Constitution Day Lesson
Duration: One 40-50 minute lesson.
Goal: Students will understand the key principles that form the basis of the Constitution.
Students will be able to describe the issues Founding Fathers had to resolve during the
Students will be able to define key terms relating to the Constitution.
Students will be able to explain the relationship between key terms and the need for
compromise in the Constitutional Convention and the United States Government.
Essential Question: How does the constitution make the United States a strong and unified nation?
Common Core Standards:
CC.5.W.2.d- Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the
Theme 6- Power, Authority, and Governance
Theme 10- Civic Ideals and Practices
Procedure for simulation (10-15 minutes)
1. Put students into groups of varying sizes. Make sure that they know these represent states
and their varying populations.
2. Briefly describe the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Make sure
students understand the limitations of this government.
3. Set the scene for the Constitutional Convention. Tell them that the Founding Fathers met in
Philadelphia in 1787 to fix the Articles of Confederation and ended up writing a whole new
constitution after much debate. Tell them that they will be participating in a simulation that
illustrates this debate.
4. Present the issue to the students: in this case whether to have McDonalds or Burger King
for hot lunch at school. (You can adapt the issue depending on your students’ interests.)
5. Give the groups a minute or so to decide on what their group would rather have for lunch.
6. Pull the class together and call on each group one-by-one and ask what they have decided.
Suggest that each group get one vote on the matter and have the groups discuss for a few
minutes amongst themselves the fairness of each group only getting one vote. Tell students to
come up with solutions if they find this way of voting unfair.
7. Pull the class together and discuss some of the suggestions student come up with. As
students share their suggestions, present the pros and cons of each one. For example, if
students suggest one vote per person, inform them that the big groups would dominate and
get whatever they want. Ask if there is some way to compromise.
8. After students have presented a few suggestions for compromise, debrief students on how
the simulation relates to the Constitutional Convention. Tell them that the Founding Fathers
had to compromise in order to form the government that we have today. Describe that the big
states (Virginia plan) and the small states (New Jersey plan) had to compromise in order to
distribute power fairly. In order to make this distribution of power fair, the Founding Fathers
came up with many principles that are important in our government today and in our
Procedure for breaking down key concepts of the constitution (30-35 minutes)
1. Redistribute students into even-numbered groups.
2. Give each group one notecard with a constitutional term and definition written on it. (See
terms and definitions provided below.)
3. Instruct students to collaborate with their partners to create a poster in order to teach the
class what their chosen term means and its importance relating to the simulation. Each
group’s poster should include the key term and definition, a relevant picture, and a brief
written explanation as to how their term relates to the simulation.
4. After students have been given time to create their posters, have each group present their
Tie all of the terms together and briefly explain how all of the key terms form the basis of the United
States Constitution and how they establish the basis of civilized discussion. Ask students how effective
a democracy would be if these ideas were not part of the Constitution.
Materials Needed: Poster board, notecards, markers or colored pencils.
Checks and balances- The idea that each branch of government checks the actions of another
branch in order to prevent one from becoming too powerful.
Separation of powers- The division of power between the legislative (makes laws), executive
(carries out the laws), and judicial (decides if laws follow the Constitution) branches of
Virginia Plan- A plan offered at the Constitutional Convention representing the big states that
wanted a bicameral (two houses) legislature where both houses were represented by population.
New Jersey Plan- A plan offered at the Constitutional Convention representing the small states
that wanted a unicameral (one house) legislature where each state would receive one
Great Compromise- A compromise between the big and small states that set up a bicameral (two
houses) legislature in which the lower house (House of Representatives) was based on population
and the upper house (Senate) received an equal number of representatives per state (two).
Electoral College- A group of representatives from each state that elect the president of the United
States. Each state gets two representatives plus additional representatives based on the state’s
population. This was another way to compromise between the big and small states.
Commerce Clause- Allows Congress to control trade between states.
Elastic Clause- Allows Congress to pass laws that are “necessary and proper” that are not listed in
Amendment- A change to the Constitution which can add or delete existing parts.
Bill of Rights- The first ten amendments (changes) to the Constitution that guarantee basic
freedoms and rights such as freedom of speech and religion.
1. Introduce students to the conservative and liberal interpretations of the Constitution. Use a
current issue such as the health care reform. Illustrate how conservatives find it unconstitutional
since it is not listed in the Constitution while liberals view the constitution as flexible and changing
according to current needs.
2. Read Writing the U.S. Constitution by Lori Mortensen. (Mankato, MN: Picture Window Books,
3. As an additional reference, you might find the book What Is a Constitution?
by William David Thomas (Pleasantville, NY: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2008) helpful to explain
concepts to students.
Accommodations for students with special needs
1. Provide the key terms and definitions to students before the lesson so students can familiarize
themselves with them.
2. During the simulation activity, occasionally ask for thumbs-up or thumbs-down response to yes or
no questions during the discussions in order to promote the inclusion of all students.
3. Make sure students with special needs are in groups with classmates who can help them. Also
ensure that they understand the instructions and help them begin the activity.