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EDSITEment Lesson Plans on the Constitution

The President’s Roles and Responsibilities: Understanding the President’s Job (K-2)

In order to become informed participants in a democracy, students must learn about the women and men who make decisions concerning their lives, their country, and the world. The president of the United States is one such leader. As a nation, we place no greater responsibility on any one individual than we do on the president. Through these lessons, students learn about the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. president and their own roles as citizens of a democracy.

Balancing Three Branches at Once: Our System of Checks and Balances (3-5)

One of the most persistent and overarching complaints the American colonists had about the rule of the British monarchy was the extent of its power. One of the most persistent and overarching complaints about the early government of the U.S. under the Articles of Confederation was the weakness of the federal government. Attempting to form a more perfect union, the framers of the Constitution designed a government that clearly assigned power to three branches, while at the same time guaranteeing that the power of any branch could be checked by another.

The Preamble to the Constitution: How Do You Make a More Perfect Union? (3-5)

With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the U.S. firmly established itself as an independent nation. Six years later, in 1789, George Washington was elected the first President, initiating the form of government, based on the Constitution, that we recognize today.

Before 1789, the young nation had been ruled by the Articles of Confederation, written in 1781 in reaction to years of British rule. By 1787, however, it was clear that a more perfect Union was required; while protecting the independence of member states, the Articles of Confederation did not describe the powers of a federal chief executive or a judicial system. The creation of our Constitution and present form of government was informed by these and other considerations that arose during the years of the Confederation.

Archival materials and other resources available through EDSITEment-reviewed websites can help your students begin to understand why the Founders felt a need to establish a more perfect Union and how they proposed to accomplish such a weighty task.

Before and Beyond the Constitution: What Should a President Do

At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as "His Excellency." Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.

In this curriculum unit, students look at the role of President as defined in the Constitution and consider the precedent-setting accomplishments of George Washington.

The Constitutional Convention: What the Founding Fathers Said

In the course of over two centuries since the nation's founding, the Constitution of the United States has become an iconic document for many Americans, who may with difficulty imagine real people piecing it together detail by painstaking detail through meetings, discussions, committee work, and compromise. Yet we have good records of those proceedings. By means of such records, among them James Madison's extensive notes, we can witness the unfolding drama of the Constitutional Convention and the contributions of those whom we have come to know as the Founding Fathers: Madison, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and others who played major roles in founding a new nation.

What were some of the conflicts debated in the meetings and discussions that led to the creation of the Constitution of the United States? What interests and passions drove those conflicts—and to what shared principles did the Founders appeal as they struggled to reach a compromise? In this lesson, students will learn how the Founding Fathers debated, then resolved, their differences in the Constitution. Learn through their words and the words of others how the Founding Fathers created "a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise" (From The Charters of Freedom on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom).

The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met (6-8)

We have come to know as the Founding Fathers: James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, There were others, however, less well known now but who also played major roles in founding the new nation.

Four such "others" are the subject of this lesson. Here, you'll introduce your students to four key, but relatively unknown, contributors to the U.S. Constitution-Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, William Paterson, and Edmund Randolph.

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The Federalist Debates: Balancing Power Between State and Federal Governments (6-8)

This series of activities introduces students to one of the most hotly debated issues during the formation of the American government—how much power the federal government should have—or alternatively, how much liberty states and citizens should have. The lesson begins by tracing the U.S. federal system of government to its roots, established by America's Founding Fathers in the late 18th century, highlighting the controversial issue of state sovereignty versus federal power. Students compare the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, analyzing why weaknesses in the former led to the creation of the latter. Then they examine the resulting system of government formed by the Constitution, investigating the relationship between federal and state governments as they exist today. Finally, students reflect back on history and argue whether they believe Hamilton or Jefferson had the more enduring vision for America.

James Madison: From Father of the Constitution to President

Even in its first 30 years of existence, the U.S. Constitution had to prove its durability and flexibility in a variety of disputes. More often than not, James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," took part in the discussion. Madison had been present at the document's birth as the mastermind behind the so-called Virginia Plan. He had worked tirelessly for its ratification including authoring 29 Federalist Papers, and he continued to be a concerned guardian of the Constitution as it matured. However, it should be noted that Madison chose not to allow his notes from the Constitutional Convention to be published until after his death.

Jefferson vs. Franklin: Revolutionary Philosophers (6-8)

Have Benjamin Franklin's philosophical contributions to the early development of our government been overlooked? He was, of course, a member of the committee that worked on the Declaration of Independence, but did you know he had already penned his own "virtual declaration of independence" one year earlier? Franklin is widely known as the "Sage of the Constitutional Convention," but few know he had written a precursor to the Constitution in 1754, more than 30 years earlier! Thomas Jefferson is credited as the author the Declaration of Independence, a grand achievement. But, though Jefferson alone composed the draft of the Declaration, even he admitted in 1823, "…Before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections."

Both Jefferson and Franklin were critical in injecting into the debates of the Founding Fathers vital philosophical and political ideas. Jefferson's contributions are more widely recognized. Has Franklin, the only one of the two who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, been unfairly disregarded as a significant philosopher of the American Revolution?

The Supreme Court: The Judicial Power of the United States

The federal judiciary, which includes the Supreme Court as well as the district and circuit courts, is one of three branches of the federal government. The judiciary has played a key role in American history and remains a powerful voice in resolving contemporary controversies. The first governing document of this nation, the Articles of Confederation, gave Congress certain judicial powers, but did not establish a distinct federal court system. During the Philadelphia Convention, discussion of a federal judiciary was not a critical part of the deliberations that led to the creation of the Constitution. However, debate over the exact nature and role of the federal judiciary did begin in the Constitutional Convention and continue through the ratification process and into the early years of the Republic.

This lesson provides an introduction to the Supreme Court. Students will learn basic facts about the Supreme Court by examining the United States Constitution and one of the landmark cases decided by that court. The lesson is designed to help students understand how the Supreme Court operates.

EDSITEment Monthly Features on the Constitution

September 2005, This Month’s Feature: The Constitution of the United States of America

September 17th is Constitution Day, commemorating the day in 1787 when the Founding Fathers signed one of America’s most important documents. The United States Constitution is the oldest written national constitution still in operation, and many of the nations that have established themselves in the decades since that day in 1787 have turned to this document as a model for their own constitutions. As a document which defines the structure of our Federal government and delineates the rights of the states within the union, and individual citizens within the nation, the Constitution has become a symbol to Americans and to the world of the American government and way of life. What better way to celebrate this important document, its place within our society, and within our history, than to investigate the words of this document up close. Teachers, parents, caregivers, and students, jump on board for a tour of the United States Constitution!

Freedom of Speech Week

Constitution Day, September 17

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The Bill of Rights was added as the first ten amendments to the new United States Constitution, and the first amendment guaranteed the right to freedom of speech.