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Constitution Lesson Plans for 8th Grade American History

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

US Constitution image credit:

US Constitution image credit:

Need some help with your American History lessons? Take a peek at my lesson plans and ideas.

My first year teaching I was dying to see other teachers' plan books, but most of them were either blank or didn't seem suitable for our students ("high-risk" with poor reading skills). After teaching American history to 8th graders for a few years, I've developed this webpage in the hopes that it can help first year teachers get an idea of what to do, or help out some experienced teachers freshen up some lessons. Just to let you know, my "at-risk" students have the same passing rate on the history portion of the state standardized exam as the "advanced" students.

Below are my weekly lessons for Weeks 13 - 16: Our Constitution. Please see my other lenses to see my complete lesson plan book. Please visit my Procedures and General Ideas for 8th Grade American History to see my classroom set up, procedures, grading, use of textbook, exam ideas, etc.

Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation

Week 13: Day 2: Articles of Confederation

What type of government did America first have and why did it fail?

***Week 13 continues from the American Revolution Unit.***

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What were all four (North, South, East, West) boundaries of the U.S. at independence in 1783? [Answer: According to the 1783 Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain acknowledged American independence, the new nation's boundaries were the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the state of Florida and the latitude line of 31 degrees North. (The North boundary is optional.)]

Objective: What type of government did America first have and why did it fail?

Homework: Get agenda signed.

1. A) Do you think most people lock their front doors at night? B) What does your answer say about how much people trust each other? (Teacher explanation: The Founding Fathers figured all people were naturally trustworthy and created a government based on that belief, but they found people aren't inherently good. Thus, the government didn't work.)

2. Review exam

3. Make "Unit III: Our Constitution" cover page

4. Notes:

o Students copy "Shifting Balance of Political Power" from Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877 (Signal Media Corporation)

o Articles of Confederation: In the middle write, "Congress." Around "Congress" draw an upset looking man. Draw six arrows coming out from his head. Next to the arrows write one of the following: foreign relations (draw a globe), war (draw a musket), Native American affairs (draw a Native American), Postal Service (Draw a letter), and Coin and borrow money (draw money). Draw two thought bubbles from the upset man's head. In one bubble write, "I can't raise taxes." In the other bubble write, "I can't regulate commerce (business) or settle fights between states." Explain each of these items as you write them. There are some good historic examples out there. To exaggerate the point, talk about how New Jersey is the only state that can grow cabbage. In New Jersey they sell cabbage for $1 a head. In order to make money, they sell it to other states for $15 a head. The national government can't do anything about it.

5. Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation: Lay out posters with a picture and explanation of: No chief executive, Laws needed approval by 9 of 13 states, Congress did not have the power to tax citizens and could only request tax money from states, Congress did not have the power to draft an army and could only request states to send men for military service, No national court system, Any amendments/changes to the Articles must be approved by all 13 states, Congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government, and Congress did not have the power to settle disputes among states. Hand out sheets that have the feature already entered in the chart along with other columns: Why this was included in the Articles of Confederation and Possible Problems with the Feature. Have every other square pre-filled out so that they only have to either fill in the "Why this was included" or "Possible Problems" for each feature rather than having them fill out both. Students fill out the chart, with each student pair moving every 2 1/2 minutes.

6. Discuss overhead of p. 219 from This is America's Story (Wilder, Ludlum, and Brown) comparing the Confederation and Constitution and showing how the Constitution solved those problems.

7. WRAP-UP: CONFESSIONS ABOUT OUR CONFEDERATION: You are writing a front-page newspaper article trying to explain to American citizens the way their new government works. Include at least 4 new aspects to the government and two problems that you see might cause issues in the future. Include one drawing as well.

Failure of the Articles of Confederation image credit:

Failure of the Articles of Confederation image credit:

Week 14: Day 1: Failure of Articles of Confederation

What finally caused our Founding Fathers to create our current government?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Which President first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday? [Answer: Abraham Lincoln in 1863]

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What was the last state to ratify the Constitution? [Answer: Rhode Island. The required nine of the thirteen states ratified the Constitution between January and June 1788. But it was not until after Washington was inaugurated in 1789 that all of the states ratified it. The last stragglers were North Carolina in November 1789 and Rhode Island in May 1790.]

Objective: What finally caused our Founding Fathers to create our current government?

1. a) What does "authority" mean? B) Do you think people in authority are always helpful, always harmful, or both? C) WHY? Give 3+ examples to prove it.

2. Quickly discuss the issue of Congress trying to develop the Northwest Territory using the picture from p. 140 from Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877 (Signal Media Corporation).

3. Creating a Coat of Arms activity: Apply the decision-making process of the Articles of Confederation to adopt a "Coat of Arms." (from "The Constitution in a New Nation.")

4. T-chart: Classroom activity vs. historical reality: 13 teams = 13 states, each team gets 1 vote (no matter how big) = each state gets 1 vote (no matter how big), tried to create coat of arms = Congress tried to make laws like how to develop the Northwest Territory, needed 9 of 13 teams to pass coat of arms = needed 9 of 13 states to pass laws, looking out for our own benefit (extra credit) = states looking out for themselves rather than for interests of the nation, coat of arms never passed = few laws ever passed, game was unfair = citizens not satisfied because the government is too weak

5. Read pp. 235-239: The Call for Change & answer chapter questions (15 minutes)

6. Powerpoint slide lecture: Study images of Shays' Rebellion, Independence Hall, Washington addressing the Constitutional Convention, and the Constitution. For each slide, ask students questions to notice details about the picture and then talk to them about it. Students write the title of the slide and 3+ notes.

7. As a class, write out notes: "Leading to the Constitutional Convention." Turn papers the long way. Write each of the following down the side: Too many taxes, Failing crops left farmers impoverished, Poor foreign relations, Boundary disputes between states, Shay's Rebellion. Draw an arrow from each of these items to the next item, "Many Americans worried about Confederation's ability to maintain order." Draw an arrow from this to, "Madison and Hamilton persuaded Congress to consider revising government." Draw an arrow from this to, "Delegates from states met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA." Draw an arrow from this to, "After discussion, delegates agreed to abandon Articles of Confederation and create new Constitution."Note: Not all classes had time for this step, so skip it if the Coat of Arms game goes too long.

8. WRAP-UP: ACROSTIC POEM: Write an acrostic poem describing the "Articles of Confederation" using the word "Articles." OR Have students write an acrostic poem for "Articles of Confederation" and give extra credit for poems that rhyme. If you do this, have students finish the poems for homework.



Week 14: Day 2: Constitutional Compromises

What compromises were made to create our government?

Objective: What compromises were made to create our government?

Homework: Get agenda signed

1. In 4+ sentences describe a time when you had to make a compromise. (Need to explain what a compromise is.)

2. Define Virginia Plan, NJ Plan, Great Compromise, 3/5 Compromise by book (12 minutes)

3. Powerpoint lecture of the Compromises of the Constitution:

o Introduce analogy after VA & NJ plans but BEFORE 3/5 Compromise.

o Take notes on each compromise in the following manner: "PROBLEM" (under it write the problem that needed to be solved). Draw an arrow pointing to "PROPOSAL" (Above "PROPOSAL" write one of the proposals and an arrow pointing down to "PROPOSAL." Below "PROPOSAL" write the other main proposal and an arrow pointing up to "PROPOSAL"). Draw an arrow pointing from "PROPOSAL" to "COMPROMISE" (under it write the name and description of the compromise made. Do the Great Compromise with the class, but have them do the other two on their own (with help).

-----PROBLEM: How should the states be represented in Congress? PROPOSALS: New Jersey Plan: Each state should get equal representation (2 votes)…Virginia Plan: Base it on population: larger states get more votes. COMPROMISE: Great Compromise: Divide Congress into 2 houses: Rep. in Senate is equal (2 votes) & Rep. in House of Reps based on population.

-----PROBLEM: How should slaves be counted in the states' population? PROPOSALS: Northern States: Count slaves for taxes but not for rep. in the House....Southern States: Count slaves for rep. but not for taxes. COMPROMISE: 3/5 Compromise: 3 out of 5 slaves will be counted for both taxes and rep. in House

-----PROBLEM: What should be done about the slave trade? PROPOSALS: North: Congress should control the slave trade. Runaway slaves should be freed... South: Each state should decide for themselves about the slave trade & runaway slaves should be returned. COMPROMISE: Congress will control the slave trade. Slave trade will end in 20 years. Runaway slaves must be returned.

o Analogy: Problem: What should the theme of the 8th grade dance be? Proposals: Enchanted Memories OR Barney and his friends. How do we decide? We'll vote by homerooms. I have 24 kids in my homeroom, 2 of which are 7th graders. Ms. Tracy has 10 kids in her homeroom, all of whom are 8th graders, Mrs. Shannen has 39 in her homeroom, 15 of which are 7th graders, Mr. Jamie has 16 in his, with no 7th graders. Does each homeroom get 1 vote? (NJ plan) Does each homeroom get a set number of votes depending upon their size? (VA plan) Do the 7th graders (slaves) count in the vote?

4. WRAP-UP: POLITICAL POSTER: Select either the Virginia or New Jersey Plan. Create a poster trying to convince the other states to vote for that plan. Include what the plan says and at least 3 reasons the states should vote for that plan. Also include a visual aid to help people remember that plan.

History of Our Constitution

US Constitution

US Constitution

Week 15: Day 1: Constitution

What does the Constitution say?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What was the first state admitted to the union after the original 13? [Answer: Vermont in 1791, created from parts of New York and New Hampshire]

Objective: What does the Constitution say?

1. Study the cartoon on the overhead. A) Of the compromises you learned about in the last class, which compromise does this represent? B) How did you know this? C) What was the problem that this compromise was trying to resolve?

2. Define: legislative branch, executive branch, judicial branch, impeach, electoral college, veto from textbook (8 minutes)

3. 3 Branches of Government notes: Draw a tree with 3 branches. On the trunk write, "Our Constitution = Our Government." On the first branch write, "LEGISLATIVE." Under that write, "law-making." At the top of the branch have the trunk divide into two smaller branches. In one branch write, "Senate." In the other branch write, "House of Representatives." Above this write, "Congress." At the base of the entire branch write, "Article I." On the second branch write, "EXECUTIVE." Under that write, "enforce laws." At the top of the branch write, "President." Under the branch write, "Article II." On the third branch write, "JUDICIAL." Under that write, "Judgement." At the top of the branch write, "Supreme Court." Under the branch write, "Article III."

4. Constitutional Card Sort Game: Analyze 25 constitutional questions about the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Number 25 cards and then write a different question aboout the Constitution on each card. Pass out a question to each pair of students and put the rest of the questions on a table in the front of the room. Each pair answers the question on the card by looking up the answer in the Constitution. After they find the answer, they write down the answer in a complete sentence along with the Article and Section in which they found the answer. Then they go to the front of the room and exchange cards. The pair to get the most correct answers in 40 minutes gets extra credit. (Students will not finish all 25 questions.)

Questions can include: Who has the sole power of impeachment (removing someone from office)?, How old must one be to be elected to the United States Senate?, Who has the power to declare war?, Who is the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military forces?, Who presides over any impeachment trial of the president of the United States?

5. Students write preamble on note card for exam. Be sure to tell them it will be fill-in-the-blank on the exam.

Good resources on explaining the Constitution!!

Week 15: Day 2: Constitution

What does the Constitution say?

Objective: What does the Constitution say?

1. In 3+ sentences describe a very stressful or very exciting event AND how you felt after it was over.

2. Create a "Quick Guide" to the Constitution. Next to each Article, write the topic of that article and add a relevant picture to help you remember what is contained there.

3. Watch a section of video on Constitution.

4. Watch "School House Rock" video on preamble of Constitution. The entire class should sing along using their note cards. (The teacher should always be the loudest singer no matter how poor his/her voice.)

5. Write out the Preamble in phrases. For each phrase, draw a picture of each phrase to help you remember that phrase.

School House Rock Preamble

Constitutional government

Constitutional government

Week 15: Day 3: Bill of Rights

What rights do we have?

Objective: What rights do we have?

Homework: Finish worksheet & get agenda signed

1. List 3+ ways in which the Constitution is similar to a DVD player or computer instruction manual.

2. Answer questions for pp. 244-247. Federalist vs. Anti-federalist notes: Create a T-chart with Federalists vs. Antifederalists. Under "Federalists" write, "Favor Constitution, Strong National Government, and James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay (Wrote The Federalist Papers). Draw a smiley face, up arrow, and thumbs-up sign below these. Under "Antifederalists" write, "Against passing the constitution, Limited national government (with strong states rights), Patrick Henry and John Hancock." Draw an unhappy face, down arrow, and thumbs-down below these. Be sure to mention that this issue will again come up in less than 100 years and will divide the country in the War Between the States.

3. Begin powerpoint slide lecture of Bill of Rights (only Amendment 1): Examine 10 images depicting individual rights and identify the corresponding amendments. Use overheads from pp. 161-162 in Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877 (Signal Media Corporation) and from the textbook. You can also get good images from .

[See below for my lecture notes on the Bill of Rights: Amendment 1.]

4. Worksheet on Federalists vs. Anti-federalists

5. Pass out extra credit worksheet to students who want it. It included notes taken from James Madison at the Constitutional Convention concerning the slave trade and sections from Patrick Henry's speech before he agreed to ratify the constitution.


Amendment 1: a) Note "freedom of expression" isn't found here. I hear students all the time talking about how school dress codes infringe upon their "freedom of expression" which "is a constitutional right." It's not here, so don't sound ignorant by claiming it is. b) Part of the first amendment is the freedom of religion. Note "separation of church and state" isn't in the Constitution. That's another phrase I hear tossed around all the time as another "constitutional right." That phrase came from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote, not the Constitution, and it's meaning was totally different from what it gets used for today. By the way, Thomas Jefferson wasn't there when they wrote the Constitution. When the Founding Fathers were writing the first amendment saying "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" they were trying to make sure that Congress didn't make a law saying, "If you're not Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever, you can't vote for the President." What was most important to them was they wanted to make sure that governments didn't start controlling churches like what was happening in England . Then we'd be getting sermons on Sunday on why to vote for this person or that person in the government. They were protecting "religions" (the various Christian denominations) from the government. They were not, however, trying to keep any government institution "free" from religion. This has been twisted the other way around. For example, praying in schools and posting the 10 Commandments in the courts are forbidden because supposedly those things would show that the government is supporting one religion over the other. Therefore, the only religion (and it is a religion) that's allowed in government buildings is atheism. The government is telling people that they can't practice their religion when they're in a government building. If the government was to be consistent with what the Founding Fathers intended, then people could pray to their "god/God," display their tenets of faith, etc., and the government would make sure that they were allowed to do these things. Back to the phrase, "separation of church and state." If you haven't ever heard that phrase, trust me, you'll hear it misused in the next few years. It's a phrase pulled from a private letter Thomas Jefferson was writing to some students at the University of Virginia . He was encouraging them to get together and pray and worship God at their university.

Great Books on the Bill of Rights



Week 16: Day 1: Bill of Rights (Continued)

What rights do I have?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Which document contains more signatures, The Declaration of Independence or The Constitution? How many more signatures did it have? [Answer: Declaration of Independence - 17]

Objective: What rights do I have?

Homework: Finish drawing Bill of Rights

1. Study the powerpoint slide. A) Which amendment do you think this slide represents? B) Why? C) What other rights does this amendment say we have?

2. Finish Bill of Rights slide lecture (amendments 2-10). Starting by reviewing the first amendment. Give students 15 minutes to write in summary of amendment and draw a picture for it. Have students write in headings for amendments 2-10 as I lecture. (I use p. 34 from the Student Activities Book that's part of Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877). (My lecture notes are below and then continue to the below module.)

3. Drawing Bill of Rights: draw a picture for amendments 2-10. Finish for homework.


Amendment 2: This is a big one the government is trying to crack down on. It's pretty evident what it says: people have the right to own guns. It's a way of protecting themselves. Today a lot of people claim that in the places where people are allowed to have guns, you have more crime. Actually studies show the opposite is true. The more that people have guns, the less likely a burglar or thief is going to want to mess with that person. That's kind of beside the point, though. Let's say that America makes a law that only people who work for the government (the army and the policemen) can have guns. Would that make you feel safer? What happens when armies start coming to your home and point the guns and you? They take away your stuff and tell you that you have to start working on a farm for the rest of your life -- and all the vegetables you grow will go back to the governemnt. You only get to eat one piece of bread and an egg every day for the rest of your life. You think that sounds bizarre? It happened about 75 years ago. Ridding citizens of their guns was one of the first things Hitler's and Stalin's governments did. One of the first things Hitler took from the Jews was their guns. Then the Jews couldn't defend themselves when the government armies came to steal from them and/or kill them. Our forefathers knew that. It happened in Boston when the British government "seized the armories." That's what they were doing: making sure the citizens couldn't have guns to defend themselves. If the government's the only ones allowed to have guns, then they can make all the decisions for you and force us to do things we don't want to do.

Amendment 3: I don't have anything additional.

Bill of Rights Visual

Bill of Rights Visual

Week 16: Day 2: Lecture Notes for Amendments 4-10

Amendment 4: The government can't search you without a search warrant. That means when you start driving and a police officer stops you, he can't search your car. You need to be polite, but he's not allowed. Now if the police officer says, "I want to check your vehicle," and you say, "Okay" then s/he can search your vehicle. However, if the police officer says, "I want to search your vehicle. Open your trunk." You can POLITELY reply, "I'm sorry officer, but you will need a search warrant to do that. It's my forth amendment right." Now if you or someone in your car seems "suspicious" like the smell of alcohol is flowing out the window or something like that, then the officer can check out your car. This amendment is definitely getting tossed out the back window at the airport. When I flew over Christmas, they opened up all my bags and dug through all the pouches. I had to take off my shoes, empty my pockets, and get patted down. That should be illegal, but it's not. According to this amendment, I can refuse to let them search me. But what would happen if I claimed my right? They'd refuse to let me fly! This amendment is definitely not being held up today.