Constitution 101 is a 15 unit curriculum that provides students with a basic understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, structure, and caselaw. Using multiple primary source documents students will study the historical and philosophical foundations of America’s founding principles from a range of diverse voices The curriculum guides students to think like constitutional lawyers—cultivating the skills necessary to analyze all sides of constitutional questions. Each unit contains detailed materials for classroom teachers, as well as opportunities for guided discovery and practice and tools to check for understanding.
Constitution 101 is a 15-unit asynchronous, semester-long curriculum that provides students with a basic understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, structure, and caselaw. Drawing on primary source documents from our new, curated online Founders’ Library—containing over 170 historical texts and over 70 landmark Supreme Court cases selected by leading experts of different perspectives—students will study the historical and philosophical foundations of America’s founding principles from a range of diverse voices The curriculum guides students to think like constitutional lawyers—cultivating the skills necessary to analyze all sides of constitutional questions. Each module includes detailed materials for classroom educators, as well as opportunities for guided discovery and practice and tools to check for understanding.
In this series of lessons, first students will read and reflect on the Constitution regarding issues of security and liberty. Next, they will participate in a Reflective Conversation in which students will discuss the issues of security and liberty. Finally, they will expand the conversation to a larger community of peers outside of their school.
Students explore the Founding Era legacies of assembly and petition and how those legacies informed the creation of
these often-overlooked aspects of the First Amendment. They will complete a close reading activity to compare and
contrast ideas presented in the Interactive Constitution and describe the ways these rights have been interpreted by
the Court and used by citizens at various points throughout U.S. history. They will evaluate the constitutionality of
assembly and petition rights in the modern era through an in-class, civil dialogue addressing questions about time,
place, and manner restrictions; counter-protests; protests on college campuses; and other relevant assembly and
When James Madison set out to write the First Amendment, he was careful to include protections against the
national establishment of religion. The framers had experienced a world in which the church ran the government
and did not want to repeat that experience. The issue of government established religion is still relevant in our
country today. In this lesson, students will learn about the establishment clause and will examine four major
issues that center around it.
The First Amendment has two clauses related to religion, specifically preventing the establishment of religion and the
ability to freely exercise religious beliefs. The goal of this lesson is for students to gain a deeper understanding of the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. They will do this by understanding the history of the clause, as well as
the relevant Supreme Court cases that will help students interpret how this clause has been applied. Students will also
use scholarly essays and the text of the U.S. Constitution to evaluate current issues and cases that involve the Establishment Clause
Many Americans do not fully understand the history and text of the First Amendment, even if the rights enshrined within
are used every day. While many Americans, like much of the founding generation, can agree that freedom of the press should be protected, there are disagreements over when, why, and how freedom of the press may be limited. This lesson encourages students to examine their own assumptions and to deepen their understanding of the currently accepted interpretation of freedom of the press under the First Amendment
Many Americans struggle to understand the Constitution, especially the rights included in the First Amendment. While
many Americans, like many in the Founding generation, can agree that freedom of the press should be protected, there
are disagreements over when, why, and how freedom of the press may be limited. This lesson encourages students to
examine their own assumptions and to deepen their understanding of current accepted interpretation of freedom of the
press under the First Amendment.
Many Americans struggle with understanding the language and subsequent interpretation of the Constitution, especially when it come to the rights encapsulated in the First Amendment. While many Americans can agree that speech should be protected, there are disagreements over when, where, and how speech can be limited or restricted. This lesson encourages students to examine their own assumptions and to deepen their understanding of current, accepted interpretations of speech rights under the First Amendment including when and where speech is protected and/or limited. It should reinforce the robustness of the First Amendment protections of speech.
This lesson is designed to introduce students to the Constitution. It can be used as a one-day lesson to fulfill the Constitution Day requirement or as a means to begin a conversation about the framers of the Constitution. It has been carefully designed to highlight the three spheres of civic education as detailed by the National Constitution Center; that is, the lesson includes civic knowledge, active citizenship, and democratic deliberation.
The Founders’ Library refers to the prior knowledge the Founding Fathers brought to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Students will examine these ideas and use them to analyze the Constitution and Bill of Rights. At the same time, students will be considering ideas and information that relate to their own lives.
Students will finish the lesson by considering the idea of prior knowledge. Each student will be asked to think of books, music, movies, or television shows that impact ideas about the United States. The combination of personal experience and the critical examination of the Constitution will allow the students to have a deeper understanding of the creative imagination that was necessary to write and debate the Constitution of the United States
This lesson is designed for one forty-five minute high school class period. It does not have to be limited to the social studies classroom, but can be completed in a variety of settings from a small seminar to a traditional humanities classroom.
This lesson builds student understanding of the relationships between the United States’ founding documents by comparing and contrasting the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Using a close reading guide, students will explore the key concepts in Jeffrey Rosen and David Rubenstein’s “Constituting Liberty: From the Declaration to the Bill of Rights,” accessible on the Interactive Constitution at constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution.
Your students can more fully explore the U.S. Constitution’s history and what it means today with the new Interactive Constitution, where scholars of different perspectives discuss what they agree upon, and what they disagree about. These experts were selected with the guidance of leaders of two prominent constitutional law organizations—The American Constitution Society and The Federalist Society. This project is sponsored by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
Please note that the link in the lesson plan for “Constituting Liberty: From the Declaration to the Bill of Rights” is rather difficult to locate, but is available here: https://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/13_Exhibition_Pamphlet.pdf.
Students will investigate the legal language defining their freedom of speech rights. Participants will analyze landmark Supreme Court cases that define students’ freedom of speech, and then examine a recent challenge, Hawk and McDonaldMartinez v. Easton Areas School District (2013)—otherwise known as the I Heart Boobies case. To guide thinking, students will apply the IRAC case analysis technique and then will write majority and dissenting opinions as Supreme Court Justices.
The Rule of Law is an important concept in understanding the Constitution; however, it is difficult for many people to define. Documents from the era of the drafting and ratification of the Constitution have been debated throughout history, as scholars and leaders have grappled over the proper relationship between the government and the governed. Moreover, the Rule of Law was established in the U.S. Constitution and enforced in the judicial system of the United States through judicial review. The first day of this lesson uses historical quotations to help students develop understandings of conceptions of the Rule of Law. In the second day of the lesson, through small group work and class-wide collaboration analyzing Supreme Court cases, students will reflect on how their understandings of Rule of Law relate to the Constitution, the judicial system, and their daily lives. (National Constitution Center)
This lesson enhances the student experience during the Judge Chats program at the National Constitution Center. It is an anticipatory activity that helps students explore the requisite skills necessary to become a judge. Through this lesson, students will create a list of questions, based on what they learned in class, to share with the visiting judge during the Judge Chat program. The students will access their personal experiences to connect with the content of
this lesson. They will examine and analyze primary source documents, in order to understand how the U.S. Constitution
and state constitutions established the qualifications and duties of judges.
Article III of the Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the national government, which is responsible for interpreting the laws. At the highest level, the judicial branch is led by the U.S. Supreme Court, which consists of nine Justices. In the federal system, the lower courts consist of the district courts and the courts of appeals. Federal courts—including the Supreme Court—exercise the power of judicial review. This power gives courts the authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed (and actions taken) by the elected branches. The Constitution also promotes the principle of judicial independence—granting federal judges life tenure (meaning that they serve until they die, resign, or are impeached and removed from office). This module will examine the judicial branch and its powers.
The First Amendment protects some of our most cherished rights, including religious liberty, free speech, a free press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances. Together, these essential rights are connected to the freedom of conscience—protecting our ability to think as we will and speak as we think. As we examine the First Amendment’s text and history, we will explore debates over the First Amendment’s five freedoms, analyze landmark Supreme Court cases, and examine how the First Amendment has been used by groups of all perspectives to promote their vision of a more perfect Union.
Slavery was embedded into America’s fabric by the time of the framing and ratification of the Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, the delegates refused to write the word “slavery” or enshrine a “right to property in men” in the Constitution’s text, but they did compromise on the issue of slavery, writing important protections for slaveholders into our nation’s charter. Debates over slavery continued (and increased) in the decades to come, culminating in Abraham Lincoln’s election as America’s first anti-slavery president, Southern secession, and the Civil War. Following this bloody war, the Reconstruction Republicans worked to rebuild our nation on a stronger constitutional foundation, passing our nation’s first civil rights laws and ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. These amendments ended slavery, wrote the Declaration of Independence’s promise of freedom and equality into the Constitution, and promised to end racial discrimination in voting. Many scholars refer to this key period as America’s “Second Founding.”
The original Constitution did not specifically protect the right to vote—leaving the issue largely to the states. For much of American history, this right has often been granted to some, but denied to others; however, through a series of amendments to the Constitution, the right to vote has expanded over time. These amendments have protected the voting rights of new groups, including by banning discrimination at the ballot box based on race (15th Amendment) and sex (19th Amendment). They also granted Congress new power to enforce these constitutional guarantees, which Congress has used to pass landmark statutes like the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While state governments continue to play a central role in elections today, these new amendments carved out a new—and important—role for the national government in this important area.
The 14th Amendment wrote the Declaration of Independence's promise of freedom and equality into the Constitution. Ratified after the Civil War, this amendment transformed the Constitution forever and is at the core of a period that many scholars refer to as our nation’s “Second Founding.” Even so, the 14th Amendment remains the focus of many of today’s most important constitutional debates (and Supreme Court cases). In many ways, the history of the modern Supreme Court is largely a history of modern-day battles over the 14th Amendment's meaning. So many of the constitutional cases that Americans care about today turn on the 14th Amendment.
With the Constitution, the Founding generation created the greatest charter of freedom in the history of the world. However, the Founding generation did not believe that it had a monopoly on constitutional wisdom. Therefore, the founders set out a formal amendment process that allowed later generations to revise our nation’s charter and “form a more perfect Union.” They wrote this process into Article V of the Constitution. Over time, the American people have used this amendment process to transform the Constitution by adding a Bill of Rights, abolishing slavery, promising freedom and equality, and extending the right to vote to women and African Americans. All told, we have ratified 27 constitutional amendments across American history.