Teaching the Constitution

Expand/Collapse Teaching the Constitution


This collection includes resources that support teaching the fundamentals of the U.S. Constitution.

Students will understand the issues involved in the creation and ratification of the United States Constitution, the new government it established, and its continuing significance.

  • Separation of Powers

    The framers of the Constitution feared too much centralized power, adopting the philosophy of divide and conquer. At the national level, they created three different branches of government to administer three different types of power. The legislative branch made the laws through a Congress of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The executive branch enforced the laws through a president, vice president, and numerous executive departments such as Treasury and State. And the judicial branch interpreted the laws through a Supreme Court and other lower courts.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Federalism

    Federalism is one of the most important and innovative concepts in the U.S. Constitution, although the word never appears there.  Federalism is the sharing of power between national and state governments.  In America, the states existed first, and they struggled to create a national government.  The U. S. Constitution is hardwired with the tensions of that struggle, and Americans still debate the proper role of the national government versus the states.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Equality

    In the wake of the Civil War, three amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment made freed slaves citizens of the United States and the state wherein they lived, and the Fifteenth Amendment gave the vote to men of any race. During this time, the nation struggled with what role four million newly freed slaves would assume in American life. With the triumph of the Radical Republicans in Congress, the Constitution was amended to grant full citizenship to former slaves and promise them equal treatment under the law, a promise that took more than a century to fulfill.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Rights

    What is a right, and where does it come from? A right is a power or privilege that is recognized by tradition or law. Natural or human rights are inherent to human nature; they are not given by government, but neither does government always protect them. Legal rights are those recognized by government, but they can often be taken away as easily as they are given. Throughout U.S. history, many Americans have sought to protect natural rights with law. Indeed, rights form the core of the American experience.

    Grades: 9-12
  • 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1865) and Resource Materials

    This document includes an image of the 1865 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Constitution of the United States (1787) and Resource Materials

    This document includes images of the 1787 Constitution of the United States. Drafted in secret by delegates to the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787, this four-page document, signed on September 17, 1787, established the government of the United States.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?

    This Democracy in America activity outlines the foundation and design of the Constitution, as well as controversial "hot spots" in the historic document.

    Grades: 12-13+
  • The Constitution at Work

    In this activity, students will analyze documents that span the course of American history to determine their connection to the U.S. Constitution. Find a teacher guide to complement this activity on the DocsTeach site of the National Archives at http://docsteach.org/activities/16/detail

    Grades: 8-11
  • 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Direct Election of U.S. Senators (1913) and Resource Materials

    This is an image of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Passed by Congress May 13, 1912, and ratified April 8, 1913, the 17th amendment modified Article I, section 3, of the Constitution by allowing voters to cast direct votes for U.S. Senators. Prior to its passage, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1868) and Resource Materials

    This document includes images of the 1868 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Passed by Congress June 13, 1866, and ratified July 9, 1868, the 14th amendment extended liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1870) and Resource Materials

    This document includes an image of the 1870 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Passed by Congress on February 26, 1869, and ratified on February 3, 1870, the 15th amendment granted African American men the right to vote.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Constitution

    Teachers can use the documents and sound files in this primary sources toolkit to help students experience the four-month process of secret argument, debate and compromise that produced the Constitution of the United States. Students can view the documents, recorded notes and personal reflections of the delegates. They can read news reviews of the time. They can study a map and image of the places where these historic events occurred and can view paintings of the people involved in these events. They can view a chart, a broadside, the song lyrics and a graphical cover for a musical score. They can even listen to the words of later statesmen whose speeches record their beliefs about the duties of government and about being a U.S. citizen.

    Grades: 6-12
  • We the People

    In this activity, students will examine the original and final drafts of the Constitution and evaluate the significance of the wording differences in the Preamble. Find a teacher guide to complement this activity on the DocsTeach site of the National Archives Experience.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Election Foundations

    In this video, students are introduced to why we have presidential elections in the United States. They will learn what a constitutional democracy is and how the government gets its power from the consent of its citizens. They will understand the important principles of the U.S. Constitution, the foundations of government and the importance of civic participation.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Women's Right to Vote (1920) and Resource Materials

    Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. This resource group includes 2 primary source images, a background essay and a transcript.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Federal Income Tax (1913) and Resource Materials

    Passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913, the 16th amendment established Congress's right to impose a Federal income tax. This resource group includes 2 primary source images, a background essay and a transcript.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • A More Perfect Union

    In A More Perfect Union, Peter Sagal explores the Constitution’s most striking and innovative feature: its resilient brand of federalism. The framers created a strong national government while at the same time preserving much of the power and independence of the states.  This delicate balance of power, seemingly hard-wired for disagreement and conflict, has served America well for more than two centuries. Let's take a closer look at how it has also led to tensions throughout American history and still sparks controversy today over medical marijuana, gun control, and Obamacare.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Created Equal

    Peter Sagal explores the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” endowed with “inalienable rights,” that didn’t make it into the Constitution in 1787.  The far-reaching changes created by that amendment established new notions of citizenship, equal protection, due process, and personal liberty and today those notions are being used to fight for same sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action, and immigration reform. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • It's a Free Country

    Ask Americans what the Constitution’s most important feature is, and most will say it’s the guarantees of liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  In this episode, Peter Sagal explores the history of the Bill of Rights, and also takes on several stories ripped from the headlines, involving freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and right to privacy. Let’s take a closer look and see how freedom is defined for “We the People” as well as you the citizen.

     

    Grades: 6-12
  • We the People

    Peter Sagal travels to Iceland where leaders have decided to create a new constitution, turning to the U.S. Constitution for inspiration.  This prompts Peter to consider why our own founding document has been able to last for more than 225 years.  He looks at the systems that have kept the Constitution healthy--amendments, judicial interpretation, checks and balances —and also at the political forces that threaten to undermine the framers’ vision:  excessive partisanship leading to gridlock, money in politics, and gerrymandering.  Does our Constitution stand up to the 21st Century? Have we lost the art of democratic deliberation? 

    Grades: 6-12

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