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What Are the Origins of the Bill of Rights?

60 min


  • Students will understand the ideas of the rights of Englishmen and natural rights, and identify similarities between historical statements about their rights and those rights’ current applications.
  • Students will consider personal responsibilities and methods to protect individual rights, and understand how the colonial experience affected the development of the Bill of Rights.
  • Students will analyze how the history behind English rights and the concept of natural rights influenced the American Revolution and the notion of just government.
  • Students will evaluate the significance of individual rights in their daily lives.

  1. Give students Handout A: Rights Attitude Inventory. Ask students to decide whether they think the rights listed are very important or not very important and fill out the left column. Have them leave the right column blank.
  2. Have students read Handout B: Background Essay – The Origins of the Bill of Rights.

  1. Ask students which right they thought was most important before reading Handout B. Keep a tally of which rights students thought were most important.
  2. Discuss Handout B with the class. Ask students whether their views on which rights are most important have changed after the reading and have them complete the right column on Handout A. Tally which rights students thought were most important after the reading.

  1. As a class, fill in Handout C: Foundations of Our Rights. Ask for student volunteers to suggest responses to fill in the checks on the chart.
  2. Distribute Handout D: Founding Documents and Philosophies. Student pairs should discuss and answer the questions on Handout D.
  3. Bring the class back together and go over Handout D as a large group.

  1. Have students ask a parent or guardian which right he or she thinks is most important and why. Have students present their parents’ responses to the class.
  2. Have students write a short paragraph (5-7 sentences) explaining which right they think is most important.
  3. Have students imagine a world where a certain right or many rights are not protected. Have students draw a picture or write a short paragraph about what the world would be like without those rights.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Why A Bill of Rights? What Impact Does It Have?