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Constitution Day lessons and resources

How will you recognize Constitution Day in your classroom? Education World has gathered resources that will help you find the perfect way -- whether you teach kindergarten or college. Dozens of lesson ideas and other resources provide the tools you will need to recognize Constitution Day this year and in years to come.

All schools that receive federal monies must "hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution on September 17 of each year." (If September 17 is on a weekend day, schools must recognize Constitution Day the week before or after.)

U.S. Constitution:
A brief history

In 1787, the Constitutional Congress held its final meeting on September 17. After months of painstaking work, they met to sign the Constitution of the United States of America. Of course much remained to be done; the states still had to vote to ratify. It wouldn't be until two years later -- on March 4, 1789 -- that the first U.S. Congress met at Federal Hall in New York City to declare the new Constitution to be in effect.

For that reason, Education World has gathered resources that should help you figure out just how you might recognize the day. Below you will find links to dozens of lesson ideas and other resources that should provide the tools you will need to recognize Constitution Day this year and in years to come.

Best resources online

Before we get to the lesson plans, let's take a look at some of the best online resources for teaching about the U.S. Constitution.

The National Archives
Any study of the U.S. Constitution should begin with the resources of The National Archives. The National Archives, which is the home of the original copy of the U.S. Constitution, has been recognizing Constitution Day for many years. Their resources include actual images of the U.S. Constitution. You can view the images or click the Read Transcript button for a text version. The site also offers a clear and readable history of the creation of the Constitution, The Charters of Freedom: A New World Is at Hand, and biographies of the participants. A long list of questions and answers about the Constitution will help anyone better understand this historic document.

Constitution Day Implementation Guide
A Constitution Day Implementation Guide [archived copy] from NASPA (an association of student affairs administrators in higher education) offers excellent suggestions for Constitution Day programming. In addition to very doable programming suggestions, the guide includes background information on Constitution Day, statistics regarding constitutional knowledge vs. pop culture, and links to additional resources.

In words you can understand
Do your students (or you) get bogged down in the terminology of the Constitution? Two online resources aim to help you clear the fog. The National Constitution Center offers an Interactive Constitution. Click on any of the images at the top of the page to read an explanation of an article or amendment. Also try this Constitution Guide; click on any article or amendment, then click the words What It Means for a straightforward explanation.

A definitive timeline
In Centuries of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline, the National Constitution Center offers a detailed description of the days leading up to the Constitutional Convention all the way to the latest challenges to it.

Creating a Constitution gallery
The Library of Congress's American Memory Collection offers a rich collection of images related to the Constitution in their Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention of 1774-1779.

What students
should know
about the
U.S. Constitution

What should your students know about the U.S. Constitution? The U.S. Constitution Online offers these documents that might guide you. The documents detail key ideas that students across the grades should know about the Constitution.
--- The Constitution for Kids: Grades K-3
--- The Constitution for Kids: Grades 4-7
--- The Constitution for Kids: Grades 8-12

Lessons from the Education World archive

If you're looking to bring the creation of the U.S. Constitution to life in your classroom, why not assign each student to be one of the signers of the Constitution. Have them research their namesakes and write their own brief "autobiographies." Then the student-signers can gather with other members of their state delegations to learn more about their state's role in the ratification of the document.

If your Constitution Day activities will not be that involved, Education World offers many alternative ideas. Check out some of these.

Interview with the signers of the Constitution
Students work in small groups to develop three questions that a newspaper reporter assigned to cover the signing of the Constitution might have asked signers George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. (Grades 5-12)

Charting the three branches of government
Students work in groups to create charts showing the structure and functions of the three branches of government as outlined in the first three articles to the Constitution. (Grades 5-12)

More lessons
caught on the Net

The "Net" is full of resources to help you teach about the U.S. Constitution. We caught a couple dozen great lesson ideas when we went trolling the other day. Click here for a complete list of those lesson plans.

Create a new amendment
Students gain a greater understanding of the amendments to the Constitution. After studying the amendments to the Constitution, students propose a new amendment. (Grades 5-12)

Presidential powers
Students study the section of the Constitution that refers to the executive branch and write a proposal for a new power for the president.

Explaining the Bill of Rights
Students work in groups to rewrite the Bill of Rights in their own words. (Grades 5-12)

President James Madison: Father of the U.S. Constitution
Find ten errors of spelling, grammar, or punctuation in this paragraph about President James Madison. Printable work sheet included. (Grades 3-8)

More lessons

The Internet is full of resources to help you teach about the U.S. Constitution. We found a couple dozen great lesson ideas when we went surfing the other day. Click here for a complete list of those lesson plans.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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Last updated 04/10/2016