Roots of Our Rights

6, 7, 8

We examine the authority to act, whether the authority comes from self or government. This lesson looks at our rights and responsibilites in the founding documents of our country. We discuss the purposes of the Constitution, Preamble to the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Class Period

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 signs posted around the room labeled, "You," "State Government," and "Federal Government" 
  • audio or video recording of the Preamble to the Constitution (or read it aloud)
  • student copies of handout Assessment Directions (Spanish version available)

 Center for Civic Education home page:


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask, "Who makes the decision about what you wear to school?" The students will probably say they make that decision. Ask who else has a say or enforces rules about it? They will probably know that the school has some rules about dress code that it enforces, and families have a say on what they are comfortable with and what they can afford.

    Write the words You, Families, Leaders on the board.

  2. Regarding each of the three groups of people, say, "There are guiding principles that give these groups of people the authority to make decisions You have freedom to choose some things for yourself; parents/families make decisions based on rules and personal beliefs; school has policies and guidelines in the school handbook." Discuss example decisions that are made by each group and list those under the group where the authority lies. For example, under You, list exercise, homework; under Families, list curfew, house chores; under Leaders, list safety rules, attendance.

  3. Relate this discussion to the government of the United States. Direct students to stand by the group (three signs posted around the room) that has the authority to make the actions you name below. Examples: name each in random order; students stand by the group sign they think makes that decision:

    • You—follow the faith 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, collect taxes
    • Federal Government—create post offices; control pricing; declare war; protect people against housing and job discrimination, collect taxes
  4. After reading an action and when all students have selected a group by which to stand, give students an opportunity to make changes. Discuss where the authority comes from (a document/set of rules/higher authority). 

  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?"  Tell students to listen to the words of a document that provides the answer to the question posed. Play a recording, video, or read aloud the Preamble of the Constitution. 

  6. Directly teach the concept that in both their personal lives and in the government, authority to govern belongs to the people. "We the People" starts the Preamble, followed by the purpose of the Constitution. 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. The Constitution is the set of procedures to make sure it is fair. 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.


Students choose an everyday object to stand as a analogy or metaphor for one of the government documents. It is helpful to choose an object with "parts" to compare to the parts of their document. Either the Preamble, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. See handout Assessment Directions. 

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.