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Rights and Responsibilities

Guiding Questions

  • What is a right?
  • What is a responsibility?
  • What responsibilities are natural byproducts of the rights we enjoy?
  • How does exercising our rights and fulfilling our responsibilities help to promote the common good for all?


  • Students will differentiate rights from responsibilities.
  • Students will analyze the relationship between rights and responsibilities.
  • Students will explain how rights and responsibilities are related to the common good.

  • rights
  • responsibilities
  • common good

Have students read Rights and Responsibilities Essay for homework. (20 minutes)

Prior to class time, print and cut apart the Rights and Responsibilities Slips.

Students will need copies of the U.S. Constitution.

Ask the class, What is a right? What is a responsibility?

After students briefly discuss these questions, give each student one or more of the Rights and Responsibilities Slips. Students work in pairs or small groups to help one another decide which category each slip belongs in: Rights or Responsibilities.

After students have worked on the task for a few minutes, ask the class if there were any items that were difficult to classify and why. Designate a container for Rights on one side of the room and another container for Responsibilities on the other. Have students get up from their desks to place each of their slips of paper in the container they have chosen. Ultimately the person who received each slip has the final authority to decide where it goes.

Work with the class as a whole to develop a list of rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Students skim Amendments 1 – 8 of the Bill of Rights. Make a class list of all the rights listed. Discuss how Amendments 9 and 10 apply to the idea of rights. Have one group of students quickly skim Amendments 11- 27, and contribute to the class list of rights. Have another group quickly skim Articles 1 – 7 of the U.S. Constitution to find individual rights, and add to the list of rights.

Have students work in small groups to read Handout A: How Does the Constitution Protect Liberty?, and to discuss the questions at the end of the handout. Invite groups to share their responses to the Comprehension and Critical Thinking Questions.

In whole-class discussion, pick several rights. Ask what action would be required of citizens to exercise that right responsibly. For example, students should naturally discuss voting. Ask whether that is a right or responsibility, and discuss how to participate in the act of voting responsibly. Examples might be keeping up with current events and learning about a candidate’s positions and actions with respect to public affairs and current issues. Free speech: What responsibilities are implied when you wish to exercise your freedom of speech? Examples might be listening respectfully to others and protecting the right to free speech for those who hold unpopular opinions. Continue as time permits with other rights/responsibilities that students may suggest. Conclude by asking, What characteristics of citizens are necessary for republican self-government to be just and to promote the common good?

Have students work in small groups to read Handout B, Excerpts of Federalist Papers No. 10, 51, 55, and 57, regarding responsibilities of republican government. Discuss the questions provided.

Develop a classroom definition of “common good” that most can agree upon.

According to, Common good is “the advantage or benefit of all people in society or in a group.”

Ask, How are rights and responsibilities related to the common good? When we insist upon, and exercise, our inalienable rights, to whom are we responsible? How can exercising our liberties benefit the common good?

Write a 2-3 paragraph response: How can you be a good citizen and contribute to the common good while exercising your rights and fulfilling your responsibilities? Give concrete examples.

Go back to your original sorting sheet where you divided rights and responsibilities into categories. Which items are both? Is the sorting more or less difficult after this lesson?

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Diversity as an American Value

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