Bill of Rights Lesson Plan: Debate the Amendments!

Submitted by: Rachel Zindler

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 6-12, students use BrainPOP resources to gain familiarity with the U.S. Bill of Rights. Students will determine how the Bill of Rights is relevant to American citizens today and practice their debating skills in authentic contexts.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Gain familiarity with the U.S. Bill of Rights.
  2. Determine how the Bill of Rights is relevant to American citizens today.
  3. Practice debating skills.

Materials:

  • Computer(s)
  • Access to BrainPOP
  • Interactive Whiteboard (optional)
  • Print FYI “In Depth” feature (enough for the whole class), or set up for interactive whiteboard
  • Print KWL Graphic Organizer (enough for the whole class)
  • Print Activity Pages (enough for the whole class), or set up for interactive whiteboard
  • Print Main Idea or Concept Map Graphic Organizers (enough for the whole class)
  • Prepare signs or chart paper with the following 3 arguments written in large print (one on each sign): The Second Amendment is correct the way it is written. The Second Amendment should be revised. The Second Amendment should be removed from the Bill of Rights.

Vocabulary:

U.S. Constitution; amend; ratify; amendment; James Madison; freedom of speech; due process; natural right; prohibit; supreme court; debate; citizen; right to bear arms; militia; context

Preparation:

Log on to BrainPOP and preview the Bill of Rights movie and read all related features. Print up and/or copy suggested materials and set up computer and interactive whiteboard if you plan to use one. You may want to present this movie as a follow up to a unit on the U.S. Constitution and the American Revolution, and may want to screen those BrainPOP movies for your students as well.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask your students, “What is a right?” What are some rights they know they have? What are some rights they feel they should have?
  2. Print the KWL Graphic Organizers. Hand out copies to pairs of students and ask them to write what they know and what they wonder about their rights on the chart. Gather the group together and discuss their thoughts. You may want to project the KWL chart onto an interactive whiteboard and have students take turns writing their thoughts into the chart.
  3. To access students’ prior knowledge and prepare students for new concepts and material in the movie, present the Vocabulary Activity Sheet. You may want to pass out copies to students or use the interactive whiteboard to discuss new terms and agree on definitions for the vocabulary. It’s ok to leave some of the definitions blank, as students will return to this after the movie as well.
  4. Tell students that you will be screening the Bill of Rights movie twice. The first time they will just take notes on the ten amendments. The second time they will have an opportunity to discuss the movie in more depth.
  5. Screen the movie. Remember that you can turn on the closed captions to support students who learn best when reading (click the button marked cc at the bottom right of the movie window). Also, remember to pause as each new amendment is introduced so that students have time to record them on their KWL Graphic Organizers. You may want to support students who have difficulty organizing information by providing them with a version of the chart pre-numbered 1-10, pairing them with other students, or just writing it on the large format chart together as a class.
  6. After watching the movie the first time, ask students to work with a partner to check that they have recorded all 10 amendments correctly.
  7. Screen the movie a second time. This time you may want to pause the movie as each amendment is presented and ask key questions such as “How was the amendment relevant at the time the Bill of Rights was written?” and “How is the amendment relevant to us today?”
  8. After the movie is complete, work together as a class to complete the Activity Page with any additional knowledge the students have gained from the movie.
  9. Tell your students that some of the amendments have been very controversial. For instance, the 2nd amendment has brought about much debate in our country. Project or hand out copies of the FYI “In Depth” feature, and read it together as a class. (Note: If you feel that the right to bear arms is not an appropriate topic for your students you may choose to debate another one of the amendments or another more age-appropriate right such as the right to chew gum in school, etc.)
  10. Explain to your class that over the next few days they will be asked to do further research on the interpretations of the Second Amendment and decide their opinion on how (or whether) it should be put into practice by lawmakers today.
  11. For homework or in class, students should research the Second Amendment using books from the library, articles or editorials from newspapers, or Internet sites like the Interactive Constitution.
  12. When they have finished their research, ask students to fill in the Main Idea or Concept Map Graphic Organizers to support their opinion on how the Second Amendment should be interpreted and why. Ask them to choose one of the following 3 conclusions: a) The Second Amendment is correct the way it is written. b) The Second Amendment should be revised. c) The Second Amendment should be removed from the Bill of Rights.
  13. Hang up signs or chart paper around the room with each of the three possible conclusions written on it. Tell students to go to the area of the room that they agree with. Once they are there, ask them to share their arguments with the group. Their task will be to come up with a strong argument for their opinion and to try to persuade others to change their minds. Each group should designate one student to present their argument to the class.
  14. Give each group an opportunity to present their case to the entire class. After all groups have been heard, allow students to change groups if they feel they have been persuaded.
  15. Finally, ask students to write a persuasive paragraph with their final opinions of the Second Amendment. This can serve as your assessment.
  16. As a culminating activity, you may want to invite parents or other classes to hear students and invite healthy debate amongst the visitors!

Extension Activity:

For homework, you can hand out copies of the FYI feature “Quotables”. Ask students to choose one or two quotes from the page and describe what they mean in their own words.

You may want to give students further exposure to public speaking skils and the concept of debate through related BrainPOP movies including Public Speaking, or Political Beliefs.