Lesson 4: We the People
Students will recognize the different parts of the U.S. Constitution and conduct a close text reading to discover the meaning and significance of each part. In the main activities, they will analyze the way in which the document balances the workings of the government with the rights of the individual. The Lesson Extensions will support these analyses with text-based evidence from primary text sources. Throughout the lesson, students will track the development of the Constitution from the original document and its articles to the amendments up through the 1992 addition of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment.
Students will build their reading and interpretive skills by working with secondary sources and drawing conclusions based on the information presented. They will write a short persuasive letter to an editor based on a constitutional issue addressed in a news article from a newspaper, magazine, or website.
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.
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
- Determine the meaning of words
- Analyze structure and organization
- Determine an author’s purpose
- Trace and evaluate arguments
- Write arguments with support
- Organize reasons and evidence in written argument
- Maintain a formal style of writing
- Write conclusions to support arguments
- Write responses based on research
- Write explanatory text to examine a topic
- Use technology to produce and publish writing
- Use and correctly cite information from multiple sources
- Participate in group discussions
- Distinguish claims through reason and evidence
45 minutes for the main activities; 15 minutes for Lesson Extension 1; 20 minutes for Lesson Extension 2
- Considering the Constitution Reproducible
- Internet access
- copy of the U.S. Constitution: www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html or www.constitution.org/constit_.htm
- copy of the Bill of Rights: www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html
- copy of the Sixth Amendment: law.cornell.edu/constitution/sixth_amendment
- copy of the Seventh Amendment: law.cornell.edu/constitution/seventh_amendment
Activity Directions (Part 1):
• To help students appreciate what the Constitution provides, separate students into groups and have a member of each group read aloud to their group or read aloud to the class what Thomas Jefferson had to say in his first inaugural address, given after his election as president, on March 4, 1801:
Ask group members to work together in order to identify which of these freedoms the Constitution protects. Then pose the following question that the groups can discuss among their members:
• Reconvene the class and explain that every September 17—the day the Constitution was signed in 1787—we celebrate Constitution Day to honor the document that established the foundation of our government.
• Remind students (from Lesson 1) that the Constitution begins with the preamble, or introduction, that establishes the Constitution as the foundation for our government.
• Provide students with a sheet of paper. On the board, write the title “The Constitution.” Under the title, list Article I, followed by Article II and so on, through Article VII, leaving space between each listed article. Ask students to show the same title and list (with a line or two of space between each article) on their papers.
• Use the same groups or reorganize students into smaller groupings that will allow you to assign each group one of the seven articles. Point out that the articles explain the way that the government is set up. Have students meet briefly to read their article and identify its topic. Reconvene the class. Starting with Article I, have groups come up to the board and write the topic of the article. When each topic is confirmed or revised for accuracy, have students add it to their paper. The following are possible wordings for the article topics:
Article II: The executive branch of government
Article III: The judicial branch of government
Article IV: Relationships among individual states
Article V: Amending, or changing, the Constitution
Article VI: Responsibilities of the United States and its representatives
Article VII: Agreement by the states to accept the Constitution as law
• Ask students to review the list and identify what the first three articles have in common. Make sure that the class understands that these articles cover the three branches of government. Then open a discussion for students to consider why the government was set up with three branches. If not included in their responses, explain that the government is set up so that there is a balance of power among all three branches. With this organization, no single branch can control the entire government. Conclude this discussion by asking the following question:
• Lesson Extension Alert: To allow small groups to further explore the articles of the Constitution, see Lesson Extension 1.
• Next, introduce the amendments by asking students to look at the board and identify which article allows for amending the Constitution (Article V). (Tell students that they will be learning about the process of making an amendment in the next lesson.) Point out that there are 27 amendments to the Constitution. The latest one was added in 1992. Explain that the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were added in 1791, and they are the best known of all 27.
• Lesson Extension Alert: For further analysis of the Bill of Rights by students working in pairs, see Lesson Extension 2.
Activity Directions (Part 2):
• Distribute the Considering the Constitution Reproducible and ask for a student volunteer to read it aloud to the class. Using the article within the reproducible and a copy in print or online of the Bill of Rights (see Materials for document links), have students answer the questions based on their reading of the Dunmore news story. Allow them approximately 10 to 15 minutes, and then review the answers as shown below:
- civil case
- Judge Connie Brisch
- the right to a jury trial in civil cases
- Answers may vary slightly, but students should understand that the Supreme Court should have overturned the ruling because the decision was arrived at unconstitutionally.
Return to the Essential Question that was written on the board at the beginning of the lesson.
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.
If class time permits, instruct students to find a news article in a newspaper or magazine or on a website that discusses a constitutional issue. You might provide some of the print material for students to look through and also guide them if they are searching for material online. Otherwise, students should find articles independently outside of class. Once students have found their article, instruct them to complete the assignment as homework. Have them write a letter to the editor expressing their opinions on the issue. Encourage them to use excerpts or sections of the Constitution to support their arguments. Over the course of a few days in which you are covering the Constitution, have the students read their completed letters aloud to the class.
(1) Have the groups that met to review each article of the Constitution reassemble. Instruct them to reread their originally assigned article closely. Ask groups to identify and then record on their papers (on the line below the article name and topic) the key words or phrases from the article that describe its meaning. A selected member from each group should write on the board these key words and phrases next to the topic of the article. Reconvene the class and have the rest of class add these notes to their papers. As a review of the seven articles, allow members from each group to address the class and explain the instructions in the article, as supported by the listed key words and phrases.
(2) Allow some time for students to look at and read the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Ask volunteers for examples of rights or freedoms that are found in these amendments. Have students briefly explain why they think each right or freedom is important.
On the board, write Amendment I, Amendment II, and so on, through Amendment X. Have students work with partners to identify the topic of each amendment in the Bill of Rights (following the same procedure as they did with the seven articles of the Constitution). Also have pairs find key words or phrases that describe each. In a class discussion, review each amendment and fill in the list with agreed-upon topics, key words, and phrases. Have students transfer these notes to their sheets of paper with notes about the articles of the Constitution. To review the amendments, ask volunteers to explain what each amendment requires of the government and its people, as supported by key words and phrases on the list.