On September 17, schools across the country will dig into the U.S. Constitution—4,400 words that define how our government works. A 2004 law signed by President George W. Bush established September 17 as Constitution Day (previously known as Citizenship Day). The law requires government employees and schools that receive federal funds to devote time on this day to learning about this 233-year-old document. An older law, established in 1956, sets aside September 17–23 as Constitution Week. Celebrate the freedoms this document grants us in September and all year long!
Constitution Day Activities for Elementary, Middle, and High School Students
No time this year to put together lessons or classroom activities for Constitution Day? We’ve got you covered! Here are six activities that can be adapted for a range of grade levels.
1. Democracy at Play (Educational Games; Grades 3–12)
Make learning about the U.S. Constitution fun with iCivics’ games. Students can try their hand at running a Constitutional law firm, in English or Spanish, with the game Do I Have a Right? They can also play Executive Command to experience what it’s like to run the Oval Office, and take on the challenge of balancing the three parts of our government with Branches of Power. For more learning fun, challenge students to figure out which Founding Father they are most like by taking this quiz from the National Constitution Center.
2. Celebrate Your Rights (Poetry/Song Writing; Grades K–12)
Try going old-school to teach kids about the Constitution. Thanks to the catchy lyrics of this Schoolhouse Rock song, students will be able to recite the 52-word preamble in no time. Challenge them to write a poem or song about another part of the Constitution, such as the Bill of Rights. They might also choose to focus on a particular amendment, like the 13th amendment, which ended slavery in 1865, or the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920.
3. A Classroom Bill of Rights (Persuasive Writing; K–12)
Tell students that the writers of the Constitution knew the document would have to change with the times. So far, there have been 27 amendments to the Constitution. The first 10 are called the Bill of Rights. These include freedom of speech, religion, the press, and the right to assemble. Have students watch this video from the National Constitution Center to learn about the creation and ratification of the Bill of Rights. Short on time? Here’s a three-minute video explainer.
Next, challenge students to write a Bill of Rights for your classroom. The document should include 10 of the rights and freedoms they expect in the classroom, whether that’s in person or online. Start with a whole-class brainstorm of amendments. Provide students with an example or two to ensure they get the idea:
- Students have the right to express their opinions, as long as they do so respectfully.
- Students have the right to a half hour of free time every day, as long as they follow rules.
Write up student ideas in a word document, revising it until three-fourths of the class has ratified it. Once your classroom Bill of Rights is finalized, share it with students so they can each sign it.
Your middle and high school students can further explore the Bill of Rights with this downloadable worksheet.
4. Constitutional Convention Up–Close (Art Analysis; K–12)
Display this painting of George Washington at the Constitutional Convention, in 1787.
Invite students to describe what they see:
- What do you notice about the people in the painting?
- What are the people in the painting doing?
- Where is George Washington? Why do you think the painter put him there?
- Do you think the people in the painting reflect the people who live in the United States today? Explain.
- Tell students the Constitutional Convention brought together 55 men to represent their states in the creation of our government. If this convention were held today, who would you like to see represented? Explain.
Have middle and high school students dig deeper into the Constitutional Convention using this downloadable worksheet.
5. Room for Debate (Opinion Writing; Grades 5–12)
It’s a topic that has sparked debate in the past as well as the present: Should the U.S. eliminate the Electoral College system? Have your students write a persuasive essay arguing for or against. They should include a brief general background about the Electoral College, which is outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Tell students their essay should include: What the Electoral College is, how it works, and why it was established in the first place. Then, they should provide at least two reasons they feel the system does or doesn’t work. For extra credit, they can find a recent news article about the Electoral College and reference that article in their paper to support their argument. If you want to take it a step further, select pro and con supporters to hold a debate, staged like the presidential debates.
6. Presidential Powers (Research; Grades 3–8)
Tell students that they will create a help wanted ad for the job of U.S. president, using details from the Constitution and sample help wanted ads. First, provide students with a few sample job ads. Ask: What kind of information do the ads include? (Students should note that the ads include job duties, qualifications, and required skills.) What do you notice about the way the information is organized? (Students might note the use of bulleted lists, bolded words, or the order of information.) Next, provide students with a copy of Article II, Sections 1–4, of the U.S. Constitution and the "Help Wanted" activity sheet. Tell them to take notes on presidential duties, qualifications, and skills on the “Help Wanted” handout using information they find in the Constitution. Finally, have students use their notes to write a help-wanted ad for the position of commander in chief. Allow time for students to share their ads with the class.
More Ideas on How to Celebrate Constitution Day?
What does your celebration of Constitution Day in school look like? We’d love to hear your ideas! Share them with us on Twitter (@LeadAndLearn) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.
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