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We the People: a Deeper Understanding of the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution

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Social Studies Age Level Middle School (13 to 15 years old)

This lesson works best for 8th grade U.S. History, after students have learned how the original plan for government (the Articles of Confederation) was failing the newly independent America and how the state delegates met in the summer of 1787 to correct these failings and ended up writing a new Constitution. 

Students start by using the VTS thinking routine to examine Preamble by Mike Wilkins, an engaging and accessible way to 'read' the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution.  

After 'decoding' the words and noticing all the details they can, students use a handout to analyze the language of the actual Preamble and discuss word choice and intended meaning (they might also look at the photo of the actual Constitution at this point to compare the original with Mike WIlkins' work).  

They then read and analyze 4 quotes from The Federalist Papers defending the Constitution to the states who were about to vote to ratify it as a jumping off point to discuss what the Constitution was meant to achieve for the newly formed states.  Discussion about reasons why states would not want to join this union will also add to the understanding of what was at stake for each state. In addition, looking at a graphic organizer showing state and federal powers under this plan for government will help students see how this system divides power between the states and the national government.

Students then return to the original artwork, and decide if analysis of the meaning of the Preamble and the ideals of the Constitution affect how students 'see' the artwork. Using the 'connect/extend/challenge' visual routine, teachers can record what the students connected to, what new ideas pushed their thinking in different directions, and what is still challenging or confusing about the artwork or the Preamble.  

Some possible extension ideas are included in the collection to highlight the differences between the states as well as their similarities/unity, such as creating another artwork using an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence (while adhering to state DMV rules for vanity plates), and  comparing front pages of different states' daily newspapers. #SAAMteach