Constitution Lesson Plans for 8th Grade US History!

8th grade u.s. history bill of rights curriculum & lesson plans u.s. constitution
8th Grade Constitution Lesson Plans

Teaching 8th graders about the United States Constitution can be a daunting task for any teacher, but it doesn't have to be!


From the founding documents and central ideas of our American democracy to the constitutional principles and the numerous constitutional issues our Founding Fathers grappled with when devising our system of government, an 8th grade Constitution Unit should include:

  • Immersive and engaging presentations (both in Google Docs and in PowerPoint presentation formats)
  • Numerous interactive activities and exercises
  • Use of a variety of sources (primary sources and secondary sources)


Help best prepare your 8th graders as they embark on numerous other social studies subjects in the years to come as high school students!


In this article, I'll break down the key topics to cover with your 8th grade American history and the U.S. Constitution. For each of the key topics (outlined below), I'll provide a comprehensive guide to any important documents, big ideas, and/or significant individuals associated with that topic. It may help to think of each of the key topics below as an individual lesson!


Articles of Confederation

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND kicking off any Constitution Unit with a lesson on the Articles of Confederation! The reason is pretty simple and straight forward as a lesson on the Articles of Confederation (especially one to begin a Constitution unit with) will help accomplish ALL of the following:


  • Provides a great opportunity to briefly review the various models of government the colonists adopted and/or were influenced by (ie., the Mayflower Compact, Virginia House of Burgesses, Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, etc.)
  • Discuss what the Articles of Confederation was, it's purpose, and when it was in effect
  • The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation
  • Why the Articles of Confederation were meant to be weak (a great way to reinforce the importance of historical context to students as Americans at that time were especially weary of a strong federal government and granting too much power to one person, ie., King George III!)
  • Causes and effects of Shays Rebellion
  • The historical significance of the Northwest Territory and the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 


one of the slides from my Articles of Confederation lesson


One of the main goals of this lesson is to serve as an introduction to the study of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In order to do that, this lesson should help students understand and focus on relevant sites that they can explore for the rest of the unit. As an example, investigating and researching how different contexts lead to varying perspectives and identifying and evaluating critically the various branches and levels of government as well as the ensuing discontents that eventually resulted in the convening of the Constitutional Convention (in the next lesson) and the establishment of a new government.



The Constitutional Convention

Next up, I like to explore the Constitutional Convention with students! I typically do this over the course of two periods as I feel like there are just too many important aspects and perspectives to try and cram in to just one 40-50 minute classroom period! With two lessons on the Constitutional Convention, I like to break them out as follows:


Constitutional Convention, Lesson #1:

  • Goals of the Constitutional Convention
  • Who was at the Constitutional Convention (Convention delegates)
  • Why George Washington was selected to serve as the President of the Convention
  • Influence of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in replacing the Articles of Confederation
  • The Virginia Plan (what it was and why it was proposed)


Constitutional Convention, Lesson #2:

  • Opposition to the Virginia Plan
  • Proposal of the New Jersey Plan (what it was and why it was proposed)
  • Overview of the "Great Compromise", a.k.a. the Connecticut Compromise
  • Debate and disagreement between Northern delegates and Southern delegates over slaves
  • How that disagreement resulted in the Three-Fifths Compromise


two of the slides from my lesson on the Constitutional Convention


In the summer of 1787, fifty-five delegates met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. What they were able to do was amazing, and it wasn't planned ahead of time. When we consider their efforts during that particular summer, there are a few things that stand out as crucial to their accomplishments and the reasons for their success, which are imperative for students to comprehend. The caliber of leadership that can be found among those who are most dedicated to improving the American government was unquestionably one of the most important factors. James Madison, who was thirty-seven at the time, was the mastermind behind the scenes. Madison had a combination of intelligence, energy, and political savvy that would mobilize the effort to create an entirely new form of continental union. Madison stood only a few inches over five feet tall, was scrawny, suffered from a combination of poor physical health and hypochondria, and was painfully awkward in any public forum. Despite all of these things, Madison possessed a combination of extraordinary talents that enabled him to spearhead the creation of the United States Constitution and thus earn the affectionate nickname "The Father of the Constitution"!

Creation of a New Government

Another topic that I like to split into two lessons, or classroom periods, is the various components in the creation of the U.S. government. From the separation of powers and our individual rights as a U.S. citizen to the principles of limited government and our Founding Fathers' efforts to create a more perfect Union, it can all be covered in these two lessons! Here's how I like to break out the topics to cover in each of the two lessons:


Creation of a New Government, Lesson #1:

  • Popular Sovereignty (what it was and why it's important)
  • The various levels of government
  • System of checks and balances


Creation of a New Government, Lesson #2:

  • Federalism system of government
  • Overview of Articles I to III of the U.S. Constitution (basic ideas)
  • Article I: Legislative Branch
  • Article II: Executive Branch
  • Article III: Judicial Branch


 slide from my lesson on the creation of our new government


Numerous basic and important concepts are explored in these two lessons when it comes to our system of government and democratic principles. Concepts that'll enhance your students civic education and comprehension of the learnings in the ensuing lessons, in particular, for example, when it comes to things like their First Amendment rights as American citizens, differentiating federal law from state and/or local law, various landmark Supreme Court cases, etc.


Download a FREE WEEK of lesson plans HERE!


Federalists and Antifederalists (The Federalist Papers)

Unfortunately, a somewhat overlooked aspect in many U.S. Constitution units is when it comes to the differing viewpoints, beliefs, and values of Federalists and Antifederalists in what some constitutional scholars proclaim is the first evidence of political parties being formed in U.S. history. While that is debatable, what is not is the monumental significance of these two small factions that emerged among Convention delegates and impacted the ensuing ratification of the US Constitution (next lesson). Here's an overview of the key topics I cover in this lesson:


  • Beliefs of Federalists and Antifederalists and how they contrasted each other
  • Examples of who some of the more prominent Federalists and Antifederalists were (for example, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were Federalists whereas Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry were Antifederalists)
  • The causes and effects of the Federalist Papers
  • Federalist Papers authors Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison


This lesson helps reinforce to students what the major arguments and issues over the U.S. Constitution were by further delving into some of the more prominent issues that divided some of the Constitutional Convention delegates and that would ultimately culminate in the decades to come over the institution of slavery, states' rights, and rising sectionalism.



Ratification of the US Constitution

Another often overlooked aspect in some 8th grade U.S. Constitution units is the actual ratification of the Constitution itself! The signing of the U.S. Constitution was a laborious process that took several years and threats by then-President George Washington to get all 13 states to ratify it. In this lesson, I like to go over the following with my 8th graders:

  • The sequential order in which each of the 13 states ratified the U.S. Constitution
  • Why Delaware is nicknamed "The First State"
  • Why some states opposed ratification and/or delayed their ratification of the U.S. Constitution
  • The first presidential election (which took place when only 11 of the 13 states had ratified the Constitution!)
  • The first presidential inauguration
  • How the ratification of the U.S. Constitution resulted in the Bill of Rights (compromise between Federalists and Antifederalists)


As you can see, there were many interesting events that occurred over the course of a few years as each of the 13 states ratified the Constitution. Unfortunately, many of them are often overlooked in 8th grade history classrooms throughout the U.S. Don't let yours be one of them!



The Bill of Rights

One of the most important topics, in my humble opinion, for any history teacher is the Bill of Rights. A proper U.S. Constitution unit will dedicate at least two full classroom periods to this topic. If time allowed, I'd dedicate one period to each of the first ten Constitutional Amendments (Bill of Rights)! ...I know, that's wishful thinking on my part. What I like to do is allocate at least two periods to cover the Bill of Rights with my eighth graders. I do this as follows:


Bill of Rights, Lesson #1:

  • We explore and go over the Amendment process of the U.S. Constitution
  • Then, we dive relatively deeply into each of the first 4 Amendment of the Constitution:
  • First Amendment: Freedom of Religion; Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press; Freedom to Peaceably Assemble; and our Freedom to Petition the Government
  • Second Amendment: Right to Bear Arms
  • Third Amendment: Quartering of Soldiers
  • Fourth Amendment: Government Searches and Seizures, and the meaning of Probable Cause


 slide from my first lesson on the Bill of Rights


Bill of Rights, Lesson #2:

  • In this lesson, we continue our study of the Bill of Rights by thoroughly going over the Fifth through Tenth Amendments:
  • Fifth Amendment: Our right to a Fair Trial, as well as the meaning of Due Process
  • Sixth Amendment: Our right to a Speedy and a Jury Trial
  • Seventh Amendment: Double Jeopardy is prohibited and all cases are to be held in a federally recognized court
  • Eighth Amendment: Excessive Bail and cruel and unusual forms of punishment are prohibited
  • Ninth Amendment: U.S. citizens have rights in addition to what's explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution
  • Tenth Amendment: Federal Government only has those authorities and powers as granted it by the U.S. Constitution


After completing these two lessons on the Bill of Rights, students should be able to accurately identify the freedoms, liberties, and rights they are protected by in the Bill of Rights and how that impacts them as U.S. citizens. On top of that, they will also better understand the various limits of the federal government.



Now, if you're thinking there's no way I have time to create all of those lessons...



I've been in your shoes and that's why I've built this website and created curriculum bundles exclusively for teachers like YOU. I've put my years of experience in the classroom and in various administrative roles, as well as my LOVE for ALL things history-related, so that I could proudly offer high-quality, easy-to-use, affordable and PROVEN history curriculum bundles.




  • Spending more time on teaching and less on lesson plans

  • More time on nights and weekends to share with friends and loved ones

  • No longer endlessly searching for amazing lesson plans and resources



Have a look at my curriculum bundles HERE!



Thank you so much for reading!

-Jillian (a.k.a. the "Lesson Plan Guru")









Receive a FREE Week of Lesson Plans!

Join my mailing list to receive exclusive offers and promotions, the latest tips, and news on product updates!
Don't worry, your information will NEVER be shared.

I hate SPAM too and will NEVER sell it to a third-party. EVER



Presidents Day Escape Rooms for 5th-8th Grade! (2024)

Feb 01, 2024

New England Colonies Fun Facts for Your History Class

Which Type of School Teacher are YOU? The 16 Types of Teachers

Nov 15, 2023

33 Fun Thanksgiving and Pilgrims Facts for ANY Class!

Nov 03, 2023