We Declare Independence!

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SWBAT identify major events that led to the creation of the Declaration of Independence by analyzing artifacts found on Thomas Jefferson's desk and summarize the demands in the Declaration of Independence's introduction and preamble by summarizing the main ideas of the document.

Big Idea

We can learn a lot about a person by what's on his desk. Thomas Jefferson was an important spokesperson for declaring independence. Let's help him "RE"write the Declaration of Independence!

Creating the Purpose

10 minutes

I introduce the lesson by showing students artifacts (small cloth, woven tray, metal urn - thrift store stuff) and asking students what these things were and what they tell us about the countries and people they came from? After student guessing and sharing I add that these things are called artifacts and they give clues about the lifestyles of people who left them (SL 5.1d)

I then add that our objective with this lesson is to evaluate "artifacts" left on Thomas Jefferson's desk that will help us build understanding of the events that led up to the Declaration of Independence of the colonists from British rule (SL 5.1d).   

See this video for the reasons behind the addition of Thomas Jefferson's desk items and the value of creating realism in lessons

Guiding the Learning

15 minutes

I start this section by asking students to look inside their neighbors desk and to quick write on their whiteboards three things they can infer about their neighbors from whats in their desk. I get mostly sloppy, neat or artistic from this exercise but that's ok because it gets them thinking that someone's desk can give clues to what and who they are.

I introduce that today they will examine "artifacts" - such as a letter and an invitation - on Thomas Jefferson's "desk" to learn about the Declaration of Independence and the events that led to it. You will also read about these events and paraphrase key excerpts or part of the actual Declaration of Independence. I share that they will use the reading passage to help them complete the task. I give them a short lesson on learning how textbooks use sequential order of paragraph information to provide responses to questioning.     

I ask the following questions to help build understanding for my students of the symbolization  of the desk items.

Independent/ Group Learning

20 minutes

Now that students have built a connection to what is on his desk and the thoughts and ideas he had towards our declaring independence, they can move on to evaluating the Declaration of Independence. I feel it is very important for them to understand what we wrote to develop their continual understanding of the "hows" an "whys" of our development to our current system of government.  BUT...this document is difficult to comprehend and can cause struggling students to stop trying. See more information on the "why I chose this format" in my reflection, but to summarize - interest at the onset = effort at the hard times. 

In this section of the lesson I don't actually have students work individually, but instead have them in partnered groups. This helps with the oral discussion (SL 5.1d) and understanding of the introduction and preamble of the Declaration of Independence (RI 5.10). I have my struggling students partnered strategically with my higher/helpful peer tutors. 

I open the section by explaining that the Declaration of Independence was written in the formal language of the late 1700s and is, therefore, difficult for speakers of modern English to understand. Tell students their task will be to translate the document into language that a fifth grader can easily understand.

I explain the objective and directions and write them on the board - to read the passage on the left (RI 5.10), review the vocabulary clues on the right (RI 5.,4), discuss the passage meaning with your partner (SL 5.1a) and then to rewrite the section of the Declaration of Independence in your own words (W 5.4).

Students begin their completion of the sections and I keep a close eye on equal involvement and effective sharing strategies


Closing the Loop

10 minutes

Usually I have a closing loop that is a class discussion but for this one I want to give them an opportunity to share their understanding of the Declaration of Independence. I'm doing this for two reasons - first to address the levels of understanding of this document to determine if I need to do a second lesson on it/ second to hold students accountable to individualized written responses because their independent work was really small group work (RI 5.10, W 5.2)

We close the unit by projecting the picture "Presenting the Declaration of Independence" and asking students: What do you see?, Who do you think these men are?, Why do you think some of the men are standing in the center of the scene? What do you think they are doing? (SL 5.1a)

I then explain that the men in the center of the painting are presenting the draft of the Declaration of Independence to the leaders of the Second Continental Congress. The delegates in the committee that wrote the draft are standing in front of the desk. From left to right they are: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Thomas Jefferson (holding the draft), and Benjamin Franklin. The man seated behind the desk is John Hancock, the president of the Congress. Artist John Trumbull sketched the men and the room from life. There are portraits of 42 of the 56 signers and 5 other Patriots in the painting (SL 5.3)

I have a few extra minutes so I ask: What emotions do you think the men are feeling? Why? If you have time this would be a good time to offer students an opportunity to evaluate further into the artists beliefs and the evidence in the print/ or to compare and contrast with another print from this time (SL 5.1a)

Lunch time and we have to close the conversation and save the questions for the next day!