Founding Documents: The Meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

On June 8, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to write a declaration of independence. It named a committee to do the writing. One of its members was Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer from Virginia. He had been a leader in Virginia, and Virginia had elected him to the Continental Congress. The others on the committee were too busy with the revolution to work on the declaration, so Jefferson wrote it alone.

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

Learning about the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

This resource provides students with an English language video and associated student friendly readings (in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole), as well as reading and video guides and self assessment tools. Using these, students will explore the meaning and importance of the Preamble.
Free registration is required to use the resource.

  • Resource Type: Assessments, Descriptive Text, ESL Appropriate, ESL Materials, Quizzes, Translated Materials, Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

We the People: An Analysis of the Constitution

Students will recognize the different parts of the U.S. Constitution and conduct a close text reading to discover the meaning and significance of each part. In the main activities, they will analyze the way in which the document balances the workings of the government with the rights of the individual. The Lesson Extensions will support these analyses with text-based evidence from primary text sources.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8

George Washington and the Presidency

This short video highlights the crucial role played by George Washington in writing upon the “blank slate” of the Constitution. Washington was self-conscious about the importance of establishing principled precedents in his interpretation of Article II and what it said—or did not say—about the extent of executive power. According to Professor W. B. Allen, Washington was “conscious and deliberate” as he and his advisors gave meaning to the outline of the Constitution.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 11, 12

Martin’s Big Words

In this lesson, students will experience unequal treatment first hand – some will receive a sticker based on an arbitrary characteristic, like hair color – and by discussing their reactions, they will come to understand the meaning of equality. Students will learn about the life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King and write about what his dream for equality means in their own lives.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Realizing the Dream Today

Students will analyze a political cartoon depicting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the title of his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Discussion of the meaning of the cartoon leads into a more general conversation about rights and equality.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Legislative Branch/Congress
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Right to Counsel

In this lesson, students will look at the various dimensions of right to counsel. They will study how the meaning of this right has evolved over time with reference to specific landmark United States Supreme Court cases. Students will develop lists of reasons why such a right is important to the functioning of the adversary process. The lesson ends with an examination of the role of the criminal attorney.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

The Meaning of America

What kind of citizens are likely to emerge in a nation founded on individual rights, equality, and freedom of religion? What virtues are required for a robust citizenry? The Meaning of America, a ten-part curriculum, explores American character and identity through the use of imaginative fiction. Includes short stories by Jack London, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, and Kurt Vonnegut. Discussion guides and video model conversations. Common Core-aligned.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Media, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources, Video
  • Subject: Citizenship
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12