Building the Foundation

3, 4, 5

In a kid-friendly approach, we look at the components of the U.S. Constitution and put early government-forming events in a context and timeline. Students learn the roles of the three branches of government, especially the structure and responsibilities of our judicial system. Students learn strategies for conflict resolution and about the importance of conflict resolution in a civil society.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo or more Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learners will:

  • recall events of the formation of the U.S. Constitution.
  • describe the roles of the three branches of government.
  • compare characteristics of the trial and appellate courts.
  • practice the conflict-resolution process.
  • Optional: use a minimum of 20 key terms in a self-collection vocabulary book
  • 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 
  • Optional: a blank book for each student made by stapling three unlined sheets of paper together for recording vocabulary
  • student copies of handouts, based on what you choose to complete 

Note to Teacher: Use your judgment on which of the activities to conplete. 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.

Home Connection 

Students, in conversation with family members) complete the worksheet Which Court?  with the accompanying handout defining the different courts (also available in Spanish)

  • 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 


  1. Anticipatory Set: 

    To spark students' thinking about the Constitution and determine what they already know, have students complete the handout, US Constitution: An Anticipation Guide. Save their completed pages for reflection at the end of the lesson.

    Read aloud and discuss 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 (the purpose of the Constitution) with fun pictures that interpret the words in the setting of children going on a camping trip.

  2. Optional:

    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. If you have access to student copies, 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. Lecture and give an overview of the format and purpose of the Constitution. The entire Constitution is online for getting a overhead view of the components and purposes and timeline of writing and decisions. Make the structure and timeline clear to students with Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and subsequent Amendments. The three branches of government balance power to make sure no one gets too powerful (like a king or dictator). Article I describes the Legislative branch (Congress makes laws). Article II describes the Executive branch (president enforces the laws). Article III describes the Judicial branch (courts interpret laws). 

    • The National Constitution Center:
    • The National Archives:
  4. Describe 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.

  5. 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 the handout 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 assigned pages. Each group should prepare a one-minute statement that expresses their reaction to their section of readings and their discussion. They should also identify at least one benefit of group cooperation. They will present this in the following class period and practice conflict resolution strategies. 

  6. 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 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.  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. This is called an appeal.

  7. Pass out copies of the handouts Two Types of Courts and Which Court? Tell the students that they will bring this home to work on with their families. The answers are on the handout Answers: Which Court? 

  8. On Day Two, teams share the expertise they learned in their group reading and discusion about peer mediation and conflict resolution. Discuss the different approaches, compare and contrast which work best in different situations.

    Ask the students to propose a common conflict at school, such as what game rules to use in a playground game. Put students in small groups of 4-6 students. You may assign them a conflict resolution strategy from the handout to apply and work through the situation as a team. They report back to the whole class.

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.