Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Stars and Stripes Forever: Flag Facts for Flag Day

Created September 29, 2010


The Lesson


Stars and Stripes Forever: American Flag

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.

Guiding Questions

  • What is a symbol?
  • What does the symbol, our American flag, stand for?
  • Why do countries have flags?
  • Why are flags important to countries?
  • How did the design of our American flag develop to reach its present stage?
  • What do other countries' flags look like?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Tell what a symbol is and give examples of a symbol, such as the American flag.
  • Give examples of other countries and their flags.
  • Understand the relationship of city to state to country.
  • Explain how symbols relate to objects and actions, how one thing can stand for another.
  • Talk about the design of the American flag, i.e., what the colors mean, and that the 13 stripes represent the original 13 colonies.
  • Discuss the legend of Betsy Ross (1752-1836).
  • Learn about Flag Day (June 14).



Preparation Instructions

    • For the lessons in this unit, you will need a classroom flag and pictures of the American flag, which are generally available in newspapers and library resources, as well as online.
    • The resources below will provide you with appropriate photographs for activities 1 and 2. Locate them and print them out for class use. Images are available at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division online catalog and Historic American Sheet Music at Duke University Digital Libraries.
For Activity 1
  • Jimmy Carter, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, next to an American flag. (To find this image, search the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division online catalog for the exact phrase "Jimmy Carter, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, next to an American flag." The books in this photo are also a symbol, representing education.
  • Old Glory (To find this image, search Historic American Sheet Music for the exact phrase "Old Glory Goes Marching On"). Old Glory has 48 stars, representing the period from 1912 to 1959, when Alaska was admitted as the 49th state.
For Activity 2
  • Making the Flag. (To find this image, search the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division online catalog for the exact phrase "Detroit Publishing: Making the Flag")
  • Betsy Ross House. (To find this image, search the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division online catalog  for the exact phrase "Betsy Ross House in  Philadelphia"). Betsy Ross's home is located at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Stars and Stripes Forever. (To find this image, search Historic American Sheet Music for the exact phrase "Stars and Stripes Forever.") This historic sheet music includes a picture of the composer John Philip Sousa.
  • Familiarize yourself with the following background information about the American flag.
    • The colors of the flag
      The only specific reference to the three colors comes from a report by the Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson. Mr. Thomson said: "White signifies purity and innocence; Red, hardiness and valour; and Blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice." Other American writers have suggested that red stands for blood shed fighting for our country, white symbolizes loyalty, and blue, the unity of our citizens bound together as one nation. The colors also echo the colors of the British flag, and the original drafts of the flag included the Union Jack in place of the section now containing the stars.
    • The stars on the flag
      The number of stars on the flag has always represented the number of states in the Union. The original flag had 13 stars—one for each of the 13 original colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island). It then rose to 15 when Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792) were added; 20 with the admission of Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), and Mississippi (1817); and 21 with Illinois (1818). In 1818, Congress passed The Flag Act, which stipulates that the flag will always have 13 stripes, and that stars will be added for new states each July 4 only. From that point on, the flag changed frequently:


Number of StarsState and Year Admitted to Union
23Alabama (1819) and Maine (1820)
24Missouri (1821)
25Arkansas (1836)
26Michigan (1837)
28Florida and Texas (both 1845)
29Iowa (1846)
30Wisconsin (1848)
31California (1850)
32Minnesota (1858)
33Oregon (1859)
34Kansas (1861)
35West Virginia (1863)
36Nevada (1864)
37Nebraska (1867)
38Colorado (1876)
43North Dakota (1889), South Dakota (1889), Montana (1889), Washington, (1889) and Idaho (1890)
44Wyoming (1890)
45Utah (1896)
46Oklahoma (1907)
48New Mexico and Arizona (both 1912)
50Alaska and Hawaii (both 1959)


  • The stripes on the flag
    The red and white stripes represent each of the original 13 colonies. The first "Stars and Stripes" had 13 stars and 13 stripes. The U.S. Congress declared on June 14, 1777: "The flag of the United States will be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white [and] . . . the union [canton] be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."
  • Flag talk
    The flag may be alternately called a "jack" (also a reference to naval flags), an "ensign" (used by sailors referring to the flag on their ship), "standard" (used by amilitary officer or soldier; a person carrying the flag is called a standard bearer); and "colors" (a man or woman asked to serve in the military is "called to the colors" and the "colors are raised" each morning). Nicknames for the American flag are "Old Glory," the "Stars and Stripes," and the "Star-Spangled Banner." Vexilology is the study of the history of flags. A person engaged in this pursuit is called a vexilologist.
  • Flag dates
    • July 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. A new flag with stars and stripes is designed.
    • June 14, 1777: Congress passes a law making the Stars and Stripes America's official flag.
    • Sept. 13, 1814: Francis Scott Key writes "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.
    • 1818: Congress passes the Flag Act, which declares that the American flag will always have 13 stripes. Stars will be added to the canton to reflect new states only on July 4.
    • 1892: Francis Bellamy writes the Pledge of Allegiance.
    • 1916: President Woodrow Wilson proclaims June 14 as (unofficial) Flag Day.
    • 1942: Congress passes the Flag Code, which lists the rules and proper etiquette for handling the American flag.
    • Aug. 3, 1949: President Harry Truman signs congressional legislation making June 14 National Flag Day.

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.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The American Flag: A Symbol of Our Country

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:

  • What are the colors of our flag? What do the colors mean (represent)?
  • What are the parts of our flag called?
  • How many stars can we count on the canton? What do the 50 stars represent?
  • What daily activity do we do in school that shows how important the American flag is to us?
  • Where else do we see the American flag? (At the post office, White House, office buildings, government buildings, cemeteries, and so on.)

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:

  • The 50 state flags.
  • The flag of the President of the United States.
  • The Bald Eagle, the national bird.
  • "Uncle Sam," from the famous "I Want You!" World War I recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg.

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.

Activity 2. The History of the American Flag and Flag Day

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:

  • One (8 ½ x 11") sheet white paper
  • One 8 ½ x 11") sheet blue construction paper
  • Two (2" wide) pre-cut strips of red construction paper (one 8 ½", one 11" length)
  • Two (2" wide) pre-cut strips of white construction paper (both 14" or more in length, to be trimmed when glued)

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 the Library of Congress (search "Betsy Ross", selecting the "Photos, Prints, and Drawings" format), 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:

  • The flag should be raised swiftly and lowered with respect, being sure to "catch" the flag so that no part of it touches the ground.
  • The flag should be displayed at the entrance of every school and government building, such as post offices, city halls, and so on. (Have students identify where in their community they see the flag displayed.)
  • The flag should be displayed at polling locations on Election Day.
  • The flag should be displayed during daylight hours, if the weather is good, especially on government holidays. (An all-weather flag should be used when weather is inclement.)
  • The flag may be flown at night only if it is illuminated. (The White House illuminates its flag.)
  • In the U.S., no other flag may be flown higher than the American flag. (The one exception to this rule is at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.)
  • The flag should have nothing added or attached to it.
  • The flag should never be dipped, or bow for any reason. When the flag is carried in a parade, or grouped with other flags, the American flag must be to the right of the other flags.
  • According to our Flag Code, the only time that the American flag may be flown upside down is to signal great danger; this is the sign of distress.
  • The Flag Code also explains how to properly fold our flag.
Activity 3. The Pledge of Allegiance (optional Activity for grade 2)

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:

  • Pledge -- promise
  • Allegiance -- loyalty, faithfulness, devotion
  • United States of America -- our country (you may wish to display a U.S. map that shows the 48 contiguous states as well as Alaska and Hawaii)
  • Republic -- a political unit (the U.S.) where people are elected (such as senators) to exercise the power of the people and to make decisions for the people
  • Stands -- is a symbol (distinguish between the meaning of "stands" as representing versus upright posture)
  • Nation -- a group of people who function under one government
  • Indivisible -- not able to be divided
  • Liberty -- freedom, the state of being free of slavery, the ability to exercise your own judgment and make your own decisions
  • Justice -- fair treatment for all
  • For all -- refers to every citizen of the U.S.

Extending The Lesson

  • Have students design a flag to represent themselves and their own identity. Ask students to bring in objects that are symbols in their lives, their families, or their traditions, which would be appropriate for creating a flag. Ask students to name words they would use to describe themselves, and then ask them to name objects that might represent these qualities. Student flags could include photos or drawings of themselves, family members, friends, or pets; items signifying favorite sports or activities; favorite colors, etc. Display students' flags for the class to see and ask each student to explain the symbols that are represented on his/her flag.
  • Have the students make a joint flag to represent the class, incorporating symbols into a design. (If you wish, students could work in small groups for this assignment, rather than as a whole class.) After the project is completed, ask students about the experience of collaborating and working on a project together. Help students compare their experience to the story of Betsy Ross creating the first flag, with contributions from George Washington and Francis Hopkinson (and perhaps others as well).
  • Ask students about their family's cultural heritage. What countries did students' ancestors come from? Point out the countries on a world map and show the class a picture of each country's flag, using an encyclopedia or other resource. How is each flag alike and different from the American flag? Do any students' families fly a flag at home that represents their heritage? What do those flags represent to students?

Other activities that can be used to extend these lessons include:

  • Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Finding photos of the American flag and other flags.
  • Participating in Flag Day activities and other events at which the flag is prominent, including sports activities, holiday parades, school or club events, or other activities.


Other Resources:
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.

  • Armbruster, Ann.The American Flag. New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.
  • Ayer, Eleanor. Our Flag. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992.
  • Fradin, Dennis. The Flag of the United States. Chicago: Children's Press, 1990.
  • Haban, Rita. How Proudly They Wave: Flags of the Fifty States. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1989.
  • Kent, Deborah. The Star-Spangled Banner. Chicago: Children's Press, 1995.
  • Mayer, Albert. The Story of Old Glory. Chicago: Children's Press, 1970.
  • Mayer, Jane. Betsy Ross and the Flag. New York: Random House, 1952.
  • Quiri, Patricia Ryon.The American Flag. New York: Children's Press, 1998.
  • Swanson, June. I Pledge Allegiance. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Books, 1991.
  • White, David. >The Great Book of Flags. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Publishing, 1991.
  • Williams, Earl P. What You Should Know About the American Flag. Lanham, MD: Maryland Historical Press, 1987.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Folklore
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • Art and Culture
  • Analysis
  • Literary analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Visual analysis