When crafting the Constitution, one of the central concerns of the Founding generation was how best to control government power. With the new Constitution, the Framers looked to strike an important balance—creating a new national government that was more powerful than the one that came before it while still protecting the American people’s most cherished liberties. They settled on a national government with defined but limited powers. Instead of placing authority in the hands of a single person (like a king), a small group of people (like an aristocracy), or even the whole people (like a direct democracy), the Framers divided power in two ways. At the national level, the Framers divided power between the three branches of government—the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. This process of dividing power between different branches of government is called the separation of powers. From there, the Framers further divided power between the national government and the states under a system known as federalism. In this module, students will explore the key functions of the different parts of government and the role that the Constitution plays in controlling government power.
After wearing black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War, three students – two of them siblings – were suspended by the Des Moines Independent Community School District for disrupting learning. The parents of the children sued the school for violating the children’s rights to free speech. The landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Districtdetermined it was a First Amendment violation for public schools to punish students for expressing themselves in certain circumstances. This lesson uses expert analysis, perspectives from the Tinkers, oral arguments and archival video to explore the case and the legacy of the ruling.
Civics 101 Podcast has partnered with Retro Report to create a series to prepare students and educators for the 2022 midterm elections. The series includes six podcasts and links to associated resources, as well as links to videos and lesson plans from Retro Report on historic midterms (1966 and 1994) in addition to activities on gerrymandering, realignment, everything you could possibly want that is midterm-related. Here is a link to Retro Report’s complete midterm collection.
These podcasts and videos can be used in class, on a walk, or at home. Each podcast comes with a transcript and graphic organizer for students to write on while listening.
In March of 1965, civil rights activists and religious leaders marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand African Americans be given the right to vote. In this lesson, students will hear about the factors that contributed to the marches that occurred in Selma as well as visit key locations in the area and view archived video of the events that unfolded.
The Supreme Court’s decision in this case was seen as trailblazing. It struck down legislation aimed at closing Chinese-operated laundries in San Francisco and guaranteed noncitizens the Constitution’s protections. It was the first case to use the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits states from denying any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled laws with discriminatory intent were unconstitutional. This landmark case has been cited over 150 times since the Court’s decision.
This lesson plan opens with reflective questions that ask students to consider their prior knowledge of Supreme Court justices and how many have been women. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to an introductory video that details the impetus for law professor Renee Knake Jefferson’s co-authoring of “Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court.” Next, students explore two clips that include President Richard Nixon’s shortlisting of two women for the Supreme Court and how gender diversity on the U.S. Supreme and state courts compare to courts in other democracies. Students then engage in a choice board exploration activity, where they choose to study four of nine different topics. The lesson concludes with a reflective prompt and offers an optional extension activity.
Throughout history, U.S. presidents have carved out their relationships with the press. In this lesson, students will hear from author and historian Harold Holzer as he discusses how several presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump, navigated their interactions with the media and implemented strategies to communicate with the press, some of which are still used today.
The 1st Amendment to the Constitution provides for freedoms: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. This lesson has students examine the concepts of these freedoms through a variety of perspectives and explore current examples through video-based resources. This lesson works well in classes with one-to-one devices or could be adapted to fit a flipped classroom.
This document is a choice board covering 12 different topics related to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Students are linked to a C-SPAN video and other .gov source, and then have specific activities to complete for each topic. Teachers can customize this document as needed — the current directions ask students to complete 6 topics, but that can be adjusted. This is a multi-day activity that can be done in person or via distance learning.
The Articles of Confederation, ratified on March 1, 1781, created a loose confederation of sovereign states along with a weak central government. After several years living under the provisions of this document, the idea of establishing a stronger central government emerged. This led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Debates surrounding the ratification of the new document followed, with the Federalists supporting the ratification of the Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists opposing it, concerned it provided too much power to a central government. In this lesson, students will view videos of Virginian Founding Fathers James Madison and George Mason debating issues related to the Constitution.