As we are settling into school and approaching fall, we can look forward to the season ahead and the fun school activities that go along with it. With the remembrances that go along with September 11th and the national unity of that day, there is another anniversary of a day that was influential for the country which takes place very soon after.
After recognizing and honoring those that gave their lives on September 11th, we can then look ahead to recognizing and celebrating U.S. Constitution Day on September 17th.
What is Constitution Day?
Constitution Day is an American holiday observed on September 17, recognizing the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. This commemorates the day, September 17, in 1787, when delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in Philadelphia. On this day, classrooms across the country celebrate this day in many different ways. When learning to understand history, it is important for our students to also know the significance of this day.
Why is it Important to Recognize Constitution Day?
All educational institutions that receive federal funding are required to hold an educational program about the Constitution on Constitution Day. However, there’s much to be gained for students in learning about and celebrating the Constitution, and it is definitely worth investing more time in.
It is important that each generation understands the Constitution, as citizens should learn their own rights and privileges. There are obligations that go along with citizenship as well, which are taught to each upcoming generation. In studying the constitution, students also learn more about the history of our nation and the sacrifices made to form a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Constitution Day Activities to Try with Your Students
Here are just a few ideas to get you started for Constitution Day 2021:
- Start with the Preamble
The Preamble and the complex vocabulary in it is a great place to begin Constitution Day for your middle school students. This would be a great time to use the Schoolhouse Rock episode, “Constitution Preamble”. Of course, Schoolhouse Rock is the source of many short videos that explain various social studies concepts.Students can go over the Preamble in small groups and then look up definitions of some of the complex vocabulary in order to gain a better understanding of what it means. Students can then present what they have learned by explaining it all in their own words.
- Invite a guest speaker
A federal judge or lawyer that has experience with constitutional law would be a great option to add to the activities for Constitution Day. They can come and speak about major aspects of the Constitution, such as the popular sovereignty, republicanism, limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism. A guest speaker could also connect and discuss current events involving constitutional issues.
- Have your own Constitutional Convention
Assign students different roles and give them plenty of background information ahead of time, so that on Constitution Day you can recreate the Constitutional Convention. Students may even enjoy dressing for the parts. They can debate representing the perspectives of their assigned delegates. This is a very engaging and immersive activity, not only integrating their knowledge of the Constitution but also adding an element of dramatic interpretation.
- Hamilton The Musical
Kids often love Hamilton the Musical. This teacher does too: it is a very fun way of learning about the establishment of our country and government. Of course, using this resource in school requires some advanced planning and caution because of some of the language.There is, however, “clean” versions of the Hamilton soundtrack that can be downloaded. Going through some of the songs in the musical together and examining the lyrics, students can gain a lot of knowledge regarding the Constitution and how the Founding Fathers worked through the development of it.
- Eliminate an Amendment
Have a debate by placing students in small groups. Students can read through and discuss the Amendments to the Constitution. Then, each group can propose one amendment that could be eliminated. The teacher can then facilitate an organized debate in which each group states their reasoning, defending their position and opposing the other groups.
- Create a new Amendment
Similarly to the previous activity, students could propose a new Amendment to the Constitution. Students would be put into groups to read through and review the Amendments. Then, each group could propose a new amendment to be added to the Constitution. The teacher could then facilitate a debate about whether or not to add the amendment. Students could even hold a vote when the debate is complete.
- Comparing Constitutions
For high school students, a rigorous and reflective activity would be to compare and contrast our constitution to the constitutions of other democratic countries in the world. Students can go online to obtain copies or portions of constitutions from other countries. Then, students would work in small groups to complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting our constitution to the other. Each group could present a different country’s constitution, presenting the similarities and differences in our constitution and the other assigned countries.
While we do not live in a perfect country, it is important to recognize and to teach our students to recognize that our Constitution has endured many years and obstacles. It has evolved as our country has changed and amendments have been added. We must pass this knowledge, both the rights and obligations, on to each coming generation for the continuing celebration and betterment of our nation.