Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
America Will Be

Understanding Primary Sources:
Exploring the Bill of Rights

Objective: Students examine, discuss, and research the Bill of Rights.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
4-5 hours over 2-3 days

Building Background:
Discuss with students the importance of the Bill of Rights to the ratification of the Constitution. Remind them that some states refused to ratify the Constitution without the addition of a bill of rights. Talk about the ways in which the Bill of Rights gave legitimacy to the new government. Then ask students to identify the rights covered in the Bill of Rights. Write their responses on the board and save. Review any rights that were not identified by students, and tell students they will be exploring these first ten amendments to the Constitution more closely.

What To Do:

1. Divide students into ten small groups. Assign each group one of the first ten amendments to study more closely. Refer groups to the back of their textbooks for a copy of the Bill of Rights. Distribute the Exploring the Bill of Rights worksheet to each group. Have each group complete all but the final question on the worksheet.

2. When students have completed all but the final question on the worksheet, send them to the library to learn more about the historical events or concerns that prompted the inclusion of their assigned amendment in the Bill of Rights. Encyclopedias and almanacs are possible sources, as well as other texts on the Constitution and early American government.

3. When students have researched the background of their amendment, have them complete the last question on the worksheet.

4. Have each group develop a presentation about their amendment for the class. Tell students that the presentations will be oral and that each member of the group will be responsible for a specific part of it. Each report should include the following: the number and text of the specific amendment, a discussion of what issues or concerns it addresses, and any historical events or issues that might have motivated its inclusion in the Bill of Rights. Encourage students to use visual aids such as overheads.

Ask students to create a bill of rights for the twenty-first century. Write their responses on the board, and compare them to the rights included in the Bill of Rights. How are they similar? How are they different? Discuss.


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