This two–day lesson (with an optional third day) examines the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the controversy surrounding slavery.
On day one, students read a short article on the declaration and engage in a discussion on its key ideas and the contradictions between its ideals and slavery.
On day two, working in small groups, students create a poster to demonstrate their understanding of key ideas expressed in the document and express why they think these ideas are important today. The practice of creating the poster will also introduce them to the type of project they will create for the History Experience.
Students will be able to:
California History Social Science Standard 8.1
Students understand the major events preceding the founding of the nation and relate their significance to the development of American constitutional democracy. (2) Analyze the philosophy of government expressed in the Declaration of Independence, with an emphasis on government as a means of securing individual rights (e.g. key phrases such as all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights).
California’s Common Core State Standards
Civic Education Connections to Common Core Standards. The Rise of Democratic Ideals: How does the Declaration of Independence support an argument for independence using specific claims in the Declaration as a rationale for independence? Compare and contrast information presented as a primary and secondary source about a particular topic or issue. For example, ask students to analyze information, arguments, and claims set forth in the Declaration of Independence with information, arguments, and claims in secondary sources that describe the document.
Preparation and Materials
Handout 3A: The Declaration’s Ideas — 1 per student.
Handout 3B: Posters of Democracy — 1 per student.
Supplies: Chart paper or poster paper and colored markers.
(Optional) Handout 3C: Vocabulary List — 1 per student.
I. Reading and Discussion — The Declaration’s Ideas
A. Explain that Jefferson got many of his ideas from other thinkers. Philosophers in Europe had thought of the idea that government had the purpose of protecting the rights of citizens. Jefferson read these philosophers’ books and believed strongly in their ideas.
Explain that one reason why the declaration was so historic was that it took all those philosophers’ ideas and put them into action. For the first time in history, a country was declaring itself independent based on the idea that the people should have basic rights and freedom.
B. Tell students that they are going to read about the ideas in the Declaration of Independence. As they read, they need to look for:
C. Distribute Handout 3A: The Declaration’s Ideas and explain that after they read, they will discuss the key ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the contradictions regarding slavery.
D. When students finish reading, hold a discussion using the For Discussion and Writing questions at the end of the reading:
Other questions to raise:
I. Small-Group Activity: Posters for Democracy
A. Tell students that they are going to get a chance to think about the purpose of our government and the importance of individual rights. Tell them they will get to share their thoughts with others.
Explain that there is growing concern that many people today take for granted or don’t even think about the ideas behind our democratic government. Distribute Handout 3B: Posters for Democracy and read the introduction to the activity with the students.
B. Divide the class into small groups (three or four students each) and go over the steps the groups will complete to create and present their posters. Remind the groups how much time they will have to complete the assignment.
C. Provide materials to each group: chart paper or poster paper and markers.
II. Group Presentations and Debriefing
A. Ask each group to present its poster. After each presentation, engage the presenters and class in a discussion about the presentation. Raise questions such as:
B. After all groups have presented, engage students in a discussion on the ideas of government expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Raise questions such as:
C. Day Three (Optional). Any additional time needed for students to present their posters or debrief the activity can take place during an optional third day.
D. Poster Display. To culminate this activity, students’ posters may be displayed in your classroom and around the school.
This lesson provides students with another opportunity to explore the Declaration of Independence and its importance in history, which will help them decide on a topic for their projects.
Assign students Log 3: Declaration of Independence Timeline as homework. To complete the log students can review textbook or go to the History Experience Research Links.