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?
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:
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.
Primary source document activity:
After students have analyzed the documents reflect upon the guiding questions:
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).