Being An American ELL

The United States Constitution (ELL)

Clock Two fifty-minute class periods

In this lesson, students will study the Constitution from three perspectives: structure, content, and underlying principles. They will study the purpose, content, underlying ideas, and constitutional principles of each Article in the Constitution.

Founding Principles

Consent of the Governed image

Consent of the Governed

The government's power is only justified when its power comes from the will or approval of the people.

Federalism image

Federalism

The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Representative / Republican Government image

Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.

Rule of Law image

Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Separation of Powers image

Separation of Powers

A system of distinct powers built into the Constitution to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.

Overview

In this lesson, students will study the Constitution from three perspectives, examining its structure, content, and underlying principles. After skimming and making inferences about the Constitution, students will focus on the separate articles: their purpose, content, and underlying ideas. Next, they will jigsaw into new groups and brief each other on their articles. Finally, they will work individually to analyze constitutional principles and locate relevant sections within the Constitution.

Quotes

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." - Patrick Henry

Critical Engagement Questions

What is the purpose of the national government?

Objectives

Students will:

  • List the purposes of the seven articles of the Constitution.
  • Identify the powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
  • Understand the ways the Constitution protects liberty through:
    • Representative government
    • Limited government
    • Separation of powers and checks and balances
    • Protections of individual rights
    • Federalism
    • Consent of the governed
  • Appreciate the ways in which the United States Constitution protects liberty.

Materials

Handouts may have two versions. Version 1 is at a higher level than Version 2.

  • Handout A: United States Constitution
  • Handout B: Constitution Cube
  • Handout C: First Impressions (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout D: Constitutional Connection Cards
  • Handout E: A Second Study (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout F: Looking Deeper At Philosophy (Version 1 and 2)
  • Handout G: Governments Around the World
  • Handout H: Glossary

Background 10 min. (day before)

  1. Distribute Handout B: Constitution Cube. Ask students to assemble it at home and bring it to class next time.
  2. Distribute individual copies of Handout A: United States Constitution and Handout C: First Impressions (Versions 1 or 2). Tell students not to read the document, but to answer the questions based only on what they can infer from the way the Constitution is structured on paper.

Warm-up 20 min.

  1. Divide your class in half. If you have an odd number of students, you can participate in the activity. Have one half of the class form a circle and face outward. Have the other half of the class form another circle around the first circle facing inward. Make sure that each outer student has an inner student as a partner.
  2. Have the inner student explain their answer to question 1 on Handout C to their outer circle partner in 30 seconds to 1 minute.
    1. After time is up, have the outer student share their answer with their partner.
    2. After both students have spoken, have the outer circle shift one student to the right. Repeat the activity for question 2.
    3. Continue shifting until all of the questions have been discussed.
  3. Optional: When the activity is complete, have a brief class discussion about the questions from Handout C.

Activities 60 min. total

Activity I – 30 min.

  1. Before class, copy and cut out the cards on Handout D: Constitutional Connection Cards. (Laminating the cards in advance is recommended.) Make sure there are enough cards for all students. Pass out one card to each student.
  2. Have each student read his/her quotation and assemble into groups with other students who have the same quotation. Each group should have approximately five members.
  3. Distribute Handout E: A Second Study (Version 1 or 2). Have students locate their quotation in the Constitution and then work in their groups to carefully read and explain their sections of the Constitution.

Activity II – 30 min.

  1. Distribute Handout A: Looking Deeper at Philosophy (Version 1 or 2). Have students read and discuss the quotations taken from their article(s) of the Constitution and decide which Founding principles they reflect. Allow about five minutes for discussion. See pages iv-ix for definitions of the principles.
    • Founding Principles:
      • Consent of the Governed
      • Federalism
      • Inalienable Rights
      • Limited Government
      • Representative Government
      • Separation of Powers
  2. Next, have students from each original group jigsaw into new groups with one “expert” representing each section of the Constitution. Have students brief each other on the purposes and content of their articles and complete all columns of Handout E: A Second Study (Version 1 or 2) from the previous activity.
  3. When Handout E is completed, have each group member in turn roll the Constitution Cube like a die. Each student should then locate a quotation from any section of the Constitution that reflects the constitutional principle that s/he “rolled.” Have students share their quotations with their group members.
  4. Reconvene the class and ask individual students to share their quotations, making sure to discuss at least one reflecting each of the constitutional principles: limited government, representative government, consent of the governed, inalienable rights, separation of powers/checks and balances, and federalism.

Homework 10 min.

  1. Have each student choose one statement from Handout F: Looking Deeper at Philosophy (Version 1 or 2) and write a paragraph explaining how it reveals one or more of the principles of the Constitution.
  2. Have each student find a news story reflecting a constitutional principle and write one paragraph analyzing how it relates to that principle and, specifically, Articles I-VII of the Constitution. Have students find their article from Teaching with Current Events at www.BillofRightsInstitute.org.
  3. Have students find a newspaper editorial or letter to the editor in which the writer claims that a branch of government has exceeded its power under the Constitution. Have students consult the Constitution and write one paragraph explaining whether they believe the author of the editorial/letter is correct.
  4. Have students discuss the Constitution with their families and write a paragraph about the discussion.

Extensions

  1. Have students read the following quotations and explain how they fit into the larger Federalist/Anti- Federalist debate about adding a bill of rights to the Constitution.

    I … affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. –Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 84, 1788

    When the people of England got together, at the time they formed Magna Charta, they did not consider it sufficient, that they were indisputably entitled to certain natural and inalienable rights, not depending on silent titles, they, by a declaratory act, expressly recognized them, and explicitly declared to all the world, that they were entitled to enjoy those rights; they made an instrument in writing, and enumerated those they then thought essential, or in danger, and this wise men saw was not sufficient; and therefore, that the people might not forget these rights…Men, in some countries do not remain free, merely because they are entitled to natural and inalienable rights; men in all countries are entitled to them, not because their ancestors once got together and enumerated them on paper, but because, by repeated negotiations and declarations, all parties are brought to realize them, and of course to believe them to be sacred. – The Federal Farmer, 1788

  2. Have students conduct research on at least four other countries to compare their government’s structure to that of the United States. See Handout G: Governments Around the World for a sample matrix. Constitutions from around the world can be found at http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl.

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