Lesson Plan: The Declaration of Independence

US Civics and US History

Objectives: The students will...

1. Outline the causes and outcomes of the events that took place during and after the American Revolution.
2. Discuss the factors that led to the development of the American republican form of government.
3. Evaluate whether the ideals set forth by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are still alive within contemporary American government.

Description: Students will define and share information on vocabulary and primary documents dealing with the formation of America’s government during the colonial and revolutionary periods. Then students will create an online newspaper that looks like one from these time periods.

Motivation: My Declaration of Independence

A) Ask students what life will be like for them when they declare their independence from their parents? Conduct a class discussion comparing life under the guidance of parents and what it will be like after the students move out on their own. Ask students what areas of conflict exist between students and their parents. What responsibilities come with independence?

B) Distribute the writing prompt entitled  – Writing For Understanding: My Declaration of Independence and have students develop their own statement.

C) Have students share their writing samples.

D) Have students turn to the Declaration of Independence in their textbooks. Show students the major sections of the document: The Preamble, the statement of the natural rights of humankind, the grievances against the King, and the statement of Independence.

Main Activity (Instructional Input): Outlining the Declaration of Independence

A) Have students create a basic outline of the Declaration of Independence in their notebooks. Have students examine the document and create a section in their notes according to the four major sections. Students can create a basic chart with the following elements:


Section Summary Example Quotation
The Preamble  The introduction  that tells the purpose of the document and why it was written.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another... a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The statement of the natural rights of humankind  The basic ideals of American democracy of equality, autonomy, and the social contract as stated by John Locke. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...
The grievances against the King  The list of abuses committed by King George from the Proclamation of 1763 to the passage of the Intolerable Acts.     For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: 
   For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: 
   For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: 
   For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: 
   For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: 
   For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
The announcement of Independence Notification to the world that the former British colonies are free and independent states and are to be treated as equal nations of the world. We... solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are... Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.

B) Help students make the connection between the desire of the Colonists to separate from Great Britain for political and economic freedom and the desire of young people to declare independence from their parents to establish personal autonomy. Stress the word “autonomy” as “self-rule.”  

Guided Practice: Examining the Declaration of Independence

Worksheet: Interpreting the Declaration of Independence
A PDF version of the worksheet can be downloaded. Right-click on link and select "save target as."

A) Distribute worksheet with a chart containing eight excerpts from the document. Students must match summaries of each section with one of the sections on the worksheet as well as illustrate the section they were given.

B) Divide the class into eight groups. 

C) Distribute laminated summaries of each of the sections to the student groups. Do not inform students which section they are receiving.

D) Instruct groups to match their laminated card with one of the eight excerpts listed on the worksheet. Groups must be ready to present their section to the class and explain the meaning of their excerpt by posting the summary on the overhead.

E) Display an overhead version of the worksheet. Have each group come to the overhead in turn and write their summary in the correct cell in the table. The remaining students must write the summary into their notes. 

F) Students must also draw their icon on the overhead. Have students discuss the elements that make up their illustration. The remaining members of the class should copy or draw their own in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the quotation.

 G) Optional: Collect student worksheets or give credit for having completed the worksheet.
Wrap-Up Activity (Closure): Create a Child's Version of the Declaration

A) Create laminated cards containing one of eight sections of the Declaration printed on the card.

B) Distribute one card to a group. One card can also involve creating a cover for the children's book on the Declaration.

C) Have each group create one page summarizing the section they were given that uses images, large, simple text, and symbols as part of a children's version of the Declaration. Students should consider the target age for their audience around eight or nine (about 3rd grade).

D) Remind students to include key ideas that are part of the principles of American Democracy:

Evaluation: The lesson will be evaluated by:

I. the accuracy of student's written responses;

II. student's scores on future tests and quizzes.

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