4 Engaging Ways to Introduce Your Constitution Unit
James Madison once said, “The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.” Madison clearly believed that the Constitution was an incredibly important part of U.S. history. But, how do you introduce this topic to students?
When teaching about important historical documents like the U.S. Constitution it can be difficult to find engaging and appropriate resources. I want to save you time, so I’m brainstorming creative ways to introduce your history units.
Below are 4 engaging ways to introduce your U.S. Constitution unit. I hope you and your students love them!
Introduce the Unit with a Painting
Signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy (1940)
Why use paintings to teach about the U.S. Constitution? Historical paintings can convey information in an interesting way. There is so much to unpack, analyze, and discuss.
In 1939, Congress commissioned this painting from Howard Chandler Christy to celebrate the U.S. Constitution’s 150-year anniversary. Christy’s painting depicts the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Independence Hall on September 17, 1787. Christy did his best to accurately portray the delegates by searching out portraits of each one. Read more about the painting here.
How it Works:
- First, students study the painting for a few minutes.
- Next, ask the following questions. Students may share their answers verbally or write their answers down on a guided worksheet like this one.
- What are the people doing?
- What objects are in the painting?
- What activities are taking place in the painting?
- Why do you think this painting was created?
- What time period does the painting show? How do you know?
- Using clues from the painting, what do you think is the main message?
- What is the mood of the painting?
- Finally, students reflect on what the painting tells them about the Constitution and its delegates. Encourage students to make inferences.. Speculate about how the delegates may have felt while drafting the Constitution. Discuss what challenges they faced.
This is a great starting point for your U.S. Constitution unit. For more activities like this, check out powerful Constitution primary sources here.
Using a Great Introductory Video
The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights (Whiteboard Illustration)
Videos are one of my favorite ways to help students engage with history. This illustrated whiteboard video from middle school teacher Mr. Hill summarizes the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
How it Works:
- First, ask students to share what they know about the Constitution and its purpose. It’s okay if they don’t know a lot!
- Before watching the video, ask students to watch for key ideas about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Consider having a list of questions for students to answer like:
- What was one weakness of the Articles of Confederation?
- What are the three branches of the U.S. government?
- What do we call the first 10 Amendments? What is their purpose?
- While watching, turn on captions and pause the video throughout if needed.
- After watching, discuss the key ideas students found. Ask some follow up questions like: What did the video teach you about the Constitution? Did you learn anything that surprised you?
Looking for more Constitution videos? Check out my list of Constitution videos for kids.
Introduce the Unit with a Historical Picture Book
Disclosure: The book link is an Amazon affiliate link. This means that I may earn commissions for purchases made by clicking the link.
Do you use picture books when teaching history? Picture books are an engaging way to break down difficult concepts.
A More Perfect Union does just that. This picture book uses accurate historical information to tell why and how the Constitution of the United States was created. Although this book is long, it is packed with great information. I suggest starting with the first 11 pages of the book, which explain the circumstances surrounding the first Constitutional Convention.
How it Works:
- First, ask students to share what they know about the U.S. Constitution. Encourage students to share when, where, and why it was written and by whom. Write all of these ideas on the board. Remind students that it’s okay if their guesses aren’t correct. That’s why they’re going to study this unit!
- Next, students read A More Perfect Union to find out which of their ideas were true.. Encourage students to look for the following information:
- What year was the Constitution drafted?
- Who was invited to the Constitutional Convention?
- How did delegates get to the convention? Was it difficult?
- Who led the Convention?
- Where was the Constitutional Convention held?
- Who is known as the Father of the Constitution?
- Why was the Constitution written?
- Finally, ask students what this book taught them about the Constitution and what else they want to know.
Introduce the Unit with a Song
The Preamble – Schoolhouse Rock
This last idea is one your students are sure to love. Songs can be an engaging tool to teach about history. This classic song from Schoolhouse Rock is a creative way to help students learn the preamble of the U.S. Constitution.
How it Works:
- First, provide students with a KWL chart or allow them to make their own. Explain that a preamble is an introduction to a document. The U.S. Constitution has a very famous preamble. Students write what they know about the preamble in the “What I Know” section of their chart.
- Next students consider what they want to learn. They write this in the “What I Want to Know” section of the chart.
- Before watching the video, Read the preamble together so that students can identify it when they listen to the song.
- Watch the video.
- After, discuss what the students learned from the song.. Then fill out the “What I Learned” section of the chart. It may be helpful to display the lyrics during your discussion.
More Resources for Teaching about the Constitution
I hope these ideas will help you introduce your Constitution unit in an engaging way!
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