The American Founding: The Bill of Rights

This comprehensive, multimedia online exhibit features a trove of resources on the Bill of Rights. Part I contains the English, Colonial, State, and Continental origins of the Bill of Rights; Part II features the Federalist/Antifederalist Debate over the Bill of Rights; and Part III explains the politics of the Bill of Rights in the First Congress through its adoption.

  • Resource Type: Audio, Interactives, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources, Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Natural Rights, Citizenship Rights, State Rights, and Black Rights: Another Look at Lincoln and Race

In the real world, the ability of free blacks to enjoy their natural rights and exercise the privileges and immunities of citizenship depended on the states where they actually lived. When those states imposed a raft of legal discriminations on free blacks they cheapened the meaning of freedom and discounted the value of citizenship. I suspect this bothered Lincoln, but it wasn’t his issue. It would take other men and women, and another century of struggle, before “states rights” was abolished.

  • Resource Type: Essays, 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

James Madison and the Bill of Rights

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.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 11, 12

Do I Have a Right?: Bill of Rights Edition (Game and Teacher Guide)

In the Bill of Rights edition of Do I Have a Right? your students run a law firm that specializes in constitutional law, specifically the rights protected in the Bill of Rights. Clients bring various complaints, and students must identify if they “have a right.” As students successfully resolve cases by matching them with the correct attorneys, their law firm grows along with the skills of their lawyers.

  • Resource Type: Games, Interactives
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

Creation of the Bill of Rights: “Retouching the Canvas”

This lesson will focus on the arguments either for or against the addition of a Bill of Rights between 1787 and 1789. By examining the views of prominent Americans in original documents, students will see that the issue at the heart of the debate was whether a Bill of Rights was necessary to secure and fulfill the objects of the American Revolution and the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Students will also gain an understanding of the origins of the Bill of Rights and how it came to be part of what Thomas Jefferson called “the American mind,” as well as a greater awareness of the difficulties that proponents had to overcome in order to add the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.

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

Teaching With Current Events

Read breaking news related to the Bill of Rights, gathered by Institute staff every school day, from reputable news sources across the country. Our news stories are chosen with young people in mind and on the basis of ease of use in the classroom, clarity of the constitutional issue, and neutral presentation.

  • Resource Type: Media, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

César Chávez Collection

On March 31, we celebrate César Chávez Day. Chávez, a civil rights and labor activist, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union and used nonviolent protests to fight for the rights of laborers. The Share My Lesson team has identified lesson plans and resources you can use in your classes to help teach your students about César Chávez.

  • Resource Type: Audio, Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 5, 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

Dialogue on the Fourteenth Amendment

The American Bar Association Dialogue program provides lawyers, judges and teachers with the resources they need to engage students and community members in a discussion of fundamental American legal principles and civic traditions. This Dialogue on the Fourteenth Amendment is composed of three parts:
Part 1: Equal Protection and Civil Rights – Participants discuss the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and consider how Congress, through federal legislation, has worked to help realize its constitutional promise.
Part 2: Incorporating the Bill of Rights examines the concept of incorporation. Using a case study of Gitlow v. New York, this section provides a guide to how courts have applied the Bill of Rights, selectively, to the states using the 14th Amendment.
Part 3: Ensuring Equality and Liberty explores how the 14th Amendment has been interpreted by courts to protect fundamental freedoms, including individuals’ right to marry.

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