United States History, U.S. Government, Civics, and American Studies
The purpose of this lesson is to provide students an opportunity to step into the shoes of the framers of the United States Constitution to analyze and evaluate the social, political, economic and geographical forces that shaped the United States Constitution. Students will conduct research in the role of one of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention and then participate in civil discourse as the delegates might have 200+ years ago using the principles of parliamentary procedure. Students will have "reality checks" throughout the experience to compare their convention results with the actual U.S. Constitution.
Before commencing work on the Mock Convention, it is important that the students have a working knowledge of the history that shaped the framing of the Constitution. Students should have an understanding of the causes of the American Revolution, the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, and the problems of the Articles of Confederation. Watching the movie "1776" during the study of the Declaration of Independence is helpful in that students will see some of the same characters at the convention and also see the manner of dress and other customs that bound the delegates.
Put students into small groups of three or four. Provide students with a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Have groups review the causes of the American Revolution, directing them to examine the list of Injuries and Usurpations. Have students list the problems of British rule on one half of a piece of butcher paper or poster board. Have groups come forward with the lists and share with the class. Have a discussion about the commonalties of the lists. Have groups review how the Articles of Confederation tried to avoid the problems of British rule. Lesson 10 in "We the People" has a nice overview of this. United States history and government texts also address this. Have students list each problem with British rule and the corresponding provision in the Declaration of Independence or the Articles of Confederation that addressed it. Post lists throughout the room. Have the students circulate in a gallery to observe all of the lists. KEEP THESE POSTERS FOR THE LAST LESSON.
Homework: Have students explain at least three issues that may facilitate the need for a new Constitution at this point in history because they were either not addressed by the Articles of Confederation or were issues of weakness in the Articles.
Discuss homework responses. Make a list on the board of the constitutional issues. Introduce the Mock Convention. Inform the students that for the next week, they will be involved in a Mock Constitutional Convention to recreate the debate, compromises, and decisions that resulted in our present day Constitution. Each student will be assigned a delegate to the convention to research. Their job is to discover what that person might have said about the main issues discussed at the Philadelphia Convention and then play that person at the Mock Convention.
The main issues to de discussed at the convention are...
1. Should power rest in the states or the national government? Why? How much power should the leaders have and what type of leaders should there be? How should we select our governmental leaders?
2. How should the government be structured? How much power should each branch of government have and what specifics need to be considered about each branch (legislative, executive, judicial)?
3. How should representation be decided, by population or equally by state? Should slaves count in the population?
4. What should be done about the slave trade?
5. Do we need to guarantee individual rights?
Each student is to compile a delegate portfolio that is to be turned it at the culmination of the convention. The portfolio will have three main parts: (1) Research Notes, (2) Position Statements, and (3) Convention Records.
Part One: Research your delegate to discover information on your delegate in this order :
a. Personal background of your delegate
b. Delegate feelings and attitudes towards the issues of the Mock Convention
c. How your delegate will vote in the issues
d. Enemies and allies of your delegate at the convention
e. How geography effects your delegate (where they live, how they make a living, etc.)
Part Two: Choose at least three of the issues addressed at the Convention and write a position statement for each as to how your delegate feels about that issue. You will use these at the convention during debate on the issues.
Part Three: During the convention, you will record:
a. How you voted playing the part of your delegate
b. How you would have voted on the issue
c. What happened each day of the Mock Convention?
d. The historical outcome of the convention issues
After instructing students of their task, have a lottery for roles. The teacher should take the role of George Washington to chair the convention. See the CongressLink web site, Historical Notes, for a list of delegates. Choose a number of delegates that will give representation of the various factions at the convention.
Homework: Assign Lesson 11 in "We the People" or a similar assignment in their text to give students a general background as to the delegates and issues addressed in the Philadelphia Convention. You may also want to give the students the opportunity to get extra-credit if they dress the role of their delegate. This would be a homework assignment to prepare for.
Adaptation: Your could have pairs of students research delegates, and then take turns playing the delegate at the convention. Pair stronger students with weaker to facilitate the process.
Give students time to research delegates and write their position statements. The librarians at my school pull resources from the shelves in advance so our students can access one main area for information. The National Archives site has great biographies of all of the delegates to the Convention. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers.html is also a copious site for convention information.
Use the first part of class to pass out a sheet of Parliamentary Procedure Basics. This is an excellent way to run class discussions in general. Briefly go over the motions. The teacher as George Washington, will play a pivotal role in running the Mock Convention according to these rules. See http://crs.uvm.edu/citizens/procedure.htm.
Convene your convention. Set time limits for discussion so that you can address Issue One concerning power today. Have a reality check after each issue is voted upon, referring to the actual Constitution as found on CongressLink so the delegates can compare their decision to the actual ones made.
Homework: Have students write a letter home informing their family about how the convention is going, citing personalities, factions, etc. that are shaping the convention thus far.
Have James Madison read the minutes from the previous day. Once minutes are amended and approved, go onto Issue Two. Have a reality check after each issue is voted upon, referring to the actual Constitution as found on CongressLink so the delegates can compare their decisions to the actual ones made.
Homework: Have students draw a political cartoon that might have appeared in the hometown paper of their delegate as to the decisions being made at the convention.
Have James Madison read the minutes from the previous day. Once minutes are amended and approved, go onto Issues Three and Four. Have a reality check after each issue is voted upon, referring to the actual Constitution as found on CongressLink so the delegates can compare their decision to the actual ones made.
Homework: Have students draw an interest group: women, northerners, southerners, big states, small states. Have them write a letter to the editor in their role explaining their reaction thus far to the convention decisions.
Post cartoons from previous day around the room so the delegates can view them as they enter. Have James Madison read the minutes from the previous day. Once minutes are amended and approved, go onto Issue 5 and 6. Have a reality check after each issue is voted upon, referring to the actual constitution as found on CongressLink so the delegates can compare their decision to the actual ones made.
Homework: Prepare portfolio to turn in.
Collect portfolios. Bring out posters created in the lesson from Day One. as a class, cite how the issues listed on the poster were addressed by the Constitutional Convention. Lecture to students the process of ratification and the role of federalists and anti-federalists in the process.
Evaluation: Instruct delegates that their home states have received the new Constitution to be ratified. Have them write a recommendation as to whether or not they believe ratification is a good idea.
CongressLink's online Constitution
Biographies and general summaries of the delegates (http://www.archives.gov/index.html)
Parliamentary procedure information http://crs.uvm.edu/citizens/procedure.htm
Students will require use of the library for research. Students will require access to the Internet for CongressLink
"We the People" published by the Center for Civic Education, 1995.
Large Sheets of paper
Mary Ellen Daneels
Community High School
West Chicago, IL 60185