for an activity according to grade level and/or core democratic
Civics Online hopes to not only provide a rich array of multi-media
primary sources, but to also give teachers ideas on using those
sources in the classroom. Explore the general activities
below, or investigate the activities created
for specific grade levels and core democratic values.
following strategies are based on the classroom use of primary documents
and the incorporation of interactive learning. As far as possible,
these strategies should be integrated into the social studies classroom
with the goal of placing students in learning situations that will
promote critical thinking and application of knowledge. These strategies
are intended as a springboard for dialogue and discussion. Teachers
are encouraged to adapt and modify the strategies for their own
of close textual reading and analysis of historical documents should
be a regular feature of the social studies classroom. Considerations
in this activity are: establishing historical context, targeting
the purpose of the document, identifying the social-political bias,
and recognizing what is at stake in the issue. Language analysis
should consider key words, tone, and intent.
far as possible, students should be placed in collaborative groups
to dialogue their responses to documents (print, on line, video).
An inductive method should be the framework for these discussions.
At times the teacher may lead Socratic discussions or might conduct
a debriefing. However, it is desirable to establish an ongoing framework
for analysis and evaluation.
analysis should be a component of other classroom activities with
the goal of developing a more articulate and well informed civic
activity calls upon students to take various roles associated with
an historical, social, or civics related issue. Students will research
the point of view of their assigned character and will participate
in one of a number of short or long term activities that might include:
simulated media interviews, a debate, a court case, a panel discussion,
an historical simulation, or a simple debriefing.
activity might involve a short term one period pro-con debate on
a focused historical or constitutional issue. It could also be part
of a longer project based on more extensive research used by students
working in teams resulting in a more formal closure project.
Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis writing activity.
from a set of documents and information, the class (working in collaborative
groups) must design an activity in which their group recreates an
event and analyzes it from multiple perspectives. The event could
be an historical situation, a current event, or a constitutional
issue. Through dramatic scripting and role playing, the group will
prepare for class presentation a briefing on their topic. This activity
could be part of a larger unit as a major project or could be utilized
as part of a daily activity on a short term basis.
a unit closure activity or long term project, the simulation could
take the form of a One Act Play.
would work together in news teams digesting a number of documentary
materials. The materials would be presented in print packets or
online. Each student would be assigned a job simulating a team
of reporters or television news magazine staffers. At the end of
the activity (single period or longer term), the teams will present
their findings to the class. Many creative options may be utilized
for the reports (video, online, role playing, etc.).
social, and historical issues should, from time to time, be considered
in the form of classroom court. The court should engage every student
in the class in some formal role (judge, court reporter, expert
witness, etc.). The case may be worked up from on line or print
documents. If desired, an appeals process may be used. Student "reporters"
will debrief the class in a "Court TV" simulation.
class might consider an issue or social problem through the simulation
of a congressional hearing. The class might prepare by watching
one of the many such hearings shown on C-Span.
research (print as well as online) should be part of the preparation
for this activity. Teams of students representing various sides
of the issue should collaborate to produce testimony.
of students would role play the Senate or Congressional subcommittee.
They would share their conclusions with the class. Another group
would role play a news team covering the hearings for a television
activity might be the writing of legislation based on the findings
of the hearings.
activity is a longer term project that would involve a broader social
or constitutional issue (such as freedom of speech, civil rights,
or the right to bear arms). Role playing might be used or students
could work up their own points of view.
symposium discussion would center around a few (3-5) central questions.
These questions could be posed by the teacher or worked up by a
student committee. The class would do its research (print and online) in teams which would work together to digest their findings
in light of the key questions.
symposium itself could be set up in round table fashion with the
entire class or could be focused on a smaller group of representatives
selected from the research teams. Input from the teams could be
rotated among members.
perspective segments could be researched and pretaped by students.
Classroom link ups
social, historical, or constitutional issues could be considered
by individually paired classrooms in different districts. Ideally,
these online linkages would pair diverse districts such as an urban
classroom with a rural or suburban one.
classrooms would work together on commonly accessed documents, or
they could focus on the ways in which each classroom perceives important
civic questions differently.
term or short term projects could be worked up including many of
the formats outlined above. Interactive links (video conferences,
URL exchanges, etc) would provide opportunities for ongoing dialogue.
Actual on site student exchanges could be arranged for further collaboration.
would be assigned roles of representatives to the Constitutional
Convention of 1787, only as citizens of contemporary American society.
Their task would be to revise and rewrite the original constitution
to better reflect the civic needs and demands of a 21st century
student would receive an index card with a brief description of
his assigned role. Diverse teams of students would be created to
act as revision committees to reexamine the original document section
by section. The Bill of Rights would be the only part of the original
document not subject to change.
completing their reexamination, the teams will report their findings
to the class. Then through debate and compromise, the committee
of the whole will decide on what (if any) revisions in the original
document should be made. The entire class must reach consensus on
the wording of any changes.
much as possible, writing activities should connect to the standards
especially the Core Democratic Values. Also, each activity should
emphasize stating a position clearly and using specific evidence
to support the position.
citizen's journal (An ongoing free response collection of personal
reactions to historical documents, films, online materials, class
speakers, and artifacts.) The journal would allow complete freedom
of expression and would be "graded" only as a required activity.
The journal would encourage students to identify issues of interest
and to react to them informally.
jackdaw collection (Role playing a number of documents focusing
on a civic or constitutional issue. May include letters, editorials,
public documents, broadsides, pictures, cartoons, and artifacts).
The collection may be a closure activity for a research project
or connected to a debate or other activity.
role specific position papers (Written in response to a series of
documents, these letters may be written from the viewpoint of roles
assigned by the teacher). By providing a point of view, the assignment
will encourage students to look at issues from multiple perspectives.
legislative draft (After consideration of a local, state, or national
issue, small collaborative groups will brainstorm new legislation
in response to the issue. They will act as subcommittees for their
town council, county commission, zoning board, state legislature,
or congress. The final product will be presented to the whole for
debate and a final vote).
activity could be a closure activity in a legislative decision making
unit or it could be part of a current events unit or a social problems
citizen's letter (This is assigned in response to a local, state,
or national issue.)
researching the issue, the student must draft a letter to the appropriate
governmental agency or elected official. Before the letters are
mailed, they must be presented in small feedback groups of peers
for evaluation. They should be critiqued for logic, clarity, and
persuasive use of language and historical-legal precedent.
letters and responses to them should be posted on the classroom
bulletin board. A variation of this activity would be a request
for information or a clarification of a policy from a governmental
agency or official.
Interview (In response to a guest speaker or outside subject.) The
assignment would include framing several focused questions based
on some research, notes summarizing the responses, and a synthesis
paragraph summarizing the results of the interview. The interview
could be keyed to a topic determined by the teacher or a focus group
descriptive response (To an artifact or photograph.) As part of
an array or collection, the artifact becomes the subject of a descriptive
narrative in which the student connects the content of the artifact
to larger democratic issues and values.
a dialectical approach, the student breaks down an issue into three
components starting with its main thesis, its opposing thesis, and
a future focus synthesis fusing the two issues in a new way.
method can be used by discussion groups or as a three paragraph
format for written expression. The synthesis would include creative
solutions that point toward building a consensus. It encourages
the development of multiple perspectives.
LifeThis activity could be done in connection with the values of diversity or justice. The concept of the right to life can be presented in the context of The Golden Rule and the right of everyone to be respected as an individual. The Golden Rule can be taught as both a classroom rule and as a legal right. The teacher might display (in poster form) and discuss the Golden rule as interpreted by various world religions. The teacher might supplement with a story time selection such as The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills (Little Brown, 1991) which addresses issues of fair treatment. Also, Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco (Paperstar, 1992) is a fine multicultural treatment.
LifeAt this level, it might be appropriate to introduce multicultural pictures of children from a variety of societies. The purpose of this activity is to compare and contrast the economic, social, educational, and physical well being of children in a world-wide perspective. Questions can be raised about whether all children have equal access to food, shelter, education, and family support. After the discussion, a writing and art activity would allow students to express their thoughts about quality of life issues as they confront children. Students could choose a picture and write a story about the young person depicted and what they might be facing. Students should be encouraged to put themselves in the place of their chosen photograph. The papers may be illustrated as part of a parallel art activity.
LifeThe right to life is a motif in many adolescent novels. However, the issue might be most memorably presented in The Diary of Anne Frank, that is often required reading in middle school. The Holocaust is a horrific example of what happens when a political regime is based on the systematic disenfranchisement of citizens who have no constitutional protection of their basic rights. Whether presented in a literary or social studies context, the right to life is a key to understanding the difference between the right of citizens in a constitutional democracy and the victims of totalitarian genocide. After a debriefing discussion, the class might write essays on the Right to Life that would be shared in small groups and posted in the classroom.
LifeThe concept of life as a constitutional precept should be established in its full historical sense. Advanced classes might benefit from an overview of the Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and John Jacques Rousseau who influenced Thomas Jefferson. The students should fully understand what “natural rights” means as a basis for the American constitutional and legal system. The connection should then be made to a contemporary issue that connects the issue to the student. These might include: cloning, bioethics, or capital punishment. Discussion, debate, and writing should follow. This is a good issue for outside interviews or class speakers from the professional community.
LibertyPost a large color photograph of the restored Statue of Liberty. Discuss the location, meaning, and details of the statue and why so many Americans contributed so much for the restoration of Lady Liberty. Additional photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island may be added to the discussion. Art supplies could be furnished to allow the class to create their own poster of the statue and what it means to them. The finished posters should be displayed and discussed by the class.
LibertyAnnounce an individual “liberty” period of class time (15-20 minutes) in which each student will be able to spend the time at his/her own discretion on an activity of their own design. Limits should be broad and choices unlimited (within the teacher's classroom code). A debriefing would follow to discuss the individual choices and productivity of the period.
On a subsequent day, another “liberty” period would be held, this time with a democratic decision making model to determine the activity for the entire class. Again, a debriefing would analyze the success of the period.
On a third day, the teacher would dictate the activity of the special period with no liberty or democratic choice. The debriefing of this activity would include a comparison and contrast of the three different experiences. The teacher at this time would introduce the concepts of liberty, democracy, and tyranny to describe each of the three experiences. Follow up activities could include planning more student designed activities based on the liberty and democracy models. Writing activities could include the creation of "definitions" posters and
LibertyThe class will read and consider the explicit and implicit meaning of “The Pledge of Allegiance”, especially the phrase “...with liberty and justice for all.” The teacher will introduce some selected documents and case studies into follow up discussions. These cases should focus the ways in which the concepts of liberty and justice interface. Are they the same? Are there times when liberty and justice conflict? Are there limits on personal freedom in a democratic society? How does the constitution and rule of law help to determine these limits? Sample cases could include the Elian Gonzalez matter, free speech issues, or the American Revolution.
LibertyAfter reading and discussing several seminal documents that address the concept of liberty in American democracy, students should write a personal essay in which they define and defend their own ideas about liberty and personal freedom as citizens. The essay must address the problem of how to adjudicate disputes between individual “liberties” and whether our constitution places limits on personal freedom. Grading rubrics for the essay should include citation of historical examples and references to the constitution and court cases. A good place to begin the class discussion is the 1919 Schenk vs. U.S. case and the famous Holmes opinion on free speech (“clear and present danger”). Also, the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson may prove provocative.
The Pursuit of HappinessCreate a classroom collection of pictures showing Americans at work and at play. The collection should reflect racial, ethnic, regional, economic, and gender diversity. The phrase "pursuit of happiness" should head the collection. After discussing the concept in plain terms and looking at the pictures, the class could do an art project in which each student would create a collage of fun things that his family does to pursue happiness. Students could draw, paint, or make a montage of happiness from their own personal perspective.
The Pursuit of HappinessAfter discussing the preamble to The Declaration of Independence, especially the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", the class will be assigned an interview questionnaire. The questions will constitute a simple survey to be given to people at home asking them to try to define "pursuit of happiness" in a variety of ways. Categories might include: economic, educational, personal, family, political, and travel interests. After bringing their survey results back, the class will create a colorful statistical and graphic chart on the bulletin board. This chart will act as a working definition of the varied ways Americans pursue happiness.
The activity could also be part of a basic statistics introduction and part of a graphic design project. Also, it could be part of a history unit involving the American Revolution and the ideas that motivated our fight for independence from English rule.
The Pursuit of HappinessThe class might consider "pursuit of happiness" from the standpoint of immigration. The teacher might compile a packet of documents consisting of first hand testimony from first generation immigrants. Letters, interviews, and oral history sources should be included. Ellis Island, the "New" immigration of the late 19th century, and The Great Migration of southern Blacks to northern industrial cities should be considered. In each case, the conditions facing each group prior to migration should be detailed. Also, comparisons should be drawn between their old and new condition.
Evaluative activities might include: writing, role playing, enactments of historic scenarios, and graphic design of bulletin boards.
The Pursuit of HappinessThe class will conduct a debate on the subject of gun control. After researching and discussing Amendment II of The Constitution and the intended meaning of "the right to bear arms", the class will be divided into two teams to prepare their debate. One significant aspect of the debate should include whether gun ownership should be included in a citizen’s right to "pursue happiness" if the owner uses his firearm for hunting, competitive shooting, collecting or other peaceful activity. Are there times when "pursuit of happiness" might conflict with other rights such as "life" or "liberty"? How should such conflicts be resolved in our democratic system?
Part of the research for the debate could include interviews with guest speakers representing both sides of the issue. A closure activity might be a position paper defending one side of the argument and pointing toward possible solutions.
Common GoodDisplay and discuss pictures of significant American historic moments in which the country came together for the common good. These might include: the Pilgrims at Plymouth , the minute men at Concord, the signing of The Constitution, Martin Luther King and the 1963 March on Washington, a World War II victory parade, Earth Day, Habitat For Humanity, and a Red Cross blood drive. Appropriate holidays might be selected to consider pictures that reflect the commitment of citizens to the greater good of all.
Common GoodA suitable holiday or week of observance might be chosen to develop a class service project. For example, Earth Week could be a good time to begin a class recycling project. The class could build recycling centers for the school and surrounding neighborhood. Plastic, aluminum, and paper could be collected with the goals of beautification and contribution of profits toward a charitable purpose.
The project should begin with a definition of "common good" and the design of a poster symbolizing the concept. The class could then brainstorm and develop a service project of its own design.
Common GoodIn connection with its American history study, the class should focus on the development and purpose of several Utopian communities. Examples might include: Brook Farm, New Harmony, Amana, or the Shakers. An alternate focus could be the development of the Israeli Kibbutz system or the many efforts to forge the common good by the pioneers. John Smith’s efforts to save the Jamestown settlement or the Lewis and Clarke expedition would work well. Twentieth Century examples might include ways that American citizens responded to The Great Depression or World War II.
Supplemental research should include biographies of key figures and a tally list of specific ways that individual citizens contributed to the greater benefit of society to meet a common threat or need.
Project ideas include: skits, poster-charts, essays, and oral presentations. Debriefing should include discussion of contemporary parallels to the responsibility of citizenship in today’s world.
Common GoodDiscuss the concept of "common good" as a basic tenet of civic responsibility alongside the concept of individualism. The class should then be presented with a question: "How should a society of individuals dedicated to the notion of pursuing its own happiness also meet its commitments to work together for the greater benefit of others?"
The class will brainstorm the question by working in small groups to fill out a dichotomy sheet listing individual, contemporary, and historical examples of individualism on the one side and common good on the other. Then, each group will select and research one example of a situation in which the needs of both the individual and the common good were met at the same time.
Library time should be provided. The groups will creatively demonstrate their findings.
JusticeThe class will examine the Golden Rule as the basis for understanding the concept of justice. The focus for this should be the classroom rules about respecting others and waiting your turn to speak and being a good listener. While the concept of justice as a constitutional principle might be too advanced for this grade level, it can be embedded in a discussion of respect, cooperation, and fair treatment through class procedures.
JusticeMost children know the meaning of the phrases “that’s not fair” or “no fair”. Fairness, a key component of the broader idea of “justice” is a daily feature of playground ethics. In this way, the teacher could approach the idea of justice through reviewing the rules of a particular sport (like baseball or basketball) and the role that the umpire or referee plays in adjudicating disputes. This could be done in a class discussion of situations involving rules violations or it could be introduced in an actual playing situation where one side might be given unfair advantage (say unlimited double dribbles or 5 outs) over the other. The class would then debrief after the game to discuss the “unfair” or “unjust” nature of the rules and the impact that those uneven rules have on the outcome of the game. Analogies to real life situations and the rule of law would follow.
JusticeThe formal concept of justice as a constitutional and legal concept should be introduced. The teacher could use a case study like the Elian Gonzalez situation or another current situation such as school violence, pollution cases, or the Diallo shooting and trial in New York. After some research, consideration of pertinent documents, and study of possible redress, the class would then debate whether justice (as they understand it) has been achieved. Does justice involve changing laws, providing material compensation, or formal apologies? How is justice ultimately achieved in a democracy?
JusticeThe class will do a comparative study of three historical events which involve racial injustice and the constitutional process of redress. These are: Indian removal, slavery, and Japanese-American internment. The class will research the historical context, constitutional issues, and documentation of legal redress in each case. Then the class will be divided into debate groups to define and argue key issues that cut across all three cases. The ultimate question to be determined is whether justice was finally meted out to all three oppressed groups. The groups must compare and contrast the constitutional, economic, legislative, and legal redress in each historical case. A good closure activity would be a position paper defending a position on the nature of justice and legal redress involving minorities in American democracy.
EqualityEquality in America is not about sameness. Each person in our society is a unique individual who is encouraged to reach their full potential with equal protection under The Constitution. Therefore, a good activity to demonstrate this equality of opportunity for individuals is the creation of a classroom display of pictures show casing each member of the class. The display should be organized around an American flag or other patriotic symbol. Students can bring a picture from home or school pictures may be used if available. A connected activity might be the creation of self portraits created by the students in an art lesson. After completing the display, the class might discuss the display in connection with the ideal of equality, fairness, tolerance for others, and individualism.
Students might share a personal interest, hobby, pet, or favorite toy in discussing their self portrait. The teacher should endeavor to link the presentations to the importance of the individual in the American system and how our Constitution guarantees equality of opportunity for all to pursue their interests within the law.
EqualityThe tricky relationship between equality and individualism might be demonstrated through a class "olympics" competition. Set up a series of competitions that test a variety of physical and mental skills. Some ideas include: a softball throw, stationary jump, walking a line, free throw shooting, bird identification, spelling contest, geography competition, vocabulary definitions, math skills test, etc. Be sure to select a variety of safe games that will allow each student to be successful in one or two areas. Also, create enough challenges that each student may not be successful in some areas.
After tabulating the results, ask the class to discuss the fairness of the competition. Were all students given an equal chance to compete? What determined the success of the winners?
What factors influenced the outcomes of the competitions? Were the games chosen so that each student might have a chance to succeed? How might individual students improve their results if the events were held again? The debriefing might involve creation of a chart showing ways that students might improve their performance. Analogies might be drawn from history that show how equality of opportunity has not always existed. How have these inequities been addressed? A good case study might be the integration of major league baseball by Jackie Robinson in 1947 or the opportunities opened for women in the space program by astronaut Sally Ride. Research into celebrities who overcame initial failure or disadvantage to eventually succeed through individual initiative will complete the unit. The class might choose individual subjects from a list that includes such names as: Michael Jordan, Roger Staubach, Jim Abbott, Glenn Cunningham, Mildred “Babe” Zaharias, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Estephan, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Selena, and Colin Powell.
EqualityRead and discuss The Declaration of Independence. What did Jefferson mean when he wrote that "all men are created equal." What exceptions to this statement existed in 1776? How long did it take women, slaves, native Americans, and non property owners to achieve "equality"? Does equality mean equality of condition or equality of opportunity?
A good brainstorming activity is to make a chart of the ways people are and aren't equal.
Then compare this chart to The Bill of Rights. What inequities does The Constitution address? What inequities are a function of individualism and lie outside our constitutional system? This discussion might be the focus of small groups.
After reporting the results of their discussions to the whole, the class might be assigned an impromptu essay on the relationship between equality and individualism in America. How can we promote equality while protecting the rights of individual citizens? An alternate topic might be to define equality as an American value. Essays should include concrete examples from history or current events.
EqualityBreak the class into several study groups. Assign each one of the following fairness and equity laws: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-352), The Civil Rights Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-110), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) written by Alice Paul in 1921.
After researching the assignment, the groups should report to the class orally. The report should outline the conditions that led to the legislation and the specific ways that the legislation was designed to remediate an inequity. The presentations might include a creative component: a skit, a debate, a comic book, a poster, or a series of role playing interviews.
A follow up activity would assign the same groups the task of researching a current social
inequity that might be addressed by new legislation. After more research and planning, the groups would write a proposal for new laws that would remedy the inequity. Each proposal must show either constitutional precedent or demonstrate the need for a constitutional amendment. A formal written proposal should be submitted by each group.
Some good web sites are:
The Southern Poverty Law Center - http://www.splcenter.org/teaching tolerance/tt-index.html
Other organizations are:
Anti-Defimation League - http://www.adl.org
NAACP - http://www.naacp.org
National Organization for Women - http://www.now.org
DiversityThe class can create a diversity map of The United States. The teacher will put a large outline map of The United States (6-8 feet long) on one of the bulletin boards. The class will collect colorful pictures (from magazines) of Americans doing different jobs.
Each day, the class will discuss the different jobs that Americans do and will add cut out pictures of these diverse Americans to a collage inside the map.
When finished, the class should discuss their impressions of all of the different jobs and kinds of people who help to make America work. The pictures should include a diversity of professions, jobs, and kinds of people.
DiversityThe class can create a number of "diversity circles". The teacher will help the class decide the number and kinds of circles they want to create. The circles may include: sports, science, American history, politics, entertainment, etc. The circles will be posted in large spaces on classroom walls or bulletin boards (3 feet or more in diameter). The circles will consist of pictures and biographical blurbs researched and written by teams of students.
The circles may be set up by chronology, important contributions, or other criteria determined by the teams. Ideally, 4-6 different themes should be traced with 4-6 students in each team. The only general rule for each circle is that of diversity. Each team must strive to find and include the widest possible range of important contributors to their thematic circle as possible.
This activity combines historical research and cross disciplinary thinking.
DiversityThe class will undertake a study of American immigration. The teacher should organize the statistical and historical documentation of the key phases of American growth.
The activity should begin with the introduction of "the melting pot" metaphor coined by Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur. After studying the documentary evidence, students will look into their own connection to immigration by interviewing family members to determine the facts of their own "coming to America".
As a group activity, the class will jointly create a "living" time line by tracing the history of immigration patterns from colonial times to the present. They will then connect immigration to other key trends and events in American history. Finally, each student will add his/her own family's immigration story to the line as specifically as they can. The student stories will be in the form of pictograms and written blurbs.
The time line should be large enough to include each student's story and several concurrent broad historical trend lines.
The debriefing discussion should pose the question of whether the "melting pot" really works as a way to describe immigration. Does diversity imply that our differences really "melt" away? Would a "stew pot" or "tossed salad" be a better metaphor?
The debriefing could culminate in a written essay response.
DiversityAfter studying the Declaration of Independence, in particular the second paragraph regarding the precepts of equality that it presents, the class will look at documents from 3 or 4 subsequent historical situations that call into question the idea that "all men are created equal" in our society. The teacher may select these situations from such examples as: Indian removal, Asian exclusion, anti immigrant nativism, gender exclusion, the Jim Crow era, integration and civil rights, etc.
The class will be divided up into 3-4 teams to study the historical context of their assigned topic and packets (or online) documents pertaining to their topic. Each group will create a one act play or series of dramatic vignettes that will be presented to the rest of the class. Each presentation must show how subsequent history resolved their situation.
A follow up debriefing should address the following questions. Was justice achieved? Has America always lived up to its ideal of equality? Is America a more diverse society today? Why has diversity in our population caused so many problems? Are the concepts of equality and diversity compatible? How has the constitution grown to make America more diverse since 1787? What does population growth and increasing diversity mean for America's future?
The debriefing could take the form of a panel discussion, a debate, or a written response.
TruthJust as there is a bond between citizens and the government, there is a bond between students and a teacher. Thus, it might be emphasized that telling the truth and refraining from lying is an important ethical rule that must be followed in the classroom. To illustrate this principle, the teacher might choose an appropriate selection for reading time from a trade publication. Aesop’s Fables or "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" might be effective in illustrating the point.
TruthFree speech is not a license to lie, cheat, or deceive. The class might benefit from creating a list of ten great reasons to tell the truth. To prepare for the activity, the teacher might display pictures of people who have been known for their honesty. The class could create an honesty mural to go with their list. Other related activities might include: a school wide survey, brainstorming some case studies involving moral reasoning, and researching how other cultures, past and present, view honesty. There are some excellent ideas in What Do You Stand For?: A Kid’s Guide to Building Character by Barbara Lewis (Free Spirit Publishing, 1998).
TruthThe relationship of trust between and government and its citizens is based on the free flow of information and public discussion of issues based on reliable facts. After considering some key historical cases involving governmental attempts to suppress the truth (e,g. The Peter Zenger case, deceptions involving the Vietnam war, the Watergate cover up, the Clinton impeachment, and human rights violations in The People’s republic of China), the class could conduct a survey of local political leaders and government officials. The teacher and a class committee could invite a panel of community leaders and journalists to participate in a question and answer session and discussion of truth in government. The class might select a controversial current local issue as the focus of the discussion. Closure activities might include a class debriefing, writing editorials on the topic, and creating a video news program on the guest speakers and their comments.
TruthA unit on consumerism might prove effective in studying the relationship between truth and the government. Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair’s muckraking classic - The Jungle - , or a recent 20/20 expose might kick off the unit. The teacher might prepare a packet of cases involving government action based on social research (e.g. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, fire retardant child sleep-wear, the DDT ban, the tobacco litigation and settlement).
Students would then work in investigating teams researching recent legislation, the history of research behind the law, and current enforcement. The teams will present a brief on their finding to the class. The teacher should prepare an initial list of possible topics for the project. An option would include video taped "news magazine" presentations. Students should provide a list of sources used in their research.
Popular SovereigntyAs an integral part of class procedure, the teacher might consider “voting time” as a weekly activity. The decisions should involve simple choices that the students will have an interest in: treats on Friday, quiet time music selections, books selections for reading time, or recess activities. Former Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill has written that “all politics are local”. By learning to exercise free choice at the grassroots, students may develop a life long appreciation of democratic choice.
Popular SovereigntyIt might be fun and instructive at election time to build and decorate a voting booth and ballot box for class decision making. The class could view pictures of voting and, if the school itself is a polling place, could visit the polls to witness democracy in action (if officials permit). The class voting booth could be used during the year for special decision making events (special activities, class government, student of the week, special class rules, etc) or a mock election. Student groups could make the ballots, establish the choices, and count the results. The goal, of course, is to establish an understanding of majority rule and the collective power of the people in a democracy. As a supplemental unit, the class could learn about the history of elections tracing the results of local, state, or federal elections over time. The presidency might be a useful focus for tracing the evolution of political parties, the evolution of the popular vote, and voter participation. A class project could involve the creation of an extensive bulletin board display on the history of presidential elections.
Popular SovereigntyMiddle school “mock elections” could be held, especially during the fall general elections. A full slate of candidates should be developed, after some research into the issues (local, state, and federal). As many students as possible should take roles as candidates preparing platforms and speeches. Other students might act as news persons to conduct interviews. Others would act as election officials to supervise voting and to count ballots. Leading up to election day, art activities might include poster, bumper sticker, banner making. Bulletin boards could display an array of election memorabilia and campaign art. If feasible, the election could involve other classes to participate in a campaign rally and the election itself. Results of the election could be published in a classroom newspaper written by the entire class. Video could be a part of the experience with interviews, speeches, and news coverage of the election.
Popular SovereigntyVoting patterns could be studied by criteria such as: age, race, education and gender. A good historical case is the Lincoln -Douglas debate regarding the extension of slavery. A related issue is the problem of redistricting congressional boundaries along more equitable lines for minorities. A statistical comparison of voting in redistricted areas might provoke good discussion and debate about the impact of popular sovereignty in local areas. Another vital aspect of popular sovereignty is the constitutional recourse available to citizens when their wishes are violated by elected officials. Cases of initiative, referendum, and recall might be studied (especially those available on the local level). Discussion, debate, and writing activities should follow.
PatriotismStudents will learn the Pledge of Allegiance and the “Star Spangled Banner” in group recitation and singing. In addition, the class should learn about the history of the American flag and its proper display. To support this activity, the class can create a collection of flag art and pictures in the classroom. Other patriotic songs like “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” could be also sung and discussed with art projects developed around the lyrics.
PatriotismStudents will study a variety of patriotic images and art (from The New England Patriots football logo to Uncle Sam to Norman Rockwell to World War II posters). They will then consider the word patriotism in brainstorming an inductive definition of the concept by determining what each of the images and paintings has in common. This definition will be compared to the formal dictionary definition. Both definitions and a visual display will be posted in the classroom.
PatriotismThe class will read and consider some traditional patriotic stories like those of Nathan Hale or Barbara Fritchie. Then, after discussing the stories and the qualities of individual patriotism, the class will brainstorm and research ways in which they (as individual citizens) might act patriotically. The teacher should encourage students to think broadly about patriotism as good citizenship in showing love and devotion to their country and its values. The class will then decide on a “good citizenship” project which enacts the values of patriotism that they have learned. This could involve writing letters of appreciation to war veterans, cleaning up a park memorial, or establishing a patriotic window display for a downtown business. The class could invite a veteran or elected official as guest speaker for the dedication of their project.
PatriotismThe class will respond to the question “My Country, Right or Wrong?” in a debate/discussion of whether patriotism and love of one’s country is always blind and unconditional. To prepare for the debate, the class should consider a series of historical cases in which the actions of the American government might be questioned on moral or ethical grounds. Examples might include: Indian Removal, The Spanish American War, the My Lai massacre, use of Agent Orange, the Golf of Tonkin Resolution, the Alien and Sedition Acts, conscientious objectors, Thoreau's night in jail, etc.
The purpose of the debate is to provoke higher level thinking about patriotism and its connection to moral and ethical values. For example, is it possible to be both a dissenter and a patriot? What separates a patriot from a zealot? How do our traditions of individualism and free speech interface with our value for patriotism and love of country?
The activity could involve cluster groups which nominate representatives to the class debate. The debate could involve role playing of historical figures from the cases studied. Class moderators and questioners would supervise the debate. The teacher would conduct a debriefing. An essay assignment on the question would follow as a closure activity.
Rule of LawTraffic signs and pedestrian rules provide opportunities for an introduction to the rule of law. In reviewing the traffic signs, stop lights, and crossing lanes around the school, the teacher should stress the importance of knowing what traffic signs mean and why it is important to obey them. Posters of traffic signs should be posted in the classroom. Students should be able to explain their rights as pedestrians and why traffic laws exist for the good of all. Art activities might include drawings of important traffic signs, stop lights, and mapping of each student's route home from school with street crossings and signs included.
Rule of LawThe evolution of law (in civil rights cases for example) might prove useful in learning about how law evolves from a living constitution. Starting with the 3/5 clause and moving through the Fugitive Slave Law, the constitutional amendments, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 the class will create an illustrated chart of the changes in civil rights law. The chart should contain a section for noting “causes” in recognition of the fact that each change in law is the result of a demonstrated need or omission in the existing law.
A future focus activity would be to brainstorm and research areas of the law that might need to be changed to meet new problems (e.g. cloning, parent rights, the rights of children). The teacher might supply news stories for further research. The class might write their own legal codes to address these social problems.
Rule of LawMiddle school is a good place to introduce a comparative study of how the rule of law is or is not implemented in countries around the world. Cases of free speech and human rights violations in China, Latin America, Africa, and in the former Soviet Bloc countries are well documented. Executions, illegal searches, political imprisonment, and genocide might be contrasted to how political problems are handled in a constitutional system as in the United States. Even in the United States, there are cases like Japanese Internment or the Red Scare in which the rule of law has been violated for political and perceived national security reasons. After doing the reading and the research, student groups will prepare panel discussions and drama groups to enact the scenarios under study. Student news groups will prepare “60 Minutes” segments briefing the class on various cases and their resolution. An important segment would be tracing the rule of law in the American Constitutional system.
Rule of LawDepending upon whether the group is a history class or a government class, several cases might prove stimulating in reaching a deep understanding of the rule of law in our constitutional system. The Watergate story with an emphasis on the documentation of President Nixon’s violation of law is a classic study of how elected officials are not above the constitution. Another approach might be to look at the evolution of the rights of the accused in the Brown/ Miranda/ Gideon cases. Also, a study of the conditions of women and African Americans before and after “protective” laws might prove useful. In addition, government classes might do comparative studies of constitutions (current and historic) from other countries. The emphasis should be on close study of primary documents. Small group discussion should be followed by large group debriefing. A writing activity on a critical question might provide closure.
Separation of PowersThe three branches of government may be introduced through large pictures of public buildings in Washington D.C. Pictures of The White House, The Supreme Court, and The Capitol Building may be placed on a bulletin board. The display might also include photographs of the president, Supreme Court justices, and members of congress and the senate. Above the three part display, an American flag might be displayed to symbolize the unifying quality of The Constitution and the way in which the three branches make up our federal government. In discussing the display, the teacher should explain in broad terms the role that each branch of government plays. As an activity, the students might create drawings or posters expressing their impressions of each branch of government.
Separation of PowersThe separation of powers can be studied through an interdisciplinary presentation of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law, "For every action, there is an opposed and equal reaction." By using a balance scale and weights, the teacher can demonstrate not only an important physical law but a key principle of democracy, the separation of powers. Once the scientific principle is understood, the teacher might introduce Montesquieu’s idea of "checks and balances" which is based on Newtonian thinking. A useful focus might be to consider the power to wage war in The Constitution. Why must the president ask Congress for a "declaration of war"? What power does Congress have to check the president ‘s use of the military? What powers does the Supreme Court have to check Congress and the president? As a case study, President Roosevelt’s December 8, 1941 speech to a joint session of Congress asking for a declaration of war against Japan might be considered. What would the response of The Supreme Court have been if the president had declared war without the approval of Congress? How could the Congress have checked the president if he had acted without their approval?
After consideration of the case and related questions, the class could create news headlines and brief stories reporting each scenario. An alternative project would be to do simulated interviews and CNN style news briefs.
Separation of PowersWith the assistance of the teachers, the class should read Articles I, II, and III of The Constitution. After discussion, the class may be divided into three teams (legislative, executive, and judicial) to create a chart that outlines the defined powers of their assigned branch of government. The charts should be posted on the class bulletin board.
Next, the teacher should distribute packets on a simulated case scenario. Some examples might be: "The President Sends U.S. Troops into Battle", "Congress Votes to Jail Political Dissidents", and "Supreme Court To Decide on Free Speech Rights of Middle School Students". The packets should detail the scenario and action taken or recommended by the respective branch of government. For evaluative purposes, the teacher should draw up a rubric referencing the case to Articles I, II, or III of The Constitution.
After studying each case, the student teams should analyze the three cases from the point of view of their assigned branch of government. Their report to the class should point out the constitutional problems in each case and should recommend action as justified in The Constitution. A final activity might be an essay assignment focusing on the proper sharing of power among the three branches of government and what the separation of power means to average citizens.
Separation of PowersThe class should read and review Articles I, II , and II of The Constitution. Then using the Legal Information Institute web site ( http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/cases/historic.htm), students should study briefs of the Marbury v Madison (1803) and McCullough v Maryland (1819) cases to fully understand the concepts of judicial review and broad congressional authority "within the scope of the constitution." Now, the class might do an in depth study of one or more cases involving questions of the separation of power between the three branches.
Suggested cases are: President Jackson's war against The Bank of The United States(1832-36), President Roosevelt's handling of The Northern Securities Trust(1902), Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and The War Powers Act (1973). The class could be divided into four research/study groups, each taking one of the cases. The groups would prepare a brief tracing the history of the case and the constitutional issues at stake. Their presentation should also identify the resolution of the case and link the resolution to issues of separation of power.
Some key discussion topics: How might these cases be resolved today? Does the balance of power among the three branches shift over time? How do politics and social change affect the balance? Is there equilibrium among the branches or does power shift over time? What are some issues today that reveal the shifting balance? Can we trace the history of the shifting balance of power? Which of the three branches seems to be in ascendance today?
A good closure activity might be an impromptu position paper or take home essay based on some of the issues raised by the presentations and discussion.
Representative GovernmentBasic representative democracy might start in the early elementary years through
a regular series of classroom elections. The elections could involve weekly choices such as story time material, recess games, bulletin board themes, or class colors. In addition, class elections could be held each month for teacher assistant. Students can help design and build a classroom ballot box. Art projects might include designing and creating ballots, election day banners, and a voting booth. Student committees can tabulate results and post them on a special election bulletin board.
Representative GovernmentThe teacher might organize a class "council" (or "senate") at the beginning of the year. The purpose of the council would be to represent the students in the class in making decisions that would affect the entire class during the school year ahead. The teacher should seek input from the class in establishing the "constitution" for the council. Such matters as term of office, size of constituency, powers of the council, meeting dates, and qualifications for office should be determined through class discussion. Before the elections are held, a brainstorming activity should explore the desired traits for leaders elected to the council.
A parallel biographical reading and research project could be assigned on the topic of "Great Leaders of Democracy, Yesterday and Today". The result would be a bulletin board display showing the final list of traits and several historical examples demonstrating each trait of good leadership. Election speeches for nominees are optional. For more participation and rotation in office, elections could be held once each semester. A recommended web site for stories about community leaders and activism is: The American Promise - http://www.pbs.org/ap/
Representative GovernmentMiddle school American history is a good place to research the policies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson concerning representative government.
The class might be divided into "Hamiltonians" and "Jeffersonians". each group would research the position of their leader on the topic of the powers of the central government vs. the power of the citizens. The activity would fit nicely into a unit on The Constitution and the compromises that resulted in our bicameral system. Closure might include a debate between members of each group on key points, the creation of a comparative chart, and
brainstorming how different our system might be today if either Jefferson's or Hamilton's
ideas had prevailed. Related activities might include: essays, editorials, news stories, video interviews, and role playing.
Representative GovernmentHigh school students might benefit from a comparative study of several different constitutions from around the world to measure the depth and effectiveness of representative government in The Constitution of The United States. The constitutions of the former U.S.S.R. and The Union of South Africa would be useful. The class might also be divided into study groups to determine the powers allotted to elected representatives in such bodies as the Japanese Diet, the Isreali Kinessett, and the British House of Commons.
For background, the class should review Article I of The Constitution and the writings of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. With the "pure democracy" of the New England town meeting at one end and totalitarian dictatorship on the other, where does the American republic stand in comparison to other countries in empowering its citizens?
Freedom of ReligionA simple but effective activity is the posting of religious holidays from a diversity of world religions on a class calendar. The calendar should be inclusive of all of the major world faiths. As a supplementary activity, a pictorial glossary of key concepts from each religion might be posted. In addition, students might create art depicting the major holidays and high holy days as they study them on the class calendar.
Freedom of ReligionStudents might begin to understand the concept of religious "pluralism" by studying the early colonies and the many religious groups that migrated to America during the colonial period. A map tracing the religious influences in the early colonies might emphasize the point graphically. The project could be expanded to trace the subsequent migration of new religious influences during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Consideration of religious pluralism should include an understanding of the principles of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and separation of church and state found in the First Amendment of the Constitution. The study should also acknowledge those who do not profess a religious belief and their equal protection under the Constitution.
Freedom of ReligionReligious liberty under The Constitution might be presented in a comparative study of how religious persecution has been legalized in other political systems. The German treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the Spanish Inquisition are opportune historical subjects to develop. More recently the "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans and the slaughter in Rawanda address the theme in graphic terms. Student research groups might work on different topics. As a supplement, the teacher might compile documents packets with primary sources, pictures, news stories, and eyewitness accounts for class discussion. As a closure discussion, students might address the question of how religious conflicts like those in their study have been avoided in America. How does The Constitution provide equal protection for the beliefs of all of its citizens? An essay assignment on the subject might be part of a language arts activity.
Freedom of ReligionA good debate-discussion topic might be to address the relationship between religion and politics in American life. In what ways has religious belief shaped the political and social views of millions of American citizens? The class might undertake a comparative study of the history of recent American elections (say going back to the 1960’s) to see how religious affiliation has influenced the outcome. Voting statistics indicating party loyalty, religious affiliation, financial contributions, economic status, educational level, and ethnicity could be researched. The teacher might provide a packet with historical perspective from Machiavelli to William Jennings Bryan to Madeline Murray O’Hare to the South Carolina primary race between John McCain and George W. Bush.
Class activities include a debate, small group consideration of the documents packets, and an essay taking a position on the relationship between politics and religion in America.
FederalismDiscuss the idea of a government and how it begins with people and their needs. Have students draw or create a pictogram of their concept of what government does for its citizens.
FederalismLearn the original 13 states and their relationship to each other in a federal system. Learn about westward expansion and how new land meant the creation of new states. Learn the current 50 states and their relationship to the federal government. Begin to conceptualize how federal and state governments share power and serve different functions for their citizens. Have students create posters indicating the differences between the federal government and their state.
FederalismOrganize student groups to debate and discuss the different roles of federal and state governments. Using the Constitution and a mock Supreme Court, the class could conduct a debate
over a selected issue (gun control, civil rights, etc) and decide whether the issue should fall under
state or federal control. Some research required.
FederalismAfter consideration of the documents, the class should be divided into two groups
(Federalists vs Anti Federalists). Each group will prepare for a symposium-debate on the question of
Federalism and the sharing of political power in a democracy. Students will play historical roles based
on the major historical figures representing the evolution of their group's position and philosophy.
Representatives from both groups will meet with the teacher to determine the 3-5 key questions that
will be the focus of the symposium. Each student in both groups must prepare a role and stay in that
role for the duration of the debate. The discussion will stay focused on the preselected questions.
Each student will submit a position paper (with historical examples) representing his character's
hypothetical position on the selected questions. Extensive research required.
Civilian Control of the MilitaryThrough pictures and photographs, the class should observe the differences between the civilian and the military functions of government. A bulletin board display, divided into two large areas, would demonstrate various important jobs and services that the federal government provides to its citizens. The display will be a graphic introduction to the many ways that government serves the people. Also, it will introduce the differences between the military and the civilian roles.
Civilian Control of the MilitaryDisplay an array of pictures of the United States military in action including ships, planes, missiles, and vehicles. Also, include photographs of the President reviewing troops and photographs of other world leaders who wear a military uniforms (e.g. President Pinochet of Argentina and Fidel Castro of Cuba). Discuss with the class the relationship between the president and the military in our democratic system. Ask them to observe that the President wears civilian clothes and never wears a military uniform while in other countries there are sometimes generals who take over the civilian government.
Brainstorm a list of reasons why, in our constitution, the military is under the control of the executive branch. Why would a military dictatorship be attractive to some countries? As a project, the class could create a flow chart tracing the military organization of The United States and the relationship of each branch of service to the Department of Defense and the president. Pictures and information for the chart can be obtained from internet sites.
Civilian Control of the MilitaryThe class will read Article II, section 2 of The Constitution. After a discussion of the reasons for making the President, a civilian, the commander in chief of the military, the class will study a case involving a challenge to presidential authority by the military. The case might include: the firing of General MacArthur by President Truman in 1951 or the fictional situation posed by the films Seven Days in May or Fail Safe(available in rental). After considering the documents or viewing the films, the teacher should conduct a debriefing on the situation and the constitutional implications. As a closure activity, a mock court martial of the military figures in the case could be held with students preparing roles. An essay could also be assigned discussing the merits of civilian control of the military.
Civilian Control of the MilitaryAfter reviewing Article II, section 2 of The Constitution, the class will consider President Eisenhower’s remarks in 1960 concerning the "undue influence of the military-industrial complex." The teacher should prepare a packet which includes Eisenhower’s speech, remarks by military leaders like General Curtis LeMay, and other documents concerning the control and use of nuclear weapons. The focus of these documents will prepare discussion of the issue of "The Constitution in a Nuclear Age". After consideration of the documents, the class will be divided into two groups: one representing support for civilian control, the other representing the military point of view. After preparing several discussion points provided by the teacher, the class will engage in a round table discussion defending their assigned point of view. As a supplemental case, the teacher could provide a documents packet on the 1945 decision to use atomic weapons by President Truman and the various options facing him and the military perspective at the time.
This activity may be an extended term project and could involve additional research and writing. A shorter activity would involve group discussion of the packet and questions.