Did you know that the original Pledge of Allegiance did not contain the phrase "of America"? In 1923, the words were added to avoid confusion among immigrants as to which country they were pledging their allegiance! The pledge was officially amended again on June 14, 1954, by a joint resolution of Congress approved by President Eisenhower, to read "one nation under God." But no matter how it has changed over the years, the pledge has remained a time-honored salute to the American flag, one of our most cherished national symbols.
In this unit, students will learn what a symbol is and how this particular symbol—the American flag—is an important part of our everyday lives. Learning the history of the flag will help instill in students respect for our national symbol and help them learn appropriate etiquette regarding our flag. Students will learn that other symbols of our country, such as the president and certain holidays, like Flag Day, are important to us as well. Students can also contribute symbols from their familial, ethnic and national cultures to show the diversity of American society and its links to other parts of the world.
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to:
|Number of Stars||State and Year Admitted to Union|
|23||Alabama (1819) and Maine (1820)|
|28||Florida and Texas (both 1845)|
|35||West Virginia (1863)|
|43||North Dakota (1889), South Dakota (1889), Montana (1889), Washington, (1889) and Idaho (1890)|
|48||New Mexico and Arizona (both 1912)|
|50||Alaska and Hawaii (both 1959)|
Note to the teacher: These lessons introduce students to different countries and help them learn about the different entities of nation, state, and city, which all might have their own flags. The lessons employ visual as well as auditory and oral skills. Fine motor skills are utilized in cutting and pasting activities and in coloring, though ability to use detail will be determined by grade levels and skills within each grade. Multi-modal lessons encourage students with special needs to use their skill strengths in responding within each lesson format.
Begin by explaining to students that they will discover what a symbol is (something that stands for, or represents, something else). You might start the discussion by talking about symbols you use in the classroom — perhaps a smiley face or gold star that is awarded for good behavior or good work in the classroom. Students who participate in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or those who play on a sports team may have uniforms — a uniform is also a symbol, and a way of tying people together.
Ask students to identify other symbols they notice in the classroom or throughout the school. As they name symbols, list their answers in a chart on the board. Then ask students to describe what each of these symbols stands for, and add their descriptions to the chart. The American flag should emerge as a symbol during this discussion; begin to turn the conversation to focus on the flag and what it represents to students.
Use the following questions to help guide class discussion:
Through the discussion, help students to discover that the American flag is an important symbol for many people throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. A country's flag is a source of cultural or national pride and a feeling of being part of something — sort of like a team or a club.
Other U.S. symbols are:
To conclude this lesson, students can draw and color the American flag, color a pre-drawn flag, or create a cut-and-paste flag using construction paper. Remind students that the seven red stripes should be pasted in alternate patterns (beginning with four short red stripes and ending with three long red stripes). The blue canton should be colored or glued on last and then stars drawn (small circles in white chalk may be drawn to represent stars) or pasted onto it.
Introduce this lesson by saying that our American flag did not always look like it does today. Share with children the changes to our flag's canton as new states were added to the Union. Images of the complete history of official U.S. flags, from the first 13-star flag to today's 50-star flag, can be found on the United States Flag page, available through a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library. This resource also includes images of the state flags of the U.S. and several flags used during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. (Note: Many of the books included in the Resources section, below, include images of the first official flag with 13 stars, as well as the 48-star flag.)
The colors red, white, and blue come from the joining of two flags—St. George's Cross (England, 1200s), a simple red cross on a white background, and St. Andrew's Cross (Scotland, 1200s), a white cross placed like an X, corner to corner, on a blue background. In 1606, after England and Scotland had joined together, the new flag, the Union Jack, became the first official flag of Great Britain.
Provide children with the following:
With students imitating teacher's model, place red strips horizontally and vertically at center of white paper, to make the St. George's Cross. On the blue construction paper, students will place white pre-cut strips corner to corner and glue strips down, to make the St. Andrew's Cross.
After appropriate discussion of differences in crosses and the identification of the countries associated with these crosses on either a world map or map of Europe, students should glue the red strips in horizontal and vertical positions over the St. Andrew's Cross to make the Union Jack. This activity confirms the colors of our American flag and provides some history as to how our flag came to be red, white, and blue.
The first colony, Virginia, was founded in 1607 by settlers from England. The Union Jack was flown for about 150 years over the original 13 colonies. In 1775, a Revolutionary War broke out between the 13 colonies, which wanted to make their own laws, and Great Britain. The members of the 13 colonies (called colonists) declared their independence (freedom) from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. Many different symbols were used on the colonists' early flags, which were flown during their fight for freedom. One symbol was the pine tree for strength. Another was the rattlesnake (the "Don't Tread on Me" flag, which means "Don't abuse my rights"). On June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes became America's official flag with this declaration by Congress:
Resolved, That the Flag of the United States be
thirteen stripes alternate red and white,
that the Union be thirteen stars white on a blue field
representing a new constellation.
Using the images from American Memory, introduce the legend of Betsy Ross. Discuss with students the meaning of the word legend (an unverifiable story handed down from the past).
Who made the first Stars and Stripes flag? No one knows for sure, but Americans are familiar with the story of Betsy Ross, a seamstress from Philadelphia. It is said that, in 1776, George Washington visited Mrs. Ross and showed her a sketch of a possible flag. The design showed 13 red and white stripes with 13 six-pointed stars (called estoiles) set in a circle. Red stood for courage or bravery, white stood for purity or goodness, and blue stood for justice. The colors of the flag are symbols, too.
According to legend, the only suggestion that Mrs. Ross made about the flag design was to have a five-pointed star (called a mullet), rather than a six-pointed star. She supposedly made the first flag of wool bunting. Historians cannot say for sure that Mrs. Ross made the first Stars and Stripes; however, records do confirm that Mrs. Ross, a seamstress by trade, was paid for making a flag for the Philadelphia navy in May 1777. The legend of Betsy Ross was started in a speech made by her grandson, William J. Canby, in 1870. This story has made Betsy Ross one of our national heroines. (In 1952, the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp with Betsy Ross' picture on it.)
Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, felt that he was the designer of the flag, and that he should be paid by Congress for his design. Congress did not pay him, saying that many people had contributed to the design. The design used the red and white stripes from earlier flags, but added stars, which is an idea that may have come from Hopkinson. In his library, historians have found his bookplate with the Hopkinson family seal. In the center of the family seal are three six-pointed stars.
On August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman signed legislation making June 14 of each year National Flag Day. This is a day designated for all Americans to celebrate our flag's birthday together, but it is not a federal holiday. If school is still in session on June 14, flag etiquette can be discussed and practiced:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag
Of the United States of America,
And to the Republic for which it stands,
One Nation under God, indivisible.
With liberty and justice for all.
The following basic definitions of these words are generally suited to children of this grade level:
Other activities that can be used to extend these lessons include:
The following suggested titles are available at many public and school libraries, in the children's sections. Each contains numerous photos that are appropriate to these lessons. Many of these books are appropriate as "read aloud" stories for children. It is suggested that teachers also contact their school media specialist for additional titles and resources.
2 class periods