Our Constitution: The Bill of Rights (Grades 10–12)

by Tim Bailey
View the Constitution in the Gilder Lehrman 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

These lessons on the Bill of Rights are 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, articulating their understanding of the complete document by answering questions in an argumentative writing style to fulfill the Common Core Standards. 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 consideration. Subsequently, Congress approved twelve of those amendments to the Constitution in 1789. Ten of these were ratified by the states and became the Bill of Rights. The responsibility for the interpretation of those amendments is the given to the Supreme Court.

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, and will be evaluated by applying their understanding in short essays.

Materials

Procedure

Note: Depending on the makeup of your class, you may choose to have the students do the first two lessons individually, as partners, or in small groups of three or four 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 students 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 they 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 2, or it can be very effective to partner this lesson with short video clips that show the impact of the first five amendments. The following Gilder Lehrman videos may be helpful:

Lesson 2

Objective

Students will understand the rights and restrictions that are defined by the second 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

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 also the way that these words have been since been interpreted. At the teacher’s discretion this will be done either individually, as partners, or in small groups of three to four 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 titled “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 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 that that 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 that 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 next five amendments in the Bill of Rights. The following Gilder Lehrman videos may be helpful:

Lesson 3

Objective

Students will understand how decisions made by the Supreme Court are based on what is written in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights. They will become aware of how these decisions, based on the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, have a great influence on American society.

Introduction

In this lesson the students will be working with a partner or in small groups in order to read, analyze, discuss, and write about a Supreme Court case from 1968 called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. They will be drawing their own conclusions as to the Constitutional issues based on their study of the Bill of Rights, and then offering support for either the Supreme Court’s majority or minority opinion in the case.

Materials

Procedure

  1. Give the students a brief overview of the introduction, covering the workings of the Supreme Court.
  2. Put the students into either partnerships or small groups of three to four students.
  3. Hand out the graphic organizer “Supreme Court Case #1 Handout A.”
  4. At the teacher’s discretion the text can be “share read” with the students as in the previous two lessons or the students can read it individually.
  5. The teacher then poses the question: “Were the petitioner’s Constitutional rights violated by the school district?”
  6. Hand out the graphic organizer “Supreme Court Case #1: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.” The students will write their answer in the top section of the organizer.
  7. Let the students discuss their various views on the constitutional issues raised by this case.
  8. Hand out graphic organizers “Supreme Court Case #1 Handouts B and C.”
  9. The students will read both the majority and minority opinions in this case. The students should discuss these opinions with their partner or group.
  10. Using the graphic organizer the students will answer the following question: After reading both the majority and minority opinions, which do you agree with? Write a short analytical essay that addresses your own view of these two opinions. In the essay make certain to include at least three pieces of evidence directly from the text that support your choice and at least three examples taken from the text that undermine the other argument.
  11. You may choose to have students work together on this, or, if you are looking for a more individualized assessment, they can work by themselves.

Lesson 4

Objective

Students will understand how decisions made by the Supreme Court are based on what is written in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights. They will become aware of how these decisions, based on the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, have a great influence on American society.

Introduction

In this lesson the students will be working with a partner or in small groups in order to read, analyze, discuss, and write about a Supreme Court case from 1987 called Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. They will be drawing their own conclusions as to the constitutional issues based on their study of the Bill of Rights, and then comparing those issues to the ones raised in the last lesson’s case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.

Materials

Procedure

  1. Give the students a brief overview of the introduction.
  2. Put the students into the same partnership or small group as they were in the last lesson.
  3. Hand out the graphic organizer “Supreme Court Case #2 Handout D.”
  4. At the teacher’s discretion the text can be “share read” with the students as in the first two lessons or the students can read it individually.
  5. The teacher then poses the question: “Did the school’s principal violate the student’s Constitutional rights?”
  6. Hand out the graphic organizer “Supreme Court Case #2: Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.” On this organizer they will use the top section to answer that question.
  7. Let the students discuss their various views on the Constitutional issues raised by this case.
  8. Hand out graphic organizer “Supreme Court Case #2 Handout E.”
  9. The students will read the decision in this case. The students should discuss this decision with their partner or group.
  10. Using the graphic organizer the students will do the following: Write a short analytical essay that compares this case with the Tinker v. Des Moines case. In what ways are they the same and in what ways are they different? How did these similarities and differences affect the Supreme Court’s decision? In the essay make certain to include textual evidence taken directly from the documents that support your argument.
  11. You may choose to have students work together on this or, if you are looking for a more individualized assessment, they can work by themselves.

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

I love this assignment. I plan to use it and see how it turns out. Of course I will be citing this website and author of project. I will tell other teachers what a great aid this will be since we are just starting the common core standards implementation. Thanks


How did the lesson go? I am planning to use it during the month of Sept 2013 and would like you feedback on how it went. Thanks


I will be trying this lesson.


Add comment

Login or register to post comments