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The Guiding Star of Equality: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History

Guiding Question:

  • How has the Declaration of Independence inspired Americans throughout history to help the country live up to its Founding Principles?

Objective:

  • Students will analyze key passages from documents across U.S. history to understand how the Declaration of Independence inspired Americans’ work to achieve equality.

Facilitation Notes: The background essay can be completed in class as a read-aloud or for homework the day before. Students will consult Appendix A: Founding Principles and Civic Virtues Organizer and Appendix B: Being an American Unit Graphic Organizer from the first lesson in this curriculum.

Anticipate

Optional: Have students read the background essay and complete the Comprehension Questions.

Engage

Have students respond to the following prompt in writing: The Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are created equal. Think of an example of a time in U.S. history or the present day in which individuals were not treated equally. How do Americans work to address this?

Have students share answers with a partner and discuss the similarities and differences between their answers. Have partner groups share their answers and hold a discussion. Steer the conversation to help students realize that when inequality or injustice exists, there are individuals and groups that work to address and change this. Tell students that they will be looking at documents from politicians, individuals, and social movements that helped make the United States a more equal and just society throughout history.

Explore

  1. Distribute Background Essay to students. Read the title aloud with students. Ask students what a guiding star might be. Direct students to the idea that this refers to something that never moves and is a standard by which you can find your location. Ask students to think about how the Declaration could serve in this way. Preview the headers and vocabulary terms with students to predict main ideas and concepts. Read the essay aloud as a class or have students read individually (this can also be done as preparatory work for stronger readers). After reading, give students time to review the Guiding Questions. Then, lead a brief discussion on the answers.
  2. Distribute Graphic Organizer: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History. Complete Part 1 as a class.
  3. Divide the class into pairs/small groups and assign each group one section of Documents: The Declaration of Independence and Equality in U.S. History. Students should use their assigned document to fill out the corresponding row of the graphic organizer. The first row, on the Declaration of Independence, has been completed as an example. You may wish to have pairs/groups put their information on a poster or PowerPoint slide for ease of sharing with the class. After completing their assigned sections, groups should share with the class.
  4. Ask students to answer the concluding questions after the organizer. Lead a brief discussion on student answers.

Assess & Reflect

  1. Have students design an Instagram post using #Equality. Arrange posts into a display to reflect how the Declaration of Independence has inspired Americans throughout history to help the country live up to its Founding Principles.
  2. Have students return to Appendix B: Being an American Unit Graphic Organizer from the first lesson in this curriculum and complete the applicable row as an exit ticket.

Extend

  • Ask students to find or take pictures of scenes that illustrate the principle of equality from the Declaration of Independence in action today. Post pictures to a class site or compile into a mural or collage.
  • Have students research and find an additional primary source not found in this activity that reflects the influence of the principle of equality from the Declaration of Independence. Choose a time frame that best suits your classroom (a historical movement or time period or the present day). Have students share their findings with the class.
  • Have students do additional research on the historical context of the documents in this lesson. Students should target their research around questions such as:
    • What was happening at the time this document was produced?
    • Who wrote it?
    • Who was the audience?
    • What was the author’s intended purpose?

Student Handouts


Next Lesson

An “Apple of Gold” in a “Picture of Silver”: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution

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