Building the Foundation

3, 4, 5

This lesson explores the U.S. Constitution and investigates the responsibilities of living in a civil society. Students learn the roles of the three branches of government, especially the structure and responsibilities of our judicial system. Students learn about the importance of conflict resolution in a civil society.

Lesson Rating 
PrintSeven Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learners will:

  • work in cooperative groups.
  • read and discuss literature related to the U.S. Constitution.
  • name and define the three branches of government.
  • list three characteristics of the trial and appellate courts.
  • present a summary of a group discussion of the conflict-resolution process.
  • write about the role of an original member of the Constitutional Convention.
  • plot dates on a timeline.
  • use a minimum of 20 key terms in a self-collection vocabulary book
  • White bulletin board paper, at least 10 feet
  • Meter stick
  • Permanent markers
  • Classroom set of books, Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
  • Read-aloud copy of the picture book, We, the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States by David Catrow 
  • A self-collection vocabulary book for each student made by stapling three unlined sheets of paper together like a book
  • Copies of handout U.S. Constitution: An Anticipation Guide (Spanish version available)
  • Copies of handout (six pages) How to Settle Differences, Creating a Democratic Classroom Environment, S.O.S. Steps to Resolve a Conflict (Spanish version available)
  • Copy of handout Judicial System Student Analogy
  • Copies of handout Types of Courts (Spanish version available)
  • Copies of handout R.A.F.T.
  • Copies of handout Which Court? (Spanish version and answer keys available)
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:Students and parents will complete the worksheet Which Court? (Handout Six)

  • Catrow, David. We, the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002. ISBN: 0803725531
  • Fritz, Jean. Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution. Paper Star, 1998. ISBN: 0698116240
  • Ohio Commission on Conflict Resolution <> [no longer available] 


  1. Anticipatory Set: In order to get students thinking about the Constitution and determine what they already know, have students complete Handout One, US Constitution: An Anticipation Guide. Save their completed pages for reflection at the end of the lesson. Read aloud the book We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. This book uses the exact words of the Preamble to the Constitution with fun pictures that interpret the words in the setting of children going on a camping trip.

  2. Introduce the book Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz. Tell the students that this book will help them understand the people, history and decisions related to the writing of the constitution. Assign the independent reading to be completed in three chunks. As students read, they complete a self-collection vocabulary book. Assign the number of key words they must include in their vocabulary book for each reading session. They should include a definition and example of usage for each word. This book will take approximately three 45-minute class periods to complete and discuss, with students doing the reading and vocabulary assignment independently.

  3. Read the entire Constitution together aloud (found in Fritz’s book) and discuss the meaning of new vocabulary.

  4. Using the bulletin-board paper, markers and meter stick, the teacher constructs a large timeline with dates from 1492 to 1800. As students read and learn, have them fill in some events related to the development of the country and the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Hang it on the wall in the classroom so that students can add events throughout the school year. This will give students the “big picture” of where the U.S. Constitution fits in the development of the United States of America.

  5. Discuss with students the system of “checks and balances” that the U.S. Constitution establishes and the importance of this balance. Have student teams draw a sketch showing the three branches of government and illustrating how their powers balance and check each other.

  6. Using the Constitutional Convention as a springboard, introduce the class to the concepts of class meetings and peer mediation. Pass out the stapled pages of Handout Two: How to Settle Differences, Creating a Democratic Classroom Environment, S.O.S. Steps to Resolve a Conflict. Divide the class into small groups to read and discuss the pages. Each group should prepare a one-minute statement that expresses their reaction to the readings and their discussion. They should also identify at least one benefit of group cooperation.

  7. Relate the reading about classroom mediation to the judicial branch of our government. Read aloud the example that relates a familiar situation to an appeals court (see Handout Three: Judicial System Student Analogy). Explain to students that this is very much like what our court system does every day. People bring their conflicts or problems to a judge and sometimes a jury for a solution. In a trial court the judge and sometimes a jury listens to witnesses and examines evidence, and then makes a decision. (Tell students that this will be the job of each team of peer mediators.) If either party is unhappy with this decision and believes there is an error of law, they can ask a court with higher authority to review the decision. (Tell students that the teacher, principal and a student mediator will serve in this capacity for your peer mediation.) This is called an appeal.

  8. Pass out copies of Handout Four and Six: Two Types of Courts and Which Court? Tell the students that they will bring this home to work on with their parents. The answers are on Handout Seven: Answers: Which Court?Note to Teacher: Use your judgment on which of the activities to use. You may elect to spend the full amount of time specified or choose some of the activities in this lesson, depending on your curriculum or student ability.


Assessment is gathered through observation of student participation in discussions. Also, the teacher can assess student work on their vocabulary books and worksheets. Optional: Students participate as part of a peer mediation team for at least one week during the school year. They will follow the appropriate protocol when serving in this capacity. The following rubric will guide the teacher in assessing student performance as peer mediator. Peer Mediation Objectives Low Performance Average Exemplary Performance Earned Points Actively listens to all perspectives. 1 point Does not actively listen to all perspectives. 2 points Listens to other perspectives somewhat. 3 points Actively listens to all perspectives. Contributes to the discussion. 1 point Does not contribute to the discussion. 2 points Contributes to the discussion somewhat. 3 points Contributes to the discussion. Allows others to express their ideas. 1 point Does not allow others to express their ideas. 2 points Allows others to express their ideas somewhat. 3 points Allows others to express their ideas. Applies the Core Democratic Values to the discussion. 1 point Does not apply the Core Democratic Values to the discussion. 2 points Applies the Core Democratic Values to the discussion somewhat. 3 points Applies the Core Democratic Values to the discussion. Score: Students complete a RAFT writing assignment, referencing the U.S. Constitution as the basis for facts (Handout Five). Students revisit Handout One: U.S. Constitution: An Anticipation Guide and correct their previous misunderstandings.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibility.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.14 Describe the roles of citizens in government.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.3 Participate in acts of democratic citizenship in the classroom or school, such as voting, group problem solving, classroom governance or elections.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Analyze information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to the common good.