Teaching Guide for Voice of America: the People, the Press, and the Constitution

Lesson summaries
Instructional use scenarios
Assessment and evaluation
Bibliography and webliography


This module will help 7th and 8th grade students develop an understanding of United States Constitution that will include:

· the role of ordinary men and women in shaping historical events;
· the significance of the media -- particularly newspapers -- in communicating information about the government and influencing public opinion;
· the debate over how to plan and carry out government that continues to this day;
· hands-on interaction with the U.S. Constitution and other primary source materials.

The lessons developed for this module cover events leading up to and including the writing of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Civil War Amendments, and other selected amendments.

The following advice comes from the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, a provider of law-related education to teachers for over 30 years. When teaching about the Constitution, keep in mind there are different views for interpreting it. There is a difference between how the courts have interpreted the Constitution, the historical context of when it was written, and what was the original intent. Of all of these, the hardest to pin down is the last. Original intent is an area of legal scholarship.


Lesson summaries

News of the New Government

This lesson on the Constitution centers on the story of David Claypoole and John Dunlap, who scooped the world when they published the new plan of government in their newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet, on September 19, 1787. Claypoole tells the story of how a group of men got together for the goal of writing a new plan to replace the Articles of Confederation. In the process, they brought together many of the ideals expressed in the state constitutions. The story emphasizes the concepts of checks and balances and the separation of powers as they are expressed in Articles I-III of the Constitution.

The First Constitution

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense united public opinion on the issue of independence, but at the same time, it fueled the debate over how America should be ruled. The first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was not strong enough to unite the fledgling states. Cesar Prince, a free Black man and veteran of the Revolutionary War, explains the weaknesses of the articles – especially in regard to a national economy – and how the Constitution improved upon the first plan of government. He concludes with the question: Why hasn't the Constitution addressed the issue of slavery? The story emphasizes Article IV (state’s rights) of the Constitution, and the 10th Amendment.


Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists

The Federalists used the press to present arguments in favor of ratifying the Constitution through publishing a series of essays called the Federalist Papers. A key issue in ratifying the Constitution was agreeing to add a Bill of Rights. In this lesson the author of the papers, Publius, describes the differing points of view and behind-the-scenes political agendas of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. (Publius was later revealed to be a pen name for Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.) Several Articles of the Constitution are featured as part of the debate, as is the Bill of Rights.

Mum Bett and the Massachusetts Bill of Rights

Elizabeth Freeman, formerly known as Mum Bett, was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom under the Massachusetts state constitution in 1781. She tells the story of her life in the household of Colonel Ashley, and how she gained the courage to demand her rights by listening to conversations about freedom and liberty in Ashley’s home. Later, Massachusetts would be the first state to demand a Bill of Rights be amended to the Constitution as a condition of ratification. The story emphasizes how the values and beliefs expressed in the Bill of Rights (Amendments I-X) were first expressed in the state constitutions. Mum Bett lived to be 87 years old, and was the great-grandmother of W.E.B. DuBois.

The Story of John Peter Zenger

John Peter Zenger was a printer in New York who was approached by local politicians looking for a publisher. They had an axe to grind with the governor and wanted to publish information about him that was unfavorable – but true. Zenger agreed to be their printer and ended up in jail for seditious libel. Zenger’s son tells the story of how his father was acquitted when Andrew Hamilton came up with a bold defense that questioned the role of the press in a free society. The story emphasizes the 1st Amendment, freedom of the press.


My Name is Phebe Attucks

Phebe, the sister of Crispus Attucks, tells the story of her brother’s brave escape from slavery to become a whaler, and his fateful return to Boston. Attucks was the first American to be killed in the cause of independence, having been among the crowd confronting British soldiers in the event that Paul Revere called “the Boston Massacre.” Phebe Attucks analogizes the tyranny of the British to slavery and explains why the colonists needed the right to defend themselves against a powerful, occupying army. The story emphasizes the 2nd and 3rd Amendments, right to bear arms and the quartering of soldiers.

Rights of the Accused

The right to have a jury trial with witnesses and a lawyer and rules preventing the government from searching or arresting people without warrants are among some of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Even though these rights were laid out very early in our nation’s history, they haven’t always been protected. In the 1960s the Supreme Court made a number of rulings about these rights, notably in cases Miranda v. Arizona and Gideon v. Wainwright. The story is told by Earl Clarence Gideon, who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction for petty larceny, and emphasizes the 4th-8th Amendments and due process.


Segregation and the Constitution

This lesson tells the story of segregation and the Constitution from 1846 to 1964. It uses multiple perspectives to highlight important legal cases that shaped the cause of civil rights for over 100 years. The cases include Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Brown v. Board of Education. The narrators of this lesson are civil rights leaders, Supreme Court justices, and politicians. The story emphasizes the 14th and 15th Amendments.

The Long Road to Women's Suffrage

In 1848, Charlotte Woodward set out for Seneca Falls, New York, to attend a convention that would herald the start of the Women’s Suffrage movement. Civil rights leaders, abolitionists, and even detractors who taunt the women demanding suffrage also attend the convention. This cast of characters would work for -- and against -- woman suffrage through protest and publications for the next 70 years. Charlotte was the only original member of the Seneca Falls Convention who lived to see women gain the right to vote; however, she was unable to vote herself because she was ill on Election Day, 1920. The focus of this story is the 19th Amendment.


Each lesson comes with a teaching guide that highlights specific goals covered by the lesson. Please refer to the lesson teaching guide for this information.

Chicago WebDocent lessons are written as stories and include a printable, online journal for students to respond to questions; thus all lessons align to the following Illinois State Goals for Language Arts:

State Goal 1

Read with understanding and fluency.

State Goal 2

Understand explicit and implicit meaning in literature representing individual, community, national, world, and historical perspectives.

State Goal 3

Write to communicate for a variety of purposes.

All lessons include a additional activities for extending the lesson offline and web links for conducting research. These may cover additional Language Arts goals:

State Goal 4

Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations.

State Goal 5

Use the Language Arts for inquiry and research to acquire, organize, analyze, evaluation, and communicate information.


Social Science Goals

This module aligns to the following
Illinois State Goals for Social Science:

State Goal 14
Understand, analyze, and compare political systems, with an emphasis on the United States.

State Goal 15

Understand, analyze, and compare economic systems, with an emphasis on the United States.

State Goal 16

Understand and analyze events, trends, individuals, and movements shaping the history of Illinois, the United States, and other nations.

State Goal 17

Demonstrate knowledge of world geography, as well as an understanding of the effects of geography on society, with an emphasis on the United States.

State Goal 18

Understand, analyze, and compare social systems, with an emphasis on the United States.



Reading at a 7th grade level
Use of Internet browsers
Use of mouse


Instructional use scenarios

Consult the lesson teaching guide for suggested pre-activities to prepare students for the lesson. The lessons include online journal questions and an interactive dictionary. It is helpful to preview these features before starting the lesson with students.

Computer lab

Seat students in pairs at computers, a strong reader with a student who needs help reading and have them take turns reading together OR seat students singly at computers.

It is helpful for the teacher and/or tech coordinator to start the lesson by reading through a few pages or a section (or have students take turns reading). If there is a projector in the lab, the teacher can also model navigation and interactive elements for students as they go through the first pages as a group.

The lessons include an online journal. Teachers may model note taking, as this is a skill that takes practice. Encourage students to write down anything of interest in their journals as well as unfamiliar terms. Students working in pairs can each type in their answers in the online journal. When more than one student is answering in the journal, they should write their name by their answer to identify their response from others.

Set a goal for students so they read up to a certain point in the lesson or for a certain amount of time, for example, "read up to page 13" or "we will stop in 15 minutes." The progress bar at the top of the screen allows teachers to walk around the room and quickly notice if students are falling behind or moving too fast; it also indicates which pages have an activity the student has not completed, such as a journal question or interactive.

When students reach their assigned goal, stop and ask how students are doing. You could prepare questions related to the content, or simply check in to see if students are having difficulties with navigation or reading.

Depending on the reading level of students, it may take more than one class session to complete a lesson. An approach to completing a lesson if time is a concern is to form groups among your students to read a few sections of the lesson. Then convene the entire class to report on their sections to the rest of the class. In between reports students could make predictions about what will happen next.

Teachers are strongly encouraged to allow for discussion time after the lesson so students can reflect and give feedback on what they learned.



One or more workstations

Be sure to model navigation and identify interactive features for students before they begin. Arrange students into
small groups with the assignment of reading 3 or 4 sections of the lesson. Each group takes turns on the computer/computers to complete their assignment. The group can respond to questions in the online journal, taking turns typing in their answers or responding as a group. (When more than one student is answering in the journal, they should write their name by their answer to identify their response from others.) Convene the entire class to report on their sections to the rest of the class. Reports can take the form of presentations or can be given as a re-enactment of what students read. In between reports ask students to predict what will happen next. Students may be incentivized to have time on the computer alone to read parts of the lesson they did not study as a group.

Teachers are strongly encouraged to allow for discussion time after the lesson so students can reflect and give feedback on what they learned.

One workstation and a projector:

This arrangement allows for group participation in the lessons. The teacher may lead students through parts of the lesson and ask for volunteer readers from the audience. Students may volunteer to run the mouse, read, or try out the interactives. Many of the lessons are written with multiple voices, and are excellent choices for presenting the lesson like a play with students assigned roles (check lesson teaching guides under instructional uses for lessons that fit this category well). The journal questions can be provided to students beforehand so that they may write down their individual responses during the group session.
Students may be incentivized to have time on the computer alone to read the lesson.

As always, teachers are strongly encouraged to allow for discussion time after the lesson so students can reflect and give feedback on what they learned.


Assessment and evaluation

Each lesson comes with various forms of assessment.

1. Online, printable journals accessed from within the lesson presents students with higher order thinking questions. Teachers can collect these at the end of the lesson.

2. Many lessons include interactives and other activities that allow students to self-test. These are not captured forms of assessments, but offer opportunities for students to challenge themselves without the pressure of testing.

3. The list of supporting materials that appears on the first page of each lesson offers other evaluation and assessment activities. These include:

· Teaching guide - check the lesson teaching guide for additional suggestions for assessment and evaluation.

· Additional Activities - these are suggested activities to extend the lesson offline. Additional activities include presentations, hands-on projects, research projects, and discussion topics.

· Web Links, which offer a list of high-quality, trustworthy resources for students to conduct online research, including links to resources available on eCUIP, the Digital Library.

Other ideas

We recommend a field trip to the Chicago Historical Society and DuSable Museum of African American History as part of learning about American history. Information about these museums can be found on our Museum Partners page.

We recommend a final project activity to clarify student's understanding of the big ideas presented in the module and to address any learning gaps. One suggestion is to write a class constitution or a constitution for a new nation.
Teachers should be prepared to coordinate a discussion of the final project, and may wish to devote separate class periods for completing it.


Bibliography and webliography

Alfred E. Young and Terry J. Fife, with Mary E. Janzen. We the People: Voices and Images of the New Nation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993

Research links (see also links in lesson teaching guides)

eCUIP Digital Library

History, political science, law, and government web resources compiled by eCUIP.

The Founders' Constitution (University of Chicago)
Major themes in the Constitution linked to primary source materials.

The National Archives and Records Administration
View and read transcriptions of the Charters of Freedom: The Declaration of Independence, The United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

The U.S. Constitution Online (USConstitution.net)
A complete transcription of the Constitution with annotations.

The Constitution Explained (USConstitution.net)
Summary of the Constitution, article by article, amendment by amendment.

Constitutional Topics (USConstitution.net)
In-depth synopses of major topics in the Constitution.

Popular Names of Sections and Clauses (USConstitution.net)

The American Presidency (Grolier)
General information resource on the presidency for grades 3-8; includes online quiz.

The West Wing (NBC)
The popular television show about the American president.

The Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago  
Resouces on law-related education for teachers and students.