Roots of Our Rights (The)

6, 7, 8

This lesson will examine the connection between personal and government actions and the source that provides the authority to act. This lesson will serve as a foundation for student understanding that our rights have an origin in the founding documents of our country. It will explain the purposes of the Constitution and Preamble to the Constitution. Finally, this lesson will emphasize the purpose of the Bill of Rights and the reason for its creation.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • explain the purpose of the Constitution and the Preamble to the Constitution.
  • state that the Bill of Rights is the origin of our guaranteed rights and explain why it was added to the Constitution.
  • Three visual cards labeled, "You," "State Government," and "Federal Government" or object representations such as a picture of a person, a state flag, and an American flag
  • Index cards with decision statements (one per student)
  • Tape recording of the Preamble to the Constitution (teacher voice recorded or someone with a commanding or eloquent voice)
  • Guided Questions to Tape Recording (Handout One) Spanish version (Handout Three)
  • Assessment Directions (Handout Two) Spanish version Handout Four)

 Center for Civic Education home page:

We the People. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1988. the People


  1. Anticipatory Set:Describe a decision that relates to the students' lives (such as,"Who decides your curfew?") and ask, "Who makes this decision?" Write the response under the appropriate category using chart paper, whiteboard, or chalkboard. You Parents Teachers/Principal/Student Leadership Committee Elicit more decisions from students and record them. If students do not mention decisions that are shared, give an example such as, "Who decides what you wear to school?"


  2. Regarding each of the three groups of people, ask students, "What or who gives these groups of people the authority to make the decisions indicated in our lists?" (Possible responses: You—freedom to choose for yourself; Parents—decisions based on rules and/or personal beliefs; School—policies and guidelines in the school handbook.)

  3. Once the students have related this thinking process to their own lives, use the same decision thinking process when thinking about the government of the United States. Use visual cards labeled, "You," "State Government," and "Federal Government" or a state flag, American flag, and picture of a person to represent the three groups of people. Give each student a card that indicates an action or decision (see possible examples listed below). Direct students to walk to and stand by the category of people which he or she believes makes that decision. Possible examples:

    • You—attend church of your choice; choose your own beliefs; decide where to live
    • State Government—create public schools; set speed and traffic laws; maintain parks, roads, police and fire services
    • Federal Government—create post offices; create money, control pricing; declare war; protect people against housing and job discrimination
    • Shared Power—creating and collecting taxes
  4. When all students have selected a category by which to stand, provide students time to discuss, among their group, whether or not each decision card belongs in the group. Then give students an opportunity to make changes. When discussion and changes are complete, ask one student per group to be the reporter and share with the class the decisions in their category and why they were selected. Ask the reporter to share reasons their group gave for the selections made.

  5. Once students are seated, ask students, "What or who gives these groups of people the authority to make the decisions indicated in our lists?" (Accept all reasonable answers.) Tell students that they are about to listen to a tape recording that will indicate the answer to the question posed. Play the Preamble tape. Distribute Guided Questions to Tape Recording (Attachment One). Have students listen to the recording a second time, directing students to jot down responses to the guided questions which will direct their thinking. Discuss student ideas once the recording is played.

  6. Teacher Note: (This point in the lesson's Instructional Procedure would be an appropriate place to break at the end of Day One.)

  7. Directly teach the concept that in both their personal lives and in the government, authority to govern belongs to the people. People keep certain rights and powers for themselves. "We the people . . ." is the significant phrase in the Preamble to the Constitution to make it clear, from the beginning, that authority and rights belong to the people. The Framers developed the Constitution to create a government which would protect the rights and welfare of the people. However, the concern that the state and federal governments may have too much power led them to add the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the Constitution) to prevent these groups from unfair actions against the people which may limit or infringe upon the welfare of citizens.

  8. A concrete representation may be helpful to employ as the concepts are being taught. For example, have students stand before the class, "holding" the power. One may make a fist, another holding a power cord, and another an empty gasoline can. Another group of students, representing state and federal government, may hold a state or American flag in one hand and a plastic shield in the other which represents the protecting power of the Constitution. This group should encircle the first group. Finally, this second group of students may be "restrained" by an enclosure of desks or third group of students holding scrolls which represents the purpose of the Bill of Rights.


Direct students to begin thinking about concrete, everyday objects that have different parts (i.e., a house has rooms; an apple has skin, flesh, and seeds; a tree has roots, a trunk, and leaves). Tell students they will choose an object to which they can compare the important "parts" of their document. Divide the students into three groups¾one representing the Preamble, one representing the Constitution, and one representing the Bill of Rights. Direct each group to complete the analogy statement, "The (Preamble, Constitution, or Bill of Rights) is like because ." Begin with an example to provide direction and the expectation for completing the statement. Example: "The federal government is like parents because it must provide protection for its people like parents must watch out for the safety of their children. Second, it must also be fair to all its people, just like parents should be fair to each and all their children. Finally, the federal government is like parents because they have to be sure to treat the people they govern with respect and not abuse their power." Once verbal direction for the assessment is given and groups are assembled, provide students with Assessment Directions (Attachment Two) which clearly describes the assessment expectations.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify individual sovereignty as a basic concept in government.