The Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Click below to access the downloadable article that goes with the exercises on this page. The goals listed in the articles and exercises are derived from the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).
Download “The Constitution and the Bill of Rights” Article
Students will increase their understanding of the Bill of Rights and share their understanding through theatrical exercises.
- Pick one of the amendments from the Bill of Rights. How would your life be different if that amendment were eliminated? Would life be better or worse without that amendment? Why?
- If you could propose new wording, amendments or edits to the Constitution what might they be and why?
- Of the rights that U.S. citizens possess, which one do you believe is the most forgotten / least appreciated?
Citations / Further Exploration:
The Constitution of the United States
Exercise: Amending a Country
Subject(s): History, Theatre, English
Goals: Students will be able to:
- Better understand their rights as a U.S. citizen.
- Comprehend the first ten amendments to the Constitution and the rights they guarantee.
- Develop the topic with appropriate information, details and examples.
- Use verbal techniques including, but not limited to, appropriate tone, diction, articulation, clarity, type and rate.
- Ten slips of paper, each featuring a different amendment with its corresponding description from the Bill of Rights:
- Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
- Amendment II: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
- Amendment III: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
- Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Amendment V: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
- Amendment VI: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
- Amendment VII: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
- Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
- Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
- Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
- Arts and craft supplies, poster board, printer paper, a variety of noise makers.
- Note: Supplies can be adjusted to teacher’s own specific preference or medium they would like to explore with their students. (Visual, audio, physical / theatrical, etc.)
- Divide students into four different groups of equal size. (We recommend four groups but if that creates groups that are too large, the exercise would work perfectly well with additional groups.)
- Assign each group of students a presentation method for their project. (Theatrical, Visual Art, Sculpture, Audio / Oral Demonstration, Written Text, etc. You may want to come up with additional requirements for each method if your group needs more guidance.) This will be how their group presents their findings and ideas to the rest of the class.
- Give each group two randomly selected amendment slips.
- Ask each group to read their assigned slips. Before moving on, check in with each group to make sure they have a basic understanding of the amendments assigned to them.
- Then, invite each group to think about how the U.S. would be without the assigned amendments. They will need to present their vision of their amendment-less nation to the rest of the class through their assigned presentation style. Get creative! Short scenes, sculptures made from bodies, audio/oral presentations in the dark, posters, etc.
- Give the groups at least 20 minutes to prepare their presentations.
- Present and discuss each group’s work.
- What points were brought up in this presentation that you thought were particularly compelling, interesting, terrifying?
- Do we believe that this amendment is good as it could be? Do we need to amend this amendment?
Exercise: Freedom and Democracy
Subject(s): History, Theatre, English
Goals: Students will be able to:
- Better understand their own rights as a U.S. citizen.
- Understand that few rights are considered absolute.
- Promote collaboration with others both inside and outside the classroom.
- Demonstrate nonverbal techniques including, but not limited to, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and stance.
- Quotes, Venn diagram sheets (Labeled “Freedom” and “Democracy”), and small labeled pieces of paper (individually labeled: Safety, security, choice, responsibility, education, civil rights, privacy, restriction, laws, speaking up, unity, power, chaos, fairness, justice, equality, voting, citizenship)
- Divide the students into five separate groups. Provide each group a handful of quotes from politicians, philosophers, historians, etc. about “democracy,” “freedom,” “civics,” or “citizenship.” Aim for uplifting and encouraging quotes. They can be challenging but nothing too difficult.
- Each group is given time to read through their given quotes and choose the quote that speaks to them the most strongly.
- Once each group has chosen a quote, they are to create a frozen image that captures the spirit of their chosen quote. Everyone in the group must be a part of the frozen image. Members can play human beings, animals, representations of emotions, locations, etc. Students should not feel pressured into creating a literal depiction of the quote. Give students five to ten minutes to create their frozen picture.
- One at a time, invite a group to present their frozen image. The rest of the class should be invited to walk around and explore the frozen image from every angle. The instructor should take comments, questions and observations as they see fit. What does this image say about democracy? The presenting group should read their quote once more and resume the frozen image one final time. Discuss how the quote is manifest in the created image.
- Repeat presentation approach with the other groups in class.
- What is freedom? What is democracy? How do they overlap and interact with each other? Are they synonymous? How are they different?
- Have each group find their own spot in the room to work. Give each group a Venn Diagram Sheet as well as a set of labeled pieces of paper that say:
- Safety, security, choice, responsibility, education, civil rights, privacy, restriction, laws, speaking up, unity, power, chaos, fairness, justice, equality, voting, citizenship
- Each group is to examine each of these individual concepts listed on the pieces of paper. With each piece of paper, the group must make a decision. “Is this an issue of freedom? Or an issue of democracy? Or does it affect both?” And then, they should place it in the place in the Venn Diagram that they feel it belongs.
- Bring the group’s attention back to you and discuss differences and similarities with each concept and where they were placed in each group. If looking to extend the exercise, you can have the class work on one collective Venn Diagram looking at these issues as a class.