We the People
Considering the Constitution Student Reproducible, newspapers, magazines, Internet access
- Distribute copies of Considering the Constitution. Instruct students to read the news story at the top of the page. Once they are finished, have them answer the questions on the handout as a class. With each question, ask students to point out where in the article the answer can be found. Have students write down the answers on their worksheets. Answers: 1. civil case; 2. Judge Connie Brisch; 3. the right to a jury trial in civil cases; 4. Answers may vary slightly, but students should understand that the Supreme Court should have overturned the ruling because the decision was arrived at unconstitutionally.
- Explain to students that, in the news story, Russell Dunmore is using the Constitution to protect his rights. The Constitution protects people by outlining certain rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the United States. Ask students what right or freedom was violated in Dunmore’s case (the right to trial by jury). Ask students how Dunmore can use the Constitution to protect this right (by taking his case to the Supreme Court).
- Write the word constitution at the top of the board. Tell students that the Constitution was signed into action on September 17, 1787. Every year, on that day, we celebrate Constitution Day to honor the document that established the foundation of our government. Explain to students that there are three main parts of the Constitution: the Preamble, the Articles, and the Amendments. Underneath constitution create a three-column chart with the headings Preamble, Articles, and Amendments. Explain that the Preamble is an introduction that establishes the Constitution as the foundation for our government. Ask students for key words or phrases that describe the Preamble. Write these in the first column.
- The Articles explain the way that the government is set up. The Articles divide the U.S. government into three parts, or branches: Legislative (Congress), Executive (President and Vice President), and Judicial (Courts, including the Supreme Court). These branches, and their primary duties, are explained in the first three articles. The government is set up this way so that there is a balance of power among between all three branches. That way, no single branch can control the entire government. Article 4 deals with relationships among individual states. Article 5 allows for amending, or changing, the Constitution. Article 6 discusses responsibilities of the United States and its representatives. The seventh, and final, article is an agreement by the states to accept the Constitution as law.
- Ask students for key words or phrases that describe the Articles. Write these in the second column. Ask students to recall which branch of government is mentioned in the news story (the Supreme Court, which is part of the Judicial branch).
- The third part of the Constitution is comprised of the Amendments. Remind students that Article 5 allows for amending the Constitution. It also explains the ways to propose and approve amendments. Tell students that they will be learning about the process of making an amendment in the next lesson. Explain that there are 27 Amendments to the Constitution and that the latest one was added in 1992. The first ten Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were added more than 200 years ago, in 1791. They are the most well-known amendments. They include the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, which provide the right to a trial by jury. Ask students for examples of other rights or freedoms that are found in the Bill of Rights. Have students briefly explain why they think each right or freedom is important.
- Ask students for key words or phrases that describe the amendments. Write these in the third column. Ask students to recall which amendment is mentioned in the news story (the Seventh Amendment: right to trial by jury in civil cases).
- Wrap Up! Ask students to think about what life in the United States would be like without the Constitution. Lead a discussion about how life would be different, the same, better, or worse. Invite students to share their thoughts with the class. Extend the discussion by asking what would happen if certain parts of the Constitution, such as the freedom of speech or the right to vote, were taken away.
Instruct students to find a news article in a newspaper, magazine, or on a Web site that discusses a constitutional issue. Once students have found their article, instruct them to write a letter to the editor expressing their opinion on the issue. Encourage them to use excerpts or sections of the Constitution to support their arguments.