The Preamble — High School


Estimated Class Time

    One to two, 45 minute class periods


    • Copies of the following:
      • Preamble to the U.S. Constitution
      • Document Graphic Organizer
      • Historical documents A-G
    • Copy of the historical background that can be read by students (optional)
    • Highlighters, pens
    • Audio Visual:  Access to We the People Film clip

Video Clip

    Video clip from We the People Film .

    This segment lays the foundation for a discussion of 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, popular sovereignty, republic, justice, insure domestic tranquility, defense, promote, general, welfare, liberty, posterity, ordain

Common Core Standards




    Teacher can choose 1-2 documents to be presented rather than documents A-G to analyze.

Related Documents & Worksheets

Further Research

    • How is each goal of government listed in the Preamble interpreted today by each political party?
    • How is the preamble an example of popular sovereignty?  How is power “loaned” from the people to elected representatives?
    • What challenges do we still face as a nation concerning the phrase “We the People?”
    • Where is power derived according to the U.S. Constitution?  List sources to back up your claims.
    • How does the Constitution’s philosophy of “We the People” compare with governing structures in other countries of the world?  Compare and contrast the United States with another country of your choice.


    Preamble, U.S. Constitution


    In this lesson, students are introduced to the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  They examine the significance, wording, and the fundamental purposes that establish the framework for the Constitution.  Students discuss WHO the people are in the phrase “We the People”, and examine it in the context of our nation’s past as well as the present.  Students will also discuss what those words mean to them as young people of the United States.  Students will analyze primary source documents for a better understanding of what the founding fathers meant when they wrote the phrase, “We the People.”  Students will preview a short video clip from We the People, A Giant Screen Film that will begin the lesson as well as the compelling for this lesson:

    What does “We the People” imply?

    How was the phrase different in 1790s than to present day?

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

Learning Objectives

    • Students will discuss the significance of the three words “We the People” and analyze how the phrase has changed in meaning over time.
    • Students will examine primary source documents, and discuss the meaning of the phrase through the founder’s eyes, as well as its relevance today.
    • Students will show their understanding by creating a visual representation of what the phrase means to them.

Guiding Questions

      • What do you think of when you read or hear the phrase “We the People?”
      • What do you think the founding fathers meant when they wrote those three words and what do you think is the relevance of the phrase today?
      • What significance is there to the three words “We the people?”
      • Why is it important to understand the phrase and its significance?


    Historical and Contextual Background:

    Teacher’s note:  While most students will have formally studied the history of early America prior to the writing of the Constitution, there may be some students who have had no exposure to American history or the founding documents. This lesson is designed to introduce students to civic education through the words “We the People” and to help students understand the language of our founding documents. The accompanying lesson and the video clip from We the People, A Giant Screen Film will enhance students’ understanding of the significance of the first three words of the U.S. Constitution and how the meaning of those words have changed over time. Students will begin to make a personal connection to our nation’s history and its documents.

    In 1787, after years of struggle for independence from Great Britain, the men who would later be known as the founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia 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 the foundation and principles of government before crafting the central guiding document of our democracy – the Constitution of the United States of America.


    Introducing the lesson:

    Introduce students to the lesson by providing them with copies of the historical background reading, a copy of the Preamble, and the guiding questions to this lesson. (see handout)

    Have students follow along as you read the Preamble out loud.  Discuss how the Preamble forms the six goals of government for the U.S, and sets the purpose of our government.  The six goals include:

    • to form a more perfect union,
    • establish justice,
    • insure domestic tranquility,
    • provide for the common defense,
    • promote the general welfare,
    • and secure the blessings of liberty

    Have student’s circle words they do not understand, define words they are not familiar with and have a brief discussion about the meaning of each phrase or goal of government. (The teacher can expand this lesson by using visual definitions for vocabulary terms or a graphic organizer.  An excellent example of this type of strategy might be a modified Frayer model which is a graphic-visual organizer for building vocabulary and understanding.)

    After discussing the purpose of the Preamble prepare students for viewing the video clip.  This will activate their background knowledge of the subject before it is studied.

    • Ask students to focus on the phrase “We the People.”
    • In the context of 1787, who were the people in “We the People?”  Who do you think the founders were describing in the document when they used that phrase?  How do you know?  What historical evidence can be used to back up your claim?
    • Has the definition of “We the People” changed over the last 200 years?  Why or why not?

    Video excerpt:

    • View We the People, A Giant Screen Film Excerpt 0-16
    • As students watch the video clip have them record ideas of how “We the People” is defined.  Also have students record evidence from the film on how the phrase changed over time.
    • After viewing the video clip students can write reflectively or partner up in small groups to discuss their perception of the meaning of the phrase “We the People.”  What evidence from the video did students identify that helped them understand the phrase “We the People?”  (Alternate activity:  Think-Pair-Share.  Students write their thoughts first, share with a partner, then discuss as a class.)

    Primary source document activity:

    • Handout graphic organizer and the primary source document sheet A-G.
    • Students will read and analyze each document excerpt to further their understanding of how the founding fathers interpreted the phrase “We the People” in the 1790s, and how it has changed over time. Have students cite evidence to support their answers in the graphic organizer provided.  The quotes from the reading should help supplement how “We the People” has changed over time.  For example:  Abigail Adams told John Adams to “remember the ladies.”

    After students have analyzed the documents reflect upon the guiding questions:

    • What do you think of when you read or hear the phrase “We the People?”
    • What do you think the founding fathers meant when they wrote those three words and what do you think is the relevance of the phrase today?
    • What significance is there to the three words “We the People?”   Why is it important to understand the phrase?
    • How did your view expand from the original class conversation?

Assessment Recommendation

    Option 1:  Students will write an essay comparing and contrasting the founder’s impression of the phrase “We the People” and how it has changed over time. Students should cite textual evidence from sources to defend their answers.  Further essay writing:  Students can write an essay analyzing what the phrase means for them as individuals in a democratic society.

    Option 2:  Students will create a visual representation of “We the People” and what it represents in America.  (Picture/video/visual).