Our Constitution: The Bill of Rights (Grades 4–6)

by Tim Bailey
View the Constitution in our collection by clicking here and here.
For a resource on the variations between a draft and
the final version of the Constitution click here.
For additional resources click here.
Proposed 12 amendments printed in the Journal of the First Session of the Senate

Unit Objective

This lesson on the Bill of Rights is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core–based units. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by writing summaries of selections from the original document and, by the end of the unit, demonstrating their understanding through visual and oral presentations. Through this step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Lesson 1

Objective

Students will understand the rights and restrictions that are defined by the first five amendments of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. They will demonstrate that understanding by restating those ideals in their own words.

Introduction

On September 17, 1787, in the city of Philadelphia, 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the newly negotiated United States Constitution. Many of those who did not sign refused to do so because the document did not include a “Bill of Rights” that would both secure basic civil rights for its citizens and define the limits of the federal government’s power. Much of the later state ratification debates raged over this lack of a Bill of Rights. In the solution known as the Massachusetts Compromise, four states agreed to ratify the document if their recommendations would be sent to Congress for review and consideration. Subsequently, Congress voted in favor of 12 of those amendments to the Constitution in 1789. Ten of these were ratified by the states and became our Bill of Rights.

In this unit the students will analyze the original text of these amendments through careful reading. They will study the exact language of the amendments in order to understand not only the intent of the Founding Fathers but also the way these words have since been interpreted. This will be done as both individual and group work. The student's understanding of the amendments will be demonstrated through visual and oral presentations.

Materials

Procedure

Note: At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lessons individually, as partners, or in a small group of no more than 3 or 4 students.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Hand out the graphic organizer “Analyzing the First Five Amendments.”
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the first five amendments with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English Language Learners (ELL).
  4. The task for the students is to be able to put the first five amendments into their own words. The teacher will model how this is done by putting the graphic organizer on an overhead or Elmo projector so that all students can see the form. Then, as a whole group, go through the process of writing a paraphrasing of the First Amendment. In order to accomplish this the students are going to do a careful reading as they analyze the text and then restate the various parts of the amendment so it makes sense to them. For instance, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” could be restated by the student as “The government can’t start religions or stop people from practicing their own.” The students should follow the teacher through the process and write the new paraphrasing in the box next to the original text.
  5. The teacher now asks the students to continue with the rest of the amendments on the sheet. As students complete the amendments you can share out some of the best results so that the students know if they are on the right track and to acknowledge them for their critical-thinking skills.

Lesson 2

Objective

Students will understand the rights and restrictions that are defined by amendments 6–10 of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. They will demonstrate that understanding by restating those ideals in their own words.

Introduction

In this lesson the students will analyze the original text of amendments 6–10 just as they did amendments 1–5 in the last lesson, through careful reading. They will study the exact language of the amendments in order to understand not only the intent of the Founding Fathers but the way that these words have since been interpreted. At the teacher’s discretion this will be done either individually, as partners, or in small groups of 3-4 students.

Materials

Procedure

  1. Review both the information in the introduction from the last lesson as well as the procedures from that lesson.
  2. Pass out the graphic organizer “Analyzing Amendments 6–10.”
  3. The teacher then “share reads” these amendments with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English Language Learners (ELL).
  4. The task for the students is to be able to put these next five amendments into their own words. If the teacher thinks that the students need to review the process then model how this is done by putting the graphic organizer on an overhead or Elmo so that all students can see the form. Then, as a whole group, write a paraphrasing of the first part of the Sixth Amendment. In order to accomplish this the students are going to do a careful reading as they analyze the text and then restate the various parts of the amendment so it makes sense to them.
  5. The teacher now asks the students to continue with the rest of the amendments for today’s lesson. As students complete the amendments you can share out some of the best results so the students know if they are on the right track and to acknowledge them for their critical-thinking skills.
  6. Depending on the class you may choose to move forward with Lesson 3, or it can be very effective to partner this lesson with short video clips that show the impact of the Bill of Rights.

Lesson 3

Objective

Students will demonstrate their understanding of the Bill of Rights by drawing an illustration depicting one of the amendments and citing a direct quote from the amendment as a caption. This caption will serve as direct evidence for the accurate interpretation of the text. The students will then present their drawing in the form of a short oral presentation to the class. The teacher may allow students to substitute a computer-based drawing or graphics alternative to an actual hand-drawn illustration.

Introduction

In this lesson the students will be working (at the teacher’s discretion) individually, with a partner, or in a small group in order to compose a graphic representation of one of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. They will then present their finished piece to the class and answer questions concerning their interpretation.

Materials

Procedure

  1. Introduce the lesson objective as explained above and organize students as desired.
  2. Assign which amendments will be illustrated by which students or student teams. You can do this by drawing numbers 1–10 randomly. However, consider the fact that the First Amendment has a variety of topics while there are very few for the Second Amendment. Therefore, you might assign several groups the First Amendment and only one group the Second Amendment. You may also allow students to self-select; however, it is preferable if all ten amendments are addressed by someone in the class.
  3. Hand out the supplies.
  4. While students are brainstorming and drafting it is a good time to clarify interpretations. Always refer students back to the text to find the answers to their questions, only nudging them toward the answer as they reason it out for themselves.
  5. Students need to pull that portion of the text that is represented in their illustration to serve as a caption and use the amendment number as a title. For instance:
                                          Amendment 1
                                          (An illustration of people holding up signs at some kind of gathering)
                                          . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . .
  6. Students will then present their illustrations and answer class or teacher questions about their illustration and explain their interpretation; this will demonstrate the level of student understanding.

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