The Preamble — Elementary

We the People: the meaning behind the words

Estimated Class Time

    Two to three 30 minutes sessions


    Copies of the following (1 per student)

    • Preamble to the United States Constitution
    • Historical background that can be read as a class  (optional)
    • Modified Frayer Model Vocabulary Template
    • Sample vocabulary word using the modified Frayer template
    • Preamble phrase cards (1 card for each group of 2-3 students). These can be printed on 8 x 11 paper or white card stock if available. There are 6 phrase cards included in the teacher resources.
    • We the People Film Clip
    • Highlighters, pens/pencils, markers
    • Projected image of the Constitution of the United States (optional)

Video Clip

    We the People Excerpt

    This segment provides the platform for discussing the historical significance of the three words “We the People” and will provide a platform for future lessons.

Vocabulary & Key Concepts

    U.S. Constitution, Preamble, “We The People”, justice, insure, domestic, tranquility, defense, promote, general, welfare, liberty, posterity, ordain

Common Core Standards


    In 1987 Mike Wilkins created the Preamble with license plates, Preamble (1987). Painted metal on vinyl and wood. On display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art. Mike Wilkin’s Preamble at the Smithsonian.

    Students could create a similar visual by creating a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation for each word in the Preamble. For instance “We” would be on the first slide with a visual; “the People” would be the second slide, and so on. There are no limitations or restrictions on how students can visually show their understanding of this important part of the U.S. Constitution.


    Work through the Preamble phrase cards as a class

Related Documents & Worksheets

Further Research

    Select key delegates to the Constitutional Convention and research their role in the writing of the Preamble, the Constitution and later, the Bill of Rights. Suggested delegates might be: James Madison, George Mason, Alexander Hamilton, Roger Sherman, Gouverneur Morris.


    Preamble, U.S. Constitution


    In this lesson, students are introduced to the Preamble to the Constitution. They examine the significance, wording and the fundamental purposes that establish the framework for the Constitution.  Students begin to discuss, who the people in “We the People” were in the context of our nation’s past as well as who they are in the present.  Students will also begin to discuss what those words mean to them as young people of the United States. Students will view a short clip from We the People Film  that will begin the lesson and their inquiry into the Preamble. Compelling questions for this lesson include:

    What do the words in the Preamble mean?

    What is the purpose of the Preamble?

    What is the importance of “We the People,” the first three words of the Constitution of the United States and how has the meaning of the phrase changed over time? 

Learning Objectives

    • Students will examine the document, discuss the meaning thought the founder’s eyes and today, and create a visual representation of what the phrase means to them.
    • Students will recognize, discuss and define the importance of the Preamble and the concepts in the Preamble.
    • Students will begin to explore the significance of the three words, “We the People” and how the phrase has changed over time.

Guiding Questions

    • What do you think of when you read or hear the phrase “We the People?”
    • What does “We the People” mean personally to you?
    • What do the other words in the Preamble mean?
    • What is the importance of the first three words of the Constitution of the United States, “We the People?
    • What do you think the founding fathers meant when they wrote those three words?
    • What do you think the phrase means to us today?


    Historical and Contextual Background

    Teachers note:  Many students may not have formally studied the history of early America prior to the writing of the Constitution. This lesson is designed to introduce students to civic education through the words, “We the People” and to help students to understand the language of our founding documents. Through the lesson and the film clip from, We the People, students will enhance their understanding of what these three words mean historically. Students will begin to make a personal connection to our nation’s history and its documents.

    After years of struggle for independence from Great Britain, the men who would later be known as the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to form a government that would not only strengthen the new nation but unify it.  Realizing that the country needed a stronger government than the one that had been established following the Revolutionary War, the founding fathers carefully considered what that government should stand for and then wrote the words that became the Constitution of the United States. This document of democracy, along with the Bill of Rights has guided our nation’s government and people ever since.


    Introducing the Preamble

    • Provide students with copies of the historical background reading, a copy of the Preamble and present the guiding questions to this lesson.
    • An image of the Constitution could be projected as you discuss.
    • In the United States today, who do you think are the people in “We the People?”
    • Who are the “We the People” in our school and in our own community?
    • What do you feel the “we” in “We the People” should stand for?
    • Share with students the learning outcomes for the lesson.

    Framing the Film

    The film segment will serve as the anticipatory set or “hook” to the rest of the lesson. Prepare students to view the clip, We the People Film. Framing the film will activate students’ background knowledge and also provide a framework for future discussion.

    This segment lays the foundation for the lesson on the Preamble and discussion on the significance of the three words “We the People” and provides a platform for future lessons.

    After viewing, pose the following question:

    • Who do you think are “the people” in “We the People?” in today’s United States?  Ask students if there were images in the film clip that support their answer.
    • To better understand our history and the intent of the document, it is important to understand the Preamble.

    Continue the lesson by explaining to students:

    • More than 225 years ago the writers of the Constitution spoke and wrote differently than we do now.  In order to better understand the phrases of the Preamble to the Constitution, students will need to translate those words into words that make sense to them now or what we call our everyday language.

    Ask students:

    • Can you think of any words or phrases that we commonly use today that our Founding Fathers would have trouble understanding and would need help with? Why would they have difficulty with some of our words and phrases?
    • Take time to generate a list on the board and discuss why someone from the past might have trouble with the meanings.
    • Guide the class through an initial close read of the Preamble, asking students to read the document as if they were detectives. Have students circle the words or phrases that they are not familiar with.

    Optional: Provide students with an underlined copy of the Preamble.

    •  Discuss the vocabulary words and have students write their own definitions for the words and create a visual to go with the word. Drawings do not need to be elaborate but should provide students a connection to the word. Research has shown that students understanding of vocabulary words greatly increases by more than 30% when students include a visual representation. An example of this type of strategy might be a modified Frayer Model which is a graphic-visual organizer for building vocabulary and understanding. Templates for a single word and for multiple words are provided in the teacher resources. Suggested words for this segment of the lesson are:

    ensure (insure)
    common defense
    general welfare

    Defining and Understanding the Goals of Government

    Continue by dividing students into six working groups. Each group should have a copy of the Preamble to the Constitution and a Preamble phrase card. The purpose of this portion of the lesson is to focus on the six main goals of the Constitution as stated in the Preamble and reword them into everyday language:

    • form a more perfect union
    • establish Justicee
    • insure domestic Tranquility
    • provide for the common defense
    • promote the general welfare
    • secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity

    Inform students that, in addition to presenting their “everyday language translations” of a goal of government, they will be making a case to the rest of the class as to why they feel their Preamble phrase is the most important phrase included in the Preamble.  Each group will record on their phrase card why they feel their phrase is the most important.

    For instance, “ensure domestic tranquility” might be translated to, “make sure there is peace at home in our country.”  Students will then record reasons why this is important.

    Additionally, students may draw pictures that illustrate the phrase and provide a visual representation of their learning by including symbols of peace, a drawing of the country, houses. The pictures should be meaningful to the students and they will present their translations, reasons and pictures to the whole group.

    Group Presentations

    • Begin the group presentations by presenting the opening phrase, “We the People of the United States” to the class.
    • In the order of the Preamble phrases, have each group explain their translation and present their case for the importance of this phrase.
    • Ask students, how would you describe the six purposes of government?

    Conclusion: Why “We the People”

    Ask students to reflect on the following question:

    • Why do you think the founding fathers wrote the words, “We the People?” Why didn’t they write, “We the writers of the Constitution?” OR “We the representatives from these states?”
    •  In the context of today, who do you think are the people in the phrase “We the People?”

Assessment Recommendation

    Have students write an essay or create a visual on what the words “We the People” mean to them as individuals.

    Have students write an essay or create a visual representation from their point of view on what the purposes of government are.

    Have student create a skit that represents the six purposes of government as stated in the Preamble.

    Have students either individually or in groups, write a Preamble for their classroom or school that begins with the writing prompts:

    We the Kids…
    We the Students