. Have the students familiarize themselves with these key terms and the detailed historical timeline. Have the students determine the meaning of the Voting Vocabulary words as they are used in a text and as they are used in the Constitution.

• Next, distribute The Right to Vote Reproducible. (Students will complete it in full later, as a homework assignment.) Have students work in the same groups as in the last activity. Provide a few minutes for groups to look at the right column on this sheet, alongside the information on the Voting Timeline Reproducible. As group members help one another match up events on the timeline with dates shown on The Right to Vote, walk around the room to check students’ understanding and answer questions that groups may have. Help all groups come to the conclusion that the qualifications for voting have changed a lot over the past 200 years. Then have each group respond to the following question:

What do the changes in all of the amendments about voting have in common?

When you visit with groups as they discuss this question, make sure they realize that changes to voting rules have always allowed more people to vote.

Lesson Extension Alert: To discuss how the Fifteenth Amendment affected rules and voting rights in support of changing times and events in history, see Lesson Extension 3.

• Finally, challenge groups to think about voting and the future. Have each group come up with a new voting rights amendment for the Constitution. Have group members discuss their amendment idea by considering the following questions:

What would such an amendment look like?

Why would it be necessary?

What changes (technological, linguistic) could happen in the future that could affect the way we vote?

Ask a spokesperson for each group to present to the class their amendment and explain the group’s reason for supporting this change to the Constitution and our voting rules.

Wrap-up With the Essential Question
Return to the Essential Question that was written on the board at the beginning of the lesson.

How is voting the cornerstone to maintaining a democratic society in the present and growing democracy in the future?

Open a discussion in which students respond to this question, based on their class experience. Encourage students to support their responses with text and details from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Assignment
As homework, instruct students to complete Parts I and II of The Right to Vote Reproducibles. When the assignment is due, ask students to share their answers for both parts of The Right to Vote and create a master list of their responses.

The Right to Vote Answers:

Part I

(1870) Amendment 15. Voting Rights—Black Suffrage
(1913) Amendment 17. Direct Election of Senators
(1920) Amendment 19. Women’s Right to Vote
(1961) Amendment 23. Presidential Elections for the District of Columbia  
(1964) Amendment 24. Poll Tax Ended
(1971) Amendment 26. Vote for 18-Year-Olds

Part II:

1.    23rd Amendment
2.    132 years
3.    1971, 21 years old
4.    Five years
5.    Senators were elected by the state legislature.

Lesson Extensions:
(1) Have students complete Part 2 of the Our Three Branches Reproducible by answering the questions. Remind them to cite the source for each answer. Ask students to share their answers and create a master list of their responses.

Our Three Branches Answers:

  1. The legislative branch
  2. President and vice president
  3. You must be at least 25 years old, be a U.S. citizen for seven years, and be an inhabitant of the state in which you are running; a senator has to be at least 30 years old and a U.S. citizen for nine years.
  4. The vice president then casts the deciding vote if there is a tie.
  5. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
(2) To explore voting rules for the executive branch, write the well-known saying “one person, one vote” on the board. Ask students how this saying describes the rules for electing a president. Help students connect this saying and the approach to the popular vote that individual citizens cast for president of the United States. Guide students in distinguishing the popular vote from the rules for the selection of electors and the vote by the Electoral College.

Help students understand that the Electoral College and popular vote could possibly show different election outcomes. Have students review Article II to see if and how it addresses this situation. Interested students may want to conduct in-class or out-of-class research for opinions about this topic, especially as it relates to potential debates about amending these voting rules. For extra credit, invite students to write a three-page essay online in which they present their findings and cite their research sources.

(3) Print out a copy of the Fifteenth Amendment for students, allow them to view the text online, or write it in on the board for students to read.

Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Have students read this amendment closely and analyze its meaning. Ask students to consider the historical time frame and why this amendment proved to be necessary to the country. Ask the students to link the Fifteenth Amendment to other parts of the Constitution that refer to similar voting issues.
 
To confirm student responses or clarify any confusion, explain that this amendment was proposed in 1869 and ratified in 1870. The amendment was necessary after the Civil War to ensure the right to vote for freed slaves. Despite the amendment, it was still very difficult for former slaves and people of color to vote safely and easily.
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