The Preamble to the US Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Declaration of Independence

by Tim Bailey

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were developed to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Through a step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Over the course of three lessons the students will analyze text from three documents defining American democracy: the Preamble to the United States Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the second section of the Declaration of Independence. Understanding these three texts is an essential part of understanding American ideology and citizenship. Students will closely analyze these sources and use textual evidence to draw their conclusions and present their understanding as directed in each lesson.

Lesson 1

Objective

Students will understand the Preamble to the United States Constitution. They will demonstrate their understanding by analyzing the meaning of each central concept of the Preamble and then paraphrasing what the words mean.

Introduction

The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected—directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise. (Source: “Charters of Freedom,” The National Archives)

Materials

Procedure

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction. Explain that a “preamble” is an introduction to something, so this preamble is an introduction to the US Constitution and is meant to explain the purpose of our Constitution.
  2. Hand out The Preamble to the United States Constitution.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the text 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. Hand out the Graphic Organizer: The Preamble.
  5. It is helpful if the organizer can be projected where the entire class can see it so they can follow along on their own personal copy.
  6. The teacher will be the guide for this whole-group activity. The teacher and the students will address one question at a time and reason out the best answer. This activity is designed to build both critical thinking skills as well as help the students develop effective strategies when facing difficult texts. The vocabulary will be the most difficult barrier. Let students discuss possible meanings of the unfamiliar words and only provide definitions or synonyms when they are truly stuck.
  7. Show the students how to use the answers to the questions to construct a summary. For example, “The people of the United States want to make a better country where it is fair and peaceful, everyone is defended, and everyone can be free to choose who they want to be. We are doing this for ourselves and our children and their children. We promise to make this Constitution work for all Americans.”

Extension Activity

Extension activity the students can illustrate the concepts and then use their paraphrasing as a caption. This caption and illustration will serve as direct evidence for the accurate interpretation of the text. The teacher may allow students to substitute a computer-based drawing or graphics alternative to a hand-drawn illustration.

Lesson 2

Objective

Students will understand the Pledge of Allegiance. They will demonstrate their understanding by analyzing the text and the specific vocabulary of the Pledge.

Introduction

The Pledge of Allegiance received official recognition by Congress in an act approved on June 22, 1942. However, the pledge was first published in 1892 in the Youth’s Companion magazine in Boston, Massachusetts, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, and was first used in public schools to celebrate Columbus Day on October 12, 1892.

In its original version, the pledge read “my flag” instead of “the flag of the United States.” The change in the wording was adopted by the National Flag Conference in 1923. The rationale for the change was that it prevented ambiguity among foreign-born children and adults who might have the flag of their native land in mind when reciting the pledge.

The phrase “under God” was added to the pledge by a congressional act approved on June 14, 1954. At that time, President Eisenhower said, “in this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.” (Source: “Our Flag,” Federal Citizen Information Center)

Materials

Procedure

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction. Explain that a “pledge” is a promise and that it is very important for them to understand what they are promising when they say the Pledge of Allegiance.
  2. Hand out the Pledge of Allegiance.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the text with the students.
  4. Hand out the The Pledge of Allegiance graphic organizer. It is helpful if the organizer can be projected where the entire class can see it so they can follow along on their own personal copy.
  5. Show the students how they can use the synonyms to paraphrase the Pledge of Allegiance. For example, “I promise loyalty to the symbol of our country and to the representative democracy that it represents, one country which believes in a supreme being, and cannot be divided, with freedom and fairness for everyone.”
  6. Depending on the grade level and literacy level of the students, they can complete the organizer individually, in small groups of no more than three or four students, or as a whole-class activity. You may have to explain the concept of a representative democracy.

Lesson 3

Objective

Students will understand a section of the Declaration of Independence often referred to as the “preamble” (the second paragraph). They will demonstrate their understanding by analyzing the meaning of each central concept of the Declaration’s preamble and then paraphrasing that concept.

Introduction

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in “self-evident truths” and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country. (Source: “Charters of Freedom,” The National Archives)

Materials

Procedure

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction. Explain that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration in five parts. First he wrote an introduction, next came the preamble, the grievances against the king, appeals made to the king, and finally the conclusion, which declared the country’s right to be free and independent of Great Britain.
  2. Hand out the “Preamble” of the Declaration of Independence.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the text with the students.
  4. Hand out the “Preamble” to the Declaration of Independence graphic organizer.
  5. It is helpful if the organizer can be projected where the entire class can see it so they can follow along on their own personal copy.
  6. The teacher will be the guide for this whole-group activity. The teacher and the students will address one question at a time and reason out the best answer. This activity is designed to both build critical thinking skills and help students develop effective strategies when facing difficult texts. The vocabulary will be the most difficult barrier. Let students discuss possible meanings of the unfamiliar words, and only provide definitions or synonyms when they are truly stuck.
  7. Show the students how to use the answers to the questions to construct a summary. For example, “It’s obvious that people were created equal and that God gave them the right to live free and pursue their dreams. Governments were made by people to protect their rights and if the government won’t protect those rights, then the people can make a new government. This new government must make sure that people are safe and happy. Don’t throw out the government without a really good reason. People will put up with bad things just because they don’t like to change what they’re used to; but if the government keeps abusing people’s rights, then you need a new government that can provide security for the future.”
  8. Class discussion: After analyzing all three of these documents, discuss how the ideas presented by these words have shaped our country, even to this day. Make sure that students pull quotes directly from the documents to illustrate their points. As an extension, this question could serve as an essay prompt.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to edit your profile and indicate this, giving you free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Discussion

These lessons are well written and well received by the students.


Add comment

Login or register to post comments