As shown in our online store screenshot, our resources are intended for secondary students and teachers. I’m so excited that we are just weeks away from the release of our new curriculum, The Founding Documents: A Three-Act Drama, which is tailor-made for fourth through sixth graders. It is a fun, full-color magazine-style activity booklet that covers the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The content includes short readings, games, and other engaging activities. A short teacher’s guide with reading comprehension questions, vocabulary support, and final quizzes will also be available to teachers.

Fifth-grade teachers have attended many of our professional development programs because U.S. History is often taught at that grade level. Because it is important for students of all ages to engage in thinking about the Constitution and its principles, we are often asked for ideas about how to adapt our existing secondary resources for younger learners. Below are some of the strategies that teachers of elementary students might use in order to effectively employ Bill of Rights Institute lesson plans in their classes. A few simple modifications can make the readings and activities age-appropriate.

• Vocabulary support: pre-teach vocabulary, add marginal notes, highlight important terms
• Use additional images: conduct an internet search of public domain resources for supporting portraits, maps, or period art work
• Chunking: break up readings into shorter segments; jigsaw strategies; graphic organizers
• Use fewer or shorter passages from primary sources
• Help students understand relevance by leading them to point out connections between the lesson content and their everyday lives
• Emphasize cross-curricular applications: many Bill of Rights Institute lessons include elements from social studies, reading, and writing–even math
• Notice “story-telling” opportunities – Students of all ages love stories

Many of our lesson plans use activity cards and small group activities to have students engage with the content. With a little vocabulary support, these cards are a vehicle to engage young students in considering applications of important constitutional principles.
These and other scaffolding ideas can provide the tools to empower young learners to grapple with complex critical thinking tasks. It is important to enable them to read and understand primary source documents, presented in age-appropriate chunks. If your students would be discouraged by a whole paragraph from a primary source, give them a sentence. If a sentence is too much, give them a phrase. But help students develop their capacity for thinking about complex issues by presenting and discussing these issues. A kid does not learn to swim if he never gets in water over his belly button. He won’t learn to think if he is not coached into working with challenging materials.
What strategies and tips have you found to be helpful in leading young learners to understand and appreciate their heritage of liberty?

Thanks to Elaine Rowe (New York), Diana Fiddler (Oklahoma), and Emma Humphries (Florida) for contributing their ideas on this topic!

Pre-Order your copy of the Founding Documents: A Three-Act Drama today!

Posted in Civic Education

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