Bill of Rights Day is celebrated on December 15. The Bill of Rights was ratified by three-fourths of the newly formed United States in 1791 to ensure individual rights that were not addressed in the United States Constitution. These first 10 amendments to the Constitution enumerate and protect many of our rights, including freedom of speech, of worship, of the press, and of assembly.
In this lesson, students will examine a copy of twelve possible amendments to the United States Constitution as originally sent to the states for their ratification in September of 1789. Students will debate and vote on which of these amendments they would ratify and compare their resulting “Bill of Rights” to the ten amendments ratified by ten states that have since been known by this name.
Bill of Rights Day is a good opportunity for students to explore a variety of students’ rights issues. Ask students to identify an issue that has come up in their school, such as dress codes, drug testing, zero tolerance, privacy, religion, or freedom of expression. Have them explore the ways in which the Bill of Rights protects and does not protect students, as well as some of the past and recent challenges to students’ rights. Have students write position papers or debate individuals or teams of students with opposing points of view. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Student Rights page has information and articles about recent court cases focused on students’ rights.
Students can continue to explore the Bill of Rights by examining the ways in which it applies to current events and issues such as homeland security, prisoners’ rights, the death penalty, and more. Provide them access to a newspaper or news site. Then ask students to construct a scrapbook or bulletin board display of articles that address Bill of Rights issues.
The Library of Congress has a great resource on the Bill of Rights as part of its “Today in History” collection.
How else can you recognize the Bill of Rights in your classroom?
Curious about the NCTE and Library of Congress connection? Through a grant announced by NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE is engaged in ongoing work with the Library of Congress, and “will connect the ELA community with the Library of Congress to expand the use of primary sources in teaching.” Stay tuned for more throughout the year!
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