The Constitution in Action – Origin of the Bill of Rights: Madison’s Amendments

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This lesson places students at the First Federal Congress and asks them to respond to the amendments James Madison proposed on June 8, 1789. Which of Madison’s proposals should they amend to the Constitution? Should they consider amendments proposed at state ratifying conventions as well? Whatever they decide, should amendments be placed at the end of the Constitution or woven into the body of the text, as Madison preferred?

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Bill of Rights: Debating the Amendments

In this lesson, students will examine a copy of twelve possible amendments to the United States Constitution as originally sent to the states for their ratification in September of 1789. Students will debate and vote on which of these amendments they would ratify and compare their resulting “Bill of Rights” to the ten amendments ratified by ten states that have since been known by this name.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Primary Sources
  • Subject: Legislative Branch/Congress
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitution in Action – Origin of the Bill of Rights: State Amendments

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This lesson places students at a critical moment in our nation’s founding, when Americans considered whether to ratify the Constitution. Should they agree to the document as-is, without making any changes? Students will examine and evaluate numerous amendments proposed at state ratifying conventions. Only by looking at the full sweep of amendments offered by the states can students understand the historical context of the Bill of Rights.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is on permanent display at the National Archives in Washington, DC. This original joint resolution of Congress proposed 12 amendments to the United States Constitution, but only 10 were ratified. Added to the Constitution in 1791 as the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights explicitly protected freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of assembly, among many other rights.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Voting Rights in America

The history of the amendments to the Constitution is, in one sense, a history of the expansion of certain political freedoms, including voting. At the Founding of the United States, many groups, including landless white men, slaves, free blacks, and women, could not vote. Much has changed since then. Almost a third of the amendments added to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights was ratified concern the ability to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to women, while the Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth amendments gave representation to the District of Columbia, forbid poll taxes, and lowered the voting age to 18, respectively. The passage of each of these Amendments reflected a shift towards making voting a right of all citizens, and indeed a fundamental part of citizenship.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Voting, Elections, Politics
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

19th Amendment: Free Resources on Women’s Suffrage

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United State Constitution was ratified, thus granting women the right to vote. The ratification of this amendment was a result of the powerful, unwavering momentum of hundreds of women who first convened a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. This collection provides free lessons that will help students learn more about this important time in history, highlighting important developments in not only Women’s Rights, but U.S. Civil Rights and other amendments to the Constitution.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Citizenship
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Expansion of Voting Rights

This lesson provides students with a brief overview of the historical evolution and expansion of voting rights in the United States. Students will discuss examples of previous “voting qualifications” used by states in the past to deny minorities the right to vote. They will reflect on why the right to vote is important, and appreciate the outcomes of constitutional amendments, Supreme Court decisions, and the Voting Rights Act in the expansion of this right.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Voting, Elections, Politics
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

The Amendments That Got Away

Students explore the constitutional amendment process, learn about three amendments that were not ratified, and simulate a state-level ratification process. The lesson fits into a variety of courses, including government, law, civics and history.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12