U.S. Government, Civics
Students will analyze the basic components and concepts of the United States Constitution and then create a "Class Constitution" to be used to maintain discipline and order throughout the school year. Students will use cooperative learning structures and civil discourse to resolve the differences that may arise. The Constitution will then be "ratified" by the parents.
Put students into groups of four. Provide each group of four a piece of butcher paper and four markers, a different color marker for each student in the group. Have the students write the word "constitution" in the middle of the poster-sized paper. Have the students create a word web, writing down things they associate with "constitution." Each student is to write in their own color, but can work off of other group members' words or phrases to build the word web. Have the students post the word webs on the walls around the room. Have the students roam around the "Constitutional Gallery" and identify commonalities. Write the word "constitution" on the board and have the students identify what words the word webs had in common. Have each student take out a scrap sheet of paper and write what his or her definition of the word "constitution" is. Have the students share their definitions with their small groups. Have each small group then write a group definition to "constitution." Have each group write their definition on the board. As a class, use the group definitions to write a class definition of the word "constitution." Compare the class definition with that of their textbook or dictionary. Discuss the similarities and differences.
Homework: Have the students ask at least three people not in the class:
"What is a constitution?" and "How do constitutions affect your life?"
Have the students share their homework responses with their small group. Have each group share with the class the best responses to the two questions. Review with the class the definition of a constitution. Distribute to one-third of the class a copy of the United States Constitution, one-third copy of the state constitution, and the last third a copy of your school's student council constitution (or similar document). Have the small groups peruse (not read word for word) their assigned document and identify on a poster-sized piece of paper the:
1. Purpose of the constitution
2. Main components of the constitution
3. Main concepts in the constitution (i.e. checks and balances, separation of powers…)
Have the groups place the posters on the wall. Put similar posters on the same wall. Draw a three-circle Venn diagram on the blackboard. Model how students should make a similar diagram in their notebook. They are to use the Venn diagram to compare and contrast the three constitutions. Have the students roam around the room to fill in their Venn diagrams.
Homework: Have the students summarize the findings of their Venn diagrams in paragraph form to explain what is the main purpose of a constitution, the main components of a constitution, and the main concepts constitutions have in common.
Have the students share their homework responses. Introduce the concepts of checks and balances, separation of powers, and other concepts you think will be helpful to the students in creating the class constitution. Use the "Congress for Kids" web site (http://www.congressforkids.net/) to illustrate and explain these concepts available under the Tour of the Federal Government. Introduce to the class that they will be constructing a "Class Constitution." This constitution will be the foundation upon which the class will be conducted in the future. Introduce the concept of popular sovereignty and impress the students how this constitution will allow the students to have input on classroom procedures. Stress that their class constitution will have to be "ratified" by their parents and the disciplinary structure at the school. Read to the students the preamble to the United States Constitution. Explain to the class how this stated the purpose of the Constitution. Put the students in small groups. Have the small groups brainstorm possible "preambles" to their own class constitution. What is the purpose of the class constitution? Have the groups list their preambles on the board. Have the class come to a consensus as to the preamble to the constitution. If the preambles are similar, this process is relatively simple. If not, have the students vote on the best preamble (can't vote for their own).
Homework: Have the students create an outline of what they think the class constitution should look like. Be sure to have them incorporate the roles of students, teacher, aides, parents, and other parties to the classroom.
Have the students get into their small groups and share their outlines. Give each group a piece of poster-sized paper to make a group outline. Remind the class that their outlines should reflect the preamble they wrote the day before. It will take some time for the students to negotiate their differences. Have the students post the group outlines throughout the room. Have the students individually look at each poster and jot down in their notebook the ideas they like. The students will now individually decide what they value in their class constitution through a method called "Spend a Buck." Tell each student that they have $1.00 to spend. They have to spend this money in 5-cent increments. The students are to go back around the room and spend their buck by writing a value next to ideas they like for their class constitution. Students should "spend" more on ideas that they like, less or nothing on ideas that are less important. The written denominations for each student should add up to $1.00. Add up the values on the posters. Combine similar ideas and report the results to the class.
Homework: Have students brainstorm possible "articles" for their class constitution, categorizing the results of "Spend a Buck" in each article.
Have the students share the possible "article" categories from their homework. Decide as a class what the articles should be. Divide the students into different "article" groups. Have the groups write out that article using the ideas the class valued. Have each person write out their group's product in their notebook. Have each student exchange their notebook with someone in another article group for feedback. Have the students share the feedback with their small group and modify their article as needed. Each article group should share their final product and have the class vote on the product.
Teacher Homework: Type up the final product that was agreed to by the class and distribute to students.
Homework: Have students evaluate the class constitution with arguments as to why it should or should not be ratified by school administrators and parents.
Use Congress for Kids (http://www.congressforkids.net/), Tour of the Federal Government to review with the class the concept of ratification. Invite a school administrator to come to the class. Have the students use their homework to persuade the official to either sign or not sign the document. If the Dean does not sign the document, have the students modify the Constitution to gather the support needed to have it "ratified." Have students bring the constitution home to be ratified by their parents/guardian. Once ratified, post the Constitution prominently in the room and refer to it as needed.
Mary Ellen Daneels
Community High School
West Chicago, IL 60185