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?
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
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:
Continue the lesson by explaining to students:
Optional: Provide students with an underlined copy of the Preamble.
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:
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.
Conclusion: Why “We the People”
Ask students to reflect on the following question:
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: