Sunday, September 7, 2014

Constitution Day {classroom ideas, crafts, lessons, books, pictures, tips, videos and more}

Did you know that on September 17th ALL teachers in schools that receive government funding are required to teach about the Constitution? 

Here's the thing...I don't typically get into the debates over politics and about how the people making these laws and policies aren't teachers, but this certainly falls into that category. Do I think the Constitution is important? Of course. Should children learn about it? Sure. Do I see why they picked September 17th as the day that we must teach a random lesson? Yes (It's the day the Constitution was signed).

While I do understand the thought behind it, as teachers we know that it is not considered best practice to randomly teach an isolated lesson about a topic that requires a great deal of background (much less attempt such a task only a couple of weeks into the school year). In the past I scrambled to find something to fulfill my obligation as Constitution Day ALWAYS snuck up on me. It seemed the same was true for many of my public school teacher friends so I knew it was time to plan ahead and create something useful for a spectrum of grade levels.

The final result was a 50+ page packet for grades K-5 with a choice of different activities included. There is certainly something for all abilities and levels and can be used year after year (even if you change grade levels).

{Click to access and download the Constitution Day Packet}
{Click to access and download the Constitution Day Packet}

I'm  really looking forward to doing the included Classroom Constitution lesson this week as I feel it will be an awesome community-building activity AND will make the upcoming Constitution Day lessons have so much more meaning to them. If you have already developed a set of  "classroom rules" you can still do this by discussing how the established rules have been working for the class and making the focus be on Amendments.
I decided to try something new this year. Because students don't typically have a lot of schema about the Constitution and since we are required to teach a lesson about it so early in the year, I am planning to create a Classroom Constitution in place of the traditional "Let's make a set of class rules together" lesson. I'll be teaching it this week and will blog about it next weekend (the full directions are already included in the packet), but the basic idea is that they will work together to draft a document that outlines the expectations in the classroom. It will include related vocabulary such as Preamble, Articles, and Bill of Rights...and best of all...we will make amendments to it. 

I drafted a one page summary explaining the Constitution in kid-friendly terms. It's a great guide for teachers and students to help understand the basics. There are two graphic organizers included. These are helpful for recording information as the students learn about the Constitution, as planners for a writing project on the topic or they can be used as a culmination activity to assess student understanding.

The Preamble activity can be differentiated for use with Kindergarten through upper elementary. It was designed to help students understand what the words and phrases mean and includes an overview for teachers, a choice of a poster or a flap booklet for students to put the preamble into their own terms, a colorful title for a classroom chart along with labeled cards for students to either illustrate (younger learners) or explain in words and/or pictures (older learners). The idea is to assemble these onto chart paper using the included title to create a super-simple display.
These themed pages can be used with the included prompts or any prompt you select and are differentiated to meet the varied needs of your learners. They include drawing paper, head line/midline/baseline paper with room to illustrate, and lined paper for older learners.

This section contains two different versions. The first includes the wording of each amendment with an explanation of what it means and the second includes the wording of each amendment with space for the student to explain what it means. Both include space to record their thoughts in either words of pictures. These can be used to have each student complete a book of his own or as a collaborative project to make a class book or display. A cover is included.

Show the students the video titled, The Preamble to the Consitution which is part of the Schoolhouse Rock! DVD . I highly recommend this DVD as it includes every School House Rocks video ever created. While they are old, they truly engage the kids and are so short that they can be incorporated into so many lessons. We use them for grammar, science, social studies and more.

Although it is a bit harder to find, your friends may also enjoy The Birth of The Constitution:This is America Charlie Brown [VHS] which (like it's Pilgrim and Thanksgiving video) includes a surprising amount of actual content at a level kids understand.

If you or your school has a subscription to Brain Pop you could show the video they created to teach about The Constitution as well.

  • As an extension, have your students complete a "House Constitution" at home with their families.
  • Host a classroom discussion about the Constitution by asking open ended questions such as "What would happen if there were no laws?"
  • Gather a collection of books for the students to read during self-selected reading (see list below for ideas)
  • Have students complete a biography project on one of the Framers who were influential in creating the Constitution.
  • Make a timeline of the events leading up to the signing of the Constitution.
  • Have students create artwork or practice writing their names with feathers dipped in ink.
  • Create a word collage of vocabulary that relates to the Constitution.
{original sources  - clockwise: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4}

Me on The Map is one of my all-time best-selling products. It would be a wonderful way to help students understand that they are citizens of the United States, prior to learning about the Constitution.

Biography Activities to Use when Studying Anyone contains a variety of mini-projects that are extremely open-ended because they can be applied to anyone. They are perfect when learning about historical figures, but I also like to use them to have the kids complete autobiography projects about themselves. You could use any of the activities in the packet to study the Founding Fathers who created the Constitution.

I use my Living Biography Museum packet as part of our biography unit. Again it would be a great enrichment activity when learning about the men involved in the creation of the Constitution.

If you are looking to integrate some science and social studies then Ben Franklin is the dude for you. He is my favorite person to research with the kids because he did so much. We learn about him at the same time we are covering science and electricity in science. It will be nice to have the connection to the Constitution as well.

Because Constitution Day falls early in the school year, your students may not yet be skilled in having discussions that require them to state and support their opinion. You might find my Common Core Opinion Paragraph of the Week to be helpful in developing those skills for future discussions. {It is also available as a bundle with my Common Core Narrative Paragraph of the Week}.

Coming soon! Check back soon as I will be updating when I complete the activities in my classroom.

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