First Name: Cindy Last Name: Stewart
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lesson Title: A Survey of the Declaration of Independence and its Signers
Suggested Grade Level: Middle School or High School
Major Themes/Concepts: Declaration of Independence, natural rights, pursuit of happiness, unalienable,
The student will:
1. Read and discuss parts of the Declaration of Independence
2. Learn why the Declaration of Independence was written
3. Research short biographies of the signers of the Declaration of Independence
4. Share information about the signers of the Declaration of Independence during class discussion
5. Analyze the impact signing the Declaration of Independence had on the lives of the signers
6. Compare and contrast the “Declaration of Israel’s Independence 1948” with the American
Ask the students what the word “independence” means to them. Write their responses on a word wall
(poster paper or poster board) or the chalkboard. Use this activity as a springboard into a discussion of
what a “declaration of independence” might be.
14 index cards with vocabulary words and definitions listed
List of vocabulary words and definitions for overhead or handouts (optional activity)
The Declaration of Independence (from textbook or individual copies)
The Process/Procedures of Instruction:
1. Vocabulary Activity: Put the following vocabulary words on index cards. The object of this
activity is not to memorize the definitions but to simply distribute the cards to the students and
instruct them to read their definitions at the appropriate time. Before starting the lesson, make sure
each student is ready to read his/her word and definition
1st Section (paragraphs 1 and 2—up to the list of grievances against the king)
usurpations: wrongful seizures of power
evinces: clearly displays
despotism: unlimited power
tyranny: oppressive power exerted by a government or ruler
Middle Section—grievances against the king (optional section—put information on the
overhead or on a handout if this section is to be read and interpreted by the students)
relinquish: release, yield
formidable: causing dread
convulsions: violent disturbances
naturalization of foreigners: the process by which foreign-born persons become citizens
appropriations of land: setting aside land for settlement
a multitude of: many
quartering: lodging, housing
arbitrary: not based on law
abdicated: given up
foreign mercenaries: soldiers hired to fight for a country not their own
perfidy: violation of trust
Last Section (last 3 paragraphs—follows the list of grievances against the king)
petitioned for redress: asked formally for a correction of wrongs
unwarrantable jurisdiction: unjustified authority
magnanimity: generous spirit
conjured: urgently called upon
consanguinity: common ancestry
acquiesce: consent to
These definitions are taken from American Nation: In the Modern Era (Holt), pp.26-28.
2. Distribute the first set of vocabulary cards, and then instruct the students to follow along as the
Declaration of Independence is read aloud. Read the first two paragraphs (up to the bill of
particulars—list of grievances against the king) using student volunteers if possible. Since most of
the sentences are very long, instruct the students to stop reading at the end of each sentence, and,
at this point, ask the students to interpret what has been read. If no one responds, ask questions to
stimulate their thinking. When one of the vocabulary words is read, instruct the student who has
the corresponding word card to raise his/her hand, so he/she can be recognized to read the
definition. Instruct the student who is reading to go back and reread the sentence or phrase using
the definition as a substitute for the word.
The purpose of this lesson is not to analyze the Declaration of Independence but to provide a brief
survey of parts of it to help students understand why it was necessary for the colonies to declare
their independence and establish a new government. With this in mind, when discussing the first
section, explain the following:
a. natural rights—life, liberty, property
“pursuit of happiness”—refers to the right to property
“unalienable”—can’t be taken away or given up
(These definitions are condensed from material in Lesson 1 of We the People: The Citizen and
b. Ask questions, such as, “What is the purpose of government according to this document? Who
does the government get its power from? When do people have the right to change or get
overthrow the government?”
3. Select one of the following activities:
a. Provide the students with the list of vocabulary words and definitions for the middle
section of the Declaration, and instruct them to form groups of three or four and list four
grievances the colonists had against the king. Ask the groups to share their information in
a class discussion.
b. The teacher describes some of the grievances the colonists had against the king. Ask
questions about how the students would feel if these grievances were true today.
1) He wouldn’t give permission for needed laws to be passed.
2) He wouldn’t allow the colonial governors to pass important laws until he gave his
permission, but then he ignored the requests.
3) He had repeatedly disbanded legislative bodies for disagreeing with him when he
was infringing upon the rights of the people
4) He refused to allow new legislative bodies to be elected and left the various
colonies without government
5) He had made judges dependent upon him for the length of their offices and their
6) He had created many new offices and had filled them with many new officials
who harassed the colonists.
7) He had forced the colonists to house large numbers of soldiers in their homes.
8) He protected his soldiers when they had murdered colonists (mock trials).
9) He had cut off the colonists’ trade with other countries, taxed them without their
permission, deprived many colonists of a trial by jury, and had taken colonists
across the sea to be tried for “pretended offences.”
10) He had eliminated the colonists’ most valuable laws and altered the government.
11) He was waging war against the colonies—“He has plundered our seas, ravaged
our Coasts, burnt out towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”
12) He was at that time sending foreign troops “to complete the works of death,
desolation and tyranny.”
13) He had taken colonists captive from their ships and forced them to fight against
14) He had caused riots in the colonies and encouraged the Indians to make war with
4. Computer Lab Activity: Provide each student with a copy of the Declaration Worksheet and
assign 2 to 3 names to each student (it would be best not to duplicate the assignment of names).
Read the instructions before going to the lab. The appropriate web site is given in the
instructions—(http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/index.htm). After the students have
completed their assignments, read the questions aloud and instruct the students to call out the
answers at the appropriate time.
5. Distribute the vocabulary cards for the last section of the Declaration (last three paragraphs), and
read this section together following the same procedures as the first section.
6. Focus on the ending of the Declaration of Independence—“…we mutually pledge to each other
our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Ask the students to describe how the signers
fulfilled this pledge and to analyze the impact that signing the Declaration had upon these
1. Ask review questions regularly throughout the lessons and at the beginning of each day.
2. If each student is asked to answer all of the questions on the Declaration Worksheet, the
assignment would take approximately 2 ½ hours.
The students will have read, discussed, and gained a greater understanding of why the Declaration of
Independence was written. They will have researched and discussed characteristics of the signers of the
Declaration including sacrifices they made on behalf of the new nation.
1. Listing and discussing the grievances against the king (if this activity is chosen)
2. Declaration Worksheet and discussion
3. Assign a one-page essay asking the students to describe the purpose of the Declaration of
Independence and the impact it had upon the lives of the signers.
Provide the students with a copy of “Declaration of Israel’s Independence 1948”
(http://www.stateofisrael.com/declaration/) and of the “Balfour Declaration” of November 2, 1918
(http://www.stateofisrael.com/balfour/). Divide the class into groups and assign each group a section of
these documents to read and briefly summarize. Hold a class discussion about the differences between
the American Declaration and the Israeli Declaration.
General Notes (Extension Activities):
Instruct the students to research the government and people of Iran. They should read parts of the
“Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran”—Articles 1-4, 6, 9, 11-14 especially
(www.salamiran.org/IranInfo/State/Constitution/). The students need to take special note of any
differences between the statements of the constitution and the actual treatment of Iranian citizens. After
completing their research, instruct them to break into groups, pretend they are citizens of Iran, and write a
declaration of independence.
Center for Civic Education. We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution. Calabasas, CA: Center for
Civic Education, 1988.
Center for Civic Education. We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution Teacher’s Guide.
Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1995.
American Nation: In the Modern Era. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2003.
Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. “Signers of the Declaration of Independence.”
State of Israel