This Share My Lesson collection provides teachers with free lesson plans and resources on the foundational principles of democracies, including rule of law, limited government, and checks and balances. It can be used to build background knowledge to analyze the health of our democracy over time and in today’s environment.
When does the First Amendment allow the government to limit speech? Many Americans struggle with understanding the language and subsequent interpretation of the Constitution, especially when it comes to the rights encapsulated in the First Amendment. While many Americans can agree that speech should be protected, there are disagreements over when, where, and how speech should be limited or restricted. This lesson encourages students to examine their own assumptions and to deepen their understanding of current accepted interpretation of speech rights under the First Amendment, including when and where speech is protected and/or limited. It should reinforce the robustness of the First Amendment protections of speech.
Why does the U.S. Constitution separate the government into three branches? At the nation’s founding, the Constitution’s framers understood that executive, legislative, and judicial responsibilities differed, and they provided for these distinct functions. They also believed that concentrating authority in one body would result in tyranny. They therefore divided the government into legislative, executive, and judicial branches, so that no single part would become too strong, and empowered each to limit or “check” the powers of the others. This exhibit examines Congress’s unique role and the ways in which it can balance or dynamically shape and challenge the powers of two other branches.
In a constitutional system of government, the role of the judiciary is essential for maintaining the balance of power, protecting individual rights, upholding the rule of law, interpreting the Constitution, and ensuring equal justice for all. In this lesson, students learn about the role of an independent judiciary in the United States.
In this lesson, students examine the historical context and the drafting of the First Amendment by examining the motivations of the founding generation. Students will also examine various types of “speech,” such as symbolic speech, hate speech, and political speech, to address the scope of protections promised by the First Amendment and learn that speech can only be limited when it is intended to and likely to cause imminent violence. In each instance, students will explore when the government has some authority to restrict speech; areas of consensus among scholars, judges, and citizens; the strongest constitutional arguments on each side of contested issues; and U.S. Supreme Court cases that have addressed free speech rights.
This lesson explore the principle of checks and balances by providing video clips with examples and explanations. As they view these real-world examples, students will complete a graphic organizer and use it to evaluate how effective our system of checks and balances is at limiting government.
The objective of this lesson is to help students realize that the Constitution does affect them and have them come to the conclusion that they have to be an informed citizen and be careful of the sources they use to do the research.
Students will explore the protections and limitations on authority contained in the Bill of Rights and the process by which the First Congress created it. They will do this by compiling a list of their rights as students, analyzing the Bill of Rights, and studying primary source documents to trace the origin and development of the first ten amendments. Students will then consider how the Bill of Rights might be updated to reflect 21st century circumstances. (Duration: 30–90-minute segments, up to 5 hours.)
This short video traces the evolution of James Madison’s thinking about the necessity of a Bill of Rights. While originally opposed to both a bill of rights and conditional ratification, Madison came to appreciate the political and the practical efficacy of both. Professor Jack Rakove notes that, unlike many bills of rights which use the phrase “the government ought not”, the American Bill of Rights says “the government shall not”, thus creating a set of legal commands to limit government.
Supplement your students’ understanding of voting rights in the United States with this free downloadable timeline. This visual guide breaks down the history of voting rights across identities, and gives context to efforts to expand and limit voting access over time, through the lenses of our three branches of government and our federal system.