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September 1, 2018

Constitution Day Activities for Grades K-12

Every year on September 17, all federally funded institutions(including public schools) celebrate Constitution Day. Depending on your curriculum, it can sometimes be difficult to take a break to explore this important topic in your students’ civic education. However, with a little bit of planning and creativity, you can use Constitution Day as an opportunity not only to teach your students about our country’s founding, but also instill important skills such as literacy, teamwork and critical thinking. Here are a few ideas for fun and engaging activities you can use with students at any grade level.

Elementary School Activities

The Preamble Vocabulary

The Constitution’s reading level may be too high for elementary students, but the Preamble is the perfect starting point for younger students. This activity shows students the importance of understanding what they read, develops dictionary skills and serves as an introduction to the history and meaning of the Constitution.

Supplies:

  • A copy of the Preamble of the Constitution for each student
  • Schoolhouse Rock’s “Constitution Preamble
  • Dictionaries or computers with Internet access
  • Loose-leaf paper and pens or pencils

Introduce students to Constitution Day and its history before playing the Schoolhouse Rock video. It’s short — just under three minutes.

Hand out the copies of the Preamble and break up students into pairs or small groups to read the Preamble to each other. Have them underline any unfamiliar words and write them out on a separate piece of paper. Once they’ve compiled a list of unfamiliar words, students should look up their definitions and write them down, creating a vocab list.

After each group has created a list, one student from each should present one or two words from the list and their definitions. Put the words on the board.

Re-watch the “Constitution Preamble” video and follow up with discussion questions, including:

  1. What was different to you the second time watching?
  2. Would you replace any words in the Preamble?
  3. What might the Founding Fathers have put in the Constitution to ensure that the United States would become “a more perfect Union”?

The Pursuit of Happiness with “Liberty’s Kids”

Using the final episode of this PBS cartoon series about American history (runtime: 21:21), students will examine some of the larger themes surrounding the signing of the Constitution and how they relate to everyday life.

Supplies:

After watching the episode, have students respond to the following questions:

  1. Early in the episode, Benjamin Franklin called the country the “Disunited States.” What does that mean, and what issues were dividing the people? How did the Founding Fathers resolve this?
  2. What does “checks and balances” mean? What “checks and balances” exist in your life?
  3. Benjamin Franklin said, “Remember, the Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, just the pursuit of happiness.” How do you pursue happiness in your life?

Middle School Activities 

Preamble Deep Dive (courtesy of the Center for Civic Education)

By middle school, students are likely to be familiar with the Preamble to the Constitution. This activity asks students to perform a very close reading of the Preamble and think critically about what the words mean.

Supplies:

Watch “Constitution Preamble” as a class, and then break the class into six small groups. Each group will analyze one phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution.

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,

  • Group 1: “establish Justice,
  • Group 2: “insure [sic] domestic Tranquility,
  • Group 3: “provide for the common defence [sic],
  • Group 4: “promote the general Welfare,
  • Group 5: “and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
  • Group 6: “do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In about 10 minutes, each group should answer the following questions:

  1. In terms of establishing government, what does your group’s phrase mean? Give an example.
  2. Why is the part of the Preamble that your group studied important?
  3. What does the phrase your group studied have to do with protecting your rights and the common good?

Have the groups share their answers in order.

Classroom Constitution (inspired by PBS)

Students will work together to create a “Classroom Constitution.” Although this lesson incorporates an examination of the U.S. Constitution, the emphasis is on the importance of teamwork. This activity allows students to think creatively as a group while fostering compromise and negotiation. It also challenges them to think about rights, fairness and ethics.

Supplies:

Split students into groups of four or five. The task is for students to create a “Class Constitution” consisting of six rules. How they make the rules is up to them, and the fewer guidelines you give, the better. This loose structure gives students more leeway to collaborate.

After students have completed their list of rules, hand out the two-page summary of the Constitution. Have them read the summary in their groups and answer the following questions:

  1. Were any of your rules similar to those in the Bill of Rights?
  2. Would you add anything from the Bill of Rights to your constitution?
  3. Describe your group’s decision-making process. How did you work as a team?
  4. If you did this project again, what would you do differently?

High School Activities

Comparing Constitutions (courtesy of the History Channel)

By high school, students should have a solid understanding of the United States Constitution. Many other democratic nations have constitutions too, but students are likely less familiar with those. In this activity, students will compare and contrast the founding documents of the United States and another country to examine what ideals and rights are shared or unique. They will then present their findings to the class.

Supplies:

  • Loose-leaf paper and pens or pencils, optional
  • Computers or a computer lab with Internet access

Using this list of national constitutions on Wikipedia, select a list of countries you would like your students to explore. Following the links to individual pages, scroll to the “Sources” section at the bottom and select the government website that links to the document. Students also may search for the individual constitutions online.

Break students into pairs or small groups and have them read through the assigned constitutions. Then have them read a two-page summary of the Constitution and answer the following questions:

  1. How is our Constitution structured? How is the constitution of your assigned country structured?
  2. Which, if any, rights does your country’s constitution protect?
  3. What are the major similarities and differences between your country’s constitution and that of the United States?
  4. If you could add one item from your country’s constitution to the U.S. Constitution, what would it be?

Supreme Court Oral History (courtesy of the History Channel)

The Constitution established the Supreme Court, and the Justices appointed to it are tasked with interpreting and applying the Constitution. In this activity, students will interview an older person about a memorable Supreme Court case, research that case and present their findings to their classmates.

Supplies:

  • Loose-leaf paper and pens or pencils
  • Computers or a computer lab with Internet access

Prior to Constitution Day (you can determine the length of time students have to complete the assignment), have students interview an older family or community member about the Supreme Court. Have students ask this person which Supreme Court case, either within his or her lifetime or throughout U.S. history, that stands out in their memory. Questions your student could ask include:

What do you remember about this case?

  1. What do you think makes this case important?
  2. How has the result of this case impacted your life? How has it impacted the nation?

As an accompanying piece to the interview, have students explore the case and write a report that includes the historical and political context surrounding it. Before turning in the assignment, have students share who they interviewed, which case they covered and the most interesting or surprising thing they learned during the project.

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