What Is Good Government Anyway?
Students discuss the qualities of a good government during this lesson on the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Students will become aware that all citizens often want the same services from their governments. They will recognize that the writers of the Constitution recognized the important aspects of good government in the preamble to the Constitution.
- Identify what they feel good government should provide for its citizens.
- Link their ideas about good government to those of the founders of our country through analysis of the Preamble to the Constitution.
- Show through their mural that they understand the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution.
- overhead projector, chart paper, or blackboard to use to record small groups' brainstorming
- white lined paper
- markers or pens
- butcher paper to create a mural (approximately 10–12 feet long)
- colored markers, chalk, crayons, or paint to use for the mural
- Preamble to the Constitution
Set Up and Prepare
- Hang up chart paper or use overhead projector.
- Decide how to break students into small groups.
- Create an overhead transparency of the Preamble to the Constitution triple spaced.
- Write the phrases of the Preamble to the Constitution along the top of the butcher paper for the mural. Space the phrases so that a group can draw a picture underneath each phrase.
Step 1: Introduction
Tell the students, "After the Revolutionary War, the United States found itself with no government to help them. They had to start from scratch to decide what a government 'should' do. You will be divided into small groups and, like our early leaders, you are to decide what you feel a government should do for its citizens."
Step 2: Brainstorming
Divide the students into groups. In each group the students brainstorm what they feel would be important for a government to provide. (Laws so things don't get wild? Police? Roads? Hospitals? Emergency help?) Each group's suggestions are reported out as the teacher writes on the chalkboard, chart paper, or overhead projector. Probe for more specifics or clarify as necessary.
"Let's take a look at what things our forefathers thought were important for our new government to do. They wrote them down in the Preamble to The Constitution. The Constitution is our plan for government, and the Preamble introduces it. It tells us what our government is to do for its people."
Go over the meaning of the Preamble by breaking it into its phrases and going over the more difficult words. You might want to do this with an overhead and/or make copies for each student. Then link what the students had brainstormed as important to good government, to what the Founding Fathers felt was important. (Ex. "You said that the National Guard and the Army were important. So did the writers of the Constitution. They said to 'provide for the common defense.") Write the students' words over the words of the Preamble.
Step 4: Review what you discussed previously.
Step 5: Divide your class into as many groups as you have phrases on the mural you prepared. Suggested division: 1) We the people of the United States, 2) in order to form a more perfect Union, 3) establish justice, 4) insure domestic tranquility, 5) provide for the common defense, 6) promote the general welfare, 7) secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, 8) do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Step 6: Each group draws a picture explaining what their particular phrase means. (If you want to divide the mural so that each group is working in its own "space," you can do so and just attach the pieces together at the end). Have them paint or color their drawings. The phrases might all have the same background color to link the mural together.
Teachers could extend this into a discussion of the Pledge of Allegiance, set up like the Preamble lesson. There is a very visual Scholastic book, The Pledge of Allegiance, which was a commemorative classroom edition in remembrance of September 11, 2001. The pictures provide a point of discussion for the meaning of the pledge.
Have the students go home and discuss with their families what they think makes good government. Discuss the results in class.
What part of this lesson was most enjoyable for the students? Were students involved in the decision about what good government provides? What would I change next time I do this lesson? Are the students pretty solid with what our forefathers intended when they wrote the Preamble to the Constitution?
As students are working on the mural, evaluate whether they understand what the phrase means. If you wish, you can also make up a written test where they "rewrite" the Preamble in their own words. We also evaluate using student participation in discussions and their work on the group mural.