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Lessons from Constitutional Rights Foundation

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Below are balanced, interactive, and enriching lessons to supplement learning in U.S. history, world history,
and U.S. government courses, as well as current civic issues, to meet Criteria 1 and 2.


These resources from CRF will assist teachers in helping students demonstrate productive academic work and improvement, as well as competence in understanding the U.S. Constitution; tribal government; the role of citizens in constitutional democracy; and democratic principles, concepts, and processes.

These are just examples of key lessons that you can use with your students. For many more lessons from CRF’s index of curricular resources


HIGH SCHOOL

(BY SUBJECT AREA)  


Current Issues

January 7, 2021: Newspaper Front Pages the Day After the Attack on the U.S. Capitol

On January 6, 2021, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol building after repeated claims by Trump that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. This lesson provides an opportunity for students to examine how newspapers showed the day’s events.

Activity: Students compare, contrast, and examine newspaper headlines from around the nation the day after the January 6 assault on the Capitol building. They then write their own January 7 headline for their local paper.


Police Reform After the Death of George Floyd
 

Students examine issues of police reform and controversies around defunding the police that emerged following the murder of George Floyd.

Activity: Students assume the role of council members who must decide which (if any) of eight recommended police reforms their city will adopt for their police department.


Journalism Under Siege: What Should Be Done to Protect Journalists?
 

This lesson allows students to learn about threats to a free press, examine its consequences, and consider solutions.

Activity: Students form “committees” of congressional representatives to consider four proposals that will help them craft a bill to protect journalists abroad and at home. 

 

U.S. Government and Law-Related Education

Workplace Equality for LGBT People: Bostock v. Clayton County   

In this lesson, students are introduced to the landmark case Bostock v. Clayton County, a case that recognized the workplace rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.  

Activity: After the Bostock v. Clayton County decision, many people on the political right and left, expressed their agreement or disagreement with the decision. In small groups, students discuss each of the two opinions and use evidence from two sources to decide as a group which description of the Bostock case they think is more accurate. 


Suppressing the Vote  

Students are able to explain the constitutional right to vote, how voter suppression has played a significant role in elections in U.S. history, and why it is important to determine what counts as voter suppression today.

Activity: In small groups, students determine which, if any, recent voting policies in the states should count as voter suppression and why.


The Role of the Judiciary (CivCon) 

In this lesson, students learn about the U.S. judicial system. Students read and discuss an article on the role, structure, and principles of the judiciary, including the concepts of ordered liberty, the rule of law, equal protection, and due process.

Activity: In small groups, students participate in a structured Civil Conversation (“CivCon”). Through a guided close-reading of the article, students identify points they agree and disagree with, and they formulate questions for use in their small-group discussion to understand multiple perspectives on judges’ accountability to the public.


Why We Have Freedom of the Press
  

In this lesson, students learn about the historical context for the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press, by examining the historical background for a free press in medical Europe, England, and the American colonies.  

Activity: In small groups, students review different situations where a court has restricted freedom of expression. Student groups must decide if each situation is likely proper or likely improper and report back to the class. 


Mendez v. Westminster: Paving the Way to School Desegregation
 

Students look into the landmark court decision of Mendez v. Westminster about the issue of school segregation and its impact on students of color. 

Activity: In small groups, students role-play young people at a hypothetical high school and try to address issues of school segregation and ways to bring students from diverse groups together.

World History

Plato and Aristotle on Tyranny and the Rule of Law

Students look into the origins and meaning of the concepts of democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny in ancient Greece. Using passages from Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, students examine these philosophers’ ideas of ideal government and the rule of law, including tensions between the two philosophers’ outlooks. 

Activity: In small groups, students analyze quotations from Plato and Aristotle on government with emphasis on how well the modern American system of government handles the issues the philosophers describe. 


Haiti’s Slave Revolt and War for Independence

In this lesson, students examine the Haitian Revolution, modern history’s only successful slave revolt that led to the founding of Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States. The lesson focuses, too, on the life and achievements of revolutionary general Toussaint Louverture, as well as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of an independent Haiti. 

Activity: In small groups, students discuss whether Haiti should get reparations from France for slavery prior to Haitian independence, and what form the reparations should take: payments to individual slave descendants, college scholarships, free health care, job training, economic development, or other compensation. 


The Arab Spring and the Challenge of Nation-Building

Students explore the events that drove the wave of mass-protests for democratic reforms that swept through several North African countries and the Middle East in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, as well as the U.S. response to international pro-democracy movements. 

Activity: In small groups, students deliberate on the question of whether the Arab Spring was primarily caused by economic or political factors, using evidence from the text and discussion. 

 

U.S. History

American Indian Sovereignty

In this lesson, students examine the history of tribal sovereignty among Native people from the founding of the United States to the present day. 

Activity: In small groups, students analyze examples of Native people’s tribal constitutions and look for what they can teach us about historic and contemporary notions of indigenous self-determination.


The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

This lesson helps students explore the Fugitive Slave Act and its impact on enslaved people in the U.S., the abolitionist movement, and the path toward the Civil War and eventual abolition.

Activity: Students learn more of the context around President Lincoln’s controversial enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act during the Civil War and write a letter to Lincoln to express their evaluation of his official decision to do so.


The Second Great Awakening and Reform in the 19th Century 

In this lesson, students explore the origins of the Christian revival movement of the first half of the 19th century that deeply influenced the abolitionist and temperance movements; the founding of numerous colleges and universities; and the modern evangelical movement.

Activity: In small groups, students deliberate on whether moral persuasion or legislative reform are better means to solve a variety of contemporary social, economic, and environmental issues.


Montgomery Bus Boycott  

Students learn about the causes and effects of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1954 as a central series of events of the civil rights movement.

Activity: Using primary sources from the boycott’s various organizers and leaders, including Bayard Rustin, Jo Ann Robinson, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, students do a jigsaw in which they determine not only the documents’ significance for the boycott but also for building constituencies for civic action projects. 


MIDDLE SCHOOL


 

Visitor From Outer Space 

This is the middle-school version of the lesson described above in the elementary school section. 

Activity:For distance learning, students use a jamboard. For in-person learning, click on the vertical ellipsis in the upper right-hand corner of the jamboard to download a reproducible PDF copy to share with students.for virtual teaching (To use in your classroom, click on the three dots next to “share” and create your own copy to share with students.)


Supreme Court Cases

A range of lessons that feature moot court activities on a number of constitutional issues.


A More Perfect Union 

This lessonhelps students explore the enduring questions ofour constitutional democracy. Students watch a slideshow on the Constitution, then in pairs they discuss the enduring questions about the Constitution, and finally as a class, they hold a discussion on these questions.


The Federalist Papers
 

This lesson explores the principles underlying our constitutional democracy as expressed in the Federalist Papers.

Activity: Students read a short history of the Federalist Papers and work in small groups to closely examine the text before presentingtheir ideas to the class as a catalyst for further, large-group discussion. Students also role-play Federalists and Anti-Federalists in a classroom debate on the adoption of the Constitution.


Rome: Republic to Empire
 

This lesson provides an overview of the governance of the Roman Empire. First, students hold a discussion on what a dictator is. Then they read and discuss an article on the beginning of Rome, the Roman Republic, and its transformation into an empire. Finally, in small groups, students role-play members of a congressional committee deciding on whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to give the president greater powers in an emergency.


Crime-Free Schools 

This lesson challenges students to understand the tough choices communities must face in funding competing priorities related to public safety and schools.

Activity: students to work in small groups as a local-government task force in the hypothetical community of Central Heights deciding how best to spend $150,000 to improve school safety.  Students complete a cost-benefit analysis of several public-safety plans before selecting the best plan.

 


ELEMENTARY SCHOOL


Visitor From Outer Space

This interactive lesson places students in a situation where they must choose which rights in the Bill of Rights they want to keep and which rights they are willing to give up when faced with an alien invasion. This is a great activity to teach students about fundamental rights while strengthening their speaking, listening, and collaborative skills.

Activity: Students discuss, prioritize, and decide which rights in the Bill of Rights they deem essential.     


Find Your Freedom
 

Here, students identify democratic freedoms and rights usingprimary sources from the Library of Congress.

Activity: Students match the amendments related to freedoms they identify and work in small groups to reach consensus and propose a new amendment to secure rights or freedoms not included in the Bill of Rights.  


Tired King

 In this lesson, students are introduced to the three branches of government (legislative, judicial, and executive) through a story about an overworked king who must handle all the tasks of government. 

Activity: Students use descriptions of the three functions of government and match tasks to departments (lawmakers, executives, and judges). Students then create job descriptions for lawmakers, executives, and judges.


The River
 

How are communities changed by geography over time? This two-part lesson demonstrates natural and human impact on an environment in a river system over time.

Activity: Students work in groups to solve a community's problems during one of four different eras in a hypothetical river system. Students present their problems and solutions in chronological order, revealing a story of one river over time.

NOTE: "The River" lesson can be integrated into course curricula for a variety of content areas and grade levels. Teachers of students who will benefit from additional scaffolding or background can precede "The River" lesson with the "A Day in the Life" lesson linked and described below.    


A Day in the Life
 

In this lesson, students begin to see how communities and lifestyles change over time. 

Activity: Students work in pairs to complete a story about an ordinary day in a young person's life from one of four different historical periods. Then, they compare and contrast their character's lifestyle with their own lives today.


 

 

 

 

 

 

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