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TPS Quarterly

The Library of Congress > Teachers > TPS Program > TPS Quarterly > Learning Activity (Elem.)

Historical Scene Investigation - The U.S. Constitution: “I Smelt a Rat”


In this activity, students explore reasons why influential patriots like Patrick Henry and George Mason opposed the U.S. Constitution during the ratification process, and consider the need for the Bill of Rights. Students become historical detectives, using historical thinking strategies to investigate primary sources for evidence, search for clues to analyze and finally “crack the case.”


After completing this learning activity, students will be able to:

  • describe the historical context surrounding the ratification of the U.S. Constitution;
  • recognize that initial opposition to the Constitution led to the addition of a Bill of Rights; and
  • use evidence from primary sources relating to the ratification process to discuss the reasons for opposition to the Constitution among patriots like Patrick Henry and George Mason.

Time Required

Two class periods (90 minutes)

Recommended Grade Range



Government, Law


U.S. History


Standards & Benchmarks

United States History

Standard 8. Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Language Arts

Standard 7. (Reading) Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts


Adapted from the Historical Scene Investigations Web site's The U.S. Constitution: “I Smelt a Rat” Case, created by Kathleen Owings Swan, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of Kentucky and Mark Hofer, Associate Professor of Educational Technology at the College of William & Mary. This case was developed with support from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Eastern Region coordinated by Waynesburg University.

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