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Opening paragraph from the The United States Constitution: 'We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.'

[Detail] The United States Constitution

Overview | Preparation | Procedure | Evaluation

Lesson Procedure

The students have already studied Colonial America and the Revolution. This unit on the U.S. Constitution begins with an examination of what type of government would best represent the ideals of the American Revolution. Once these factors are identified, the Articles of Confederation are examined, the reasons for calling a Federal Convention are explored, and the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention are studied. Finally the ratification process is studied and the broadside project is completed.

Questions to Focus Instruction

Essential Question:
Where does power reside in the relationship between people and government?

Unit Question:
Was the Constitution an abandonment of the ideals of the American Revolution?

Lesson 1: Creating a Government (1 class period)

  1. Introduce unit on the Constitution.
  2. Present the question to the students that will be addressed in the Government Workshop:   Given the ideals of the American Revolution as represented in the Declaration of Independence, what type government would you create?
  3. Government Workshop (PDF, 27 KB)
    • Distribute Government Workshop handouts.
    • Students divide into small groups of 3-4 persons each.
    • Each group chooses or is assigned to represent a political orientation: radical or conservative.
    • Each group works through the set of questions in the Government Workshop handout, answering the questions from the point of view of the political orientation they represent.
  4. When students have completed handouts, classroom discussion of the workshop takes place.
  5. Students together formulate key points which their small groups have identified.
  6. Students share their group's answers to the question presented.
  7. Government Workshop handouts are turned in to the teacher.
  8. Distribute the copies of the Articles of Confederation and assign homework: read the Articles of Confederation and compare to the key points identified in the classroom activity.

Lesson 2: Calling a Federal Convention (1 class period)

  1. Pose the question: Did the Articles of Confederation represent the ideals of the American Revolution?
  2. Students respond to this question in their notebooks.
  3. When students have completed the writing assignment, have classroom discussion on the question.
  4. Discuss the Articles of the Confederation. Focus on how the government operated under the Articles, and why it operated as it did. Students should understand that there was no national executive and the Americans did not want to be ruled by another king.
  5. Assign the appropriate sections of the text or other source about the Articles of Confederation.

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Lesson 3: Calling a Federal Convention (1 class period)

  1. Introduce the Annapolis Conference and the debate over whether to call a Federal Convention.
  2. Student Debate: "Yea or Nay on the call for a Federal Convention?" In this activity, students make preliminary identifications of arguments for and against the Convention. The debate may take a number of forms, ranging from free form to highly structured. Here are some possibilities:
    • Each student or group of students contribute to the debate a "yea" or "nay" with a brief supporting argument.
    • Students or teams of students are assigned political positions of radical and conservative. Ensuing debate takes place according to a set of official rules, i.e. Parliamentary Procedure.
    • Students form pairs and have a "silent debate." Each takes a role as radical or conservative. The two students pass a piece of paper back and forth between them, responding to each of their adversary's points and making their own points. No talking is allowed. At the conclusion of the debate, students circle their opponent's best argument.
  3. At the conclusion of the debates, the class discusses the reasons for and against the call for a Federal Convention that have been identified in this activity.
  4. Assign reading homework from the textbook or other source on what happened in the Constitutional Convention.

Lesson 4: Drafting the Constitution, Part I (1 class period)

  1. Discuss with the class the major issues in the drafting of the Constitution, and how they were resolved. The four major points to cover are:
    • What to do with the Articles of Confederation;
    • Power of national government versus the state/regional government;
    • Representation: large versus small states; and
    • Slavery.

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Lesson 5: Articles of Confederation (1 class period)

  1. Pose the question: Did the Articles of Confederation represent the ideals of the American Revolution?
  2. Students respond to this question in their notebooks.
  3. When students have completed the writing assignment, have classroom discussion on the question.
  4. Discuss the Articles of the Confederation. Focus on how the government operated under the Articles, and why it operated as it did. Students should understand that there was no national executive and the Americans did not want to be ruled by another king.
  5. Assign the appropriate sections of the text or other source about the Articles of Confederation.

Lesson 6: Government under the Constitution (1 class period)

  1. Pose the question: Did the Constitution reflect the ideals of the American Revolution?
  2. Students respond to this question in their notebooks. Their answer should be based on the issues they have identified in the Government Workshop and the Constitution Key Questions they have completed as homework.
  3. When students have completed the writing assignment, have classroom discussion on the question, focusing on how the government is designed to operate.
  4. Debate the Constitution. Focus on how the government is designed to operate under the Constitution:
    • The three branches of the government;
    • The requirements for office holders; and
    • The system of checks and balances.
  5. Direct students to the Students Procedure page describing the broadside project.
  6. Introduce the broadside project to the class.
  7. In the computer lab introduce the students to American Memory.
  8. Students will view broadsides from the special Introduction to An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.
  9. Students complete "Activity One: What is a Broadside?" from the Student Procedure page.
  10. If time in the computer lab is limited, distribute print copies of the "Introduction" and sample broadsides from the collection. Students complete the assignment in class.
  11. Assign reading homework on the ratification of the Constitution.

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Lesson 7: Reviewing the Events: From the Revolution to Ratification of the Constitution (1 class period)

  1. Introduce the essay To Form a More Perfect Union as a review of events from the Revolution up to the ratification of the Constitution.
  2. Ask students to read the entire presentation, paying special attention to the sections that talk about the problems that arose after the Revolutionary War under the Articles of Confederation.
  3. Students are to note down 4-5 problems that the nation was facing, with particular attention to the years under the Articles.
  4. In class discussion, students brainstorm and list problems that faced the nation under the Articles of Confederation.
  5. Pose the question: Why might it be difficult to convince your state to ratify the Constitution?
  6. In classroom discussion, identify five major issues regarding the Constitution:
    1. Legal
    2. Interstate/ International Commerce
    3. Debt
    4. Representation
    5. National Integrity

Lesson 8: Examining Primary Sources, Part I (2-3 class periods)

  1. Students begin "Activity Two: Examining the Primary Source Documents" (Jig Saw Activity) from the Student Procedure page.
  2. Students divide into five groups with five to six people in each group. Each group is assigned one of the five issues to research.
  3. Distribute to each of the groups the handout for their assigned issue.
  4. In the computer lab, students form pairs of two and examine online pre-selected documents from American Memory. For each document they are to determine the arguments for and against the ratification of the Constitution providing quotes that demonstrate understanding.
  5. If time in the computer lab is limited or unavailable, distribute print copies of the each of the primary source documents named in each of these five Issue handouts.
  6. A representative from each issue group meets those from other groups to share their findings. Form five groups for this discussion.
  7. After the groups have shared their evidence, each individual student begins to draft her own Broadside, which will be completed as homework.

Lesson 9: Answering the Question, "Was the Constitution a Counter Revolution?" (1 class period)

Classroom Activity

  1. Pose the question: Was the Constitution a Counter Revolution?
  2. Students respond to this question in their writing. Their answer should be based on the issues they have identified in the previous activities.
  3. When students have completed the writing assignment, have classroom discussion on the question.

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