Our Constitution: The Who - The What - The Why

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SWBAT...understand and describe the three sections of the Constitution and why each is important to the early governing of the colonies.

Big Idea

The Constitution is important so we need to make sure we not only follow all its rules, but also know what all the rules are.

Creating the Purpose

10 minutes

I love to start a lesson with smiles and music so, I began this lesson with the Schoolhouse Rock song on the Preamble to the Constitution.  My students could hear and see information on the Preamble to the Constitution in a fun, lighthearted way.

After the song I ask students what they think the word "preamble" means? Most know their affixes so they can infer the meaning is the words before the Constitution (because they heard references to the document in the song). I share that the dictionary defines the word as: A preliminary statement, especially the introduction to a formal document that serves to explain its purpose.

I then read students the Preview to the Writing of the Constitution to build their background knowledge on the Madison and his worries before I begin the lesson. This helps them make the connections later on to why the Founding Fathers were so worried about protecting the rights of citizens with it's wording.

From here I explain that our objective with today's lesson is to read the Constitution and discuss what it means, when it was established, who helped establish it and why it was created. We will also examine how it benefits us today.

Guiding the Learning

20 minutes

I show students the Vocabulary Review worksheet with the Preamble written on it. We read the Preamble together. I share that the vocabulary is confusing because the words are not familiar. That makes it difficult for us to understand what is being stated in the sentences. I ask students to help us determine what synonyms could replace which words in the passage. This is a good way to check levels of understanding of the group and also to begin the class discussion of meaningful terms. When we finish we read the simplified version of the Preamble and I ask students to share what the authors of the Constitution were trying to share with this introduction to the document?

I then project the picture of the Constitution (so that they can see the length and wordiness of the document. I read a few lines to demonstrate the difficulty in deciphering meaning from the passages as they were written many years ago. This leads into my "kid friendly" summary of the Constitution that we will use in today's lesson to determine the main ideas of the document.

I share that they are going to be asked to work as a class to determine the meaning of each of the primary sections of the Constitution so that we can all understand it. I split the class into three groups and give each three summaries of the Constitution for them to compare, review and rewrite - summary one, summary two and the same section written in kid friendly language. I ask each group to use their whiteboards to write their own summaries of the main ideas of their sections. I have the class move into Executive, Legislative and Judicial groups. When they are finished they return to the carpet until all groups are gathered together. I only give them 10 minutes for this because they each have small sections to write and discuss. 

We come together and each group shares their sections in order. As they share I build the Three Branches of Government poster based on what shared in each response by attaching the words, pictures and information in each section to give them a visual of the people and responsibilities of each branch. This is a good resource to post so, they can reference it for their post assessment and in later lessons on the Bill of Rights and government. Here's a picture of our final poster.

In this video I review difficulties we had with vocabulary and the outcome of our poster project.



Independent Practice

20 minutes

Now I check student understanding. For this section I have students take a Three Branches of Government assessment to check how much they can remember and how well they can use the resources we created in the lesson.

I give them 20 minutes to finish but most finish in 10-15 minutes.

Closing the Loop

10 minutes

So now that we understand what jobs the three branches of our government do. We need to understand how they work together in a checks and balance system that ensures that all citizens have their rights to life, liberty and happiness protected. 

To help them understand this I need to explain a little more about the system of checks and balances that our founding fathers wrote into the Constitution. I read the Checks and Balances passage and draw a picture of the connections between passing a law and the jobs each department has to ensure it is constitutional and protects the freedoms of all people not just a few.

Here's a picture of how mine turned out (I'm definitely not an artist)

I close by asking students what rules or regulations are missing from the Constitution? I prompt them by asking - Are there any rules that they should have added to make sure everyone got along? They weren't really sure at this point what could be added but a few mentioned creating laws to protect our families, freedom of religion (a connection to a prior lesson this child remembered) and no bullying (a current school focus). When the discussion died down, I share that the founding fathers and the citizens realized there needed to be some improvements made after they read and signed the Constitution. They soon realized that they needed to add some more rights and responsibilities to it and they called these additional laws - Amendments.