Teaching the Declaration of Independence: Lesson Plans

declaration of independence for history teachers
Declaration of Independence Lesson Plans

Nothing will inspire your students to learn more about our Founding Fathers writing of the Declaration of Independence than an immersive, well-designed lesson plan!

 

At the heart of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence is an important document in American history. Likewise, teaching your students all about it is a crucial component of any U.S. history curriculum. The ideas and thoughts expressed in the Declaration of Independence have shaped American society as we know it today.

 

In this article, we'll explore some of the best practices for using and creating engaging lesson plans on the Declaration of Independence specifically for 5th to 8th grade students!

 

Per the National Archives, the Declaration of Independence consists of "five distinct parts: the introduction; the preamble; the body, which can be divided into two sections; and a conclusion."

 

Whether you're teaching 5th graders or 8th graders, it's important you cover these five parts of the Declaration!

 

 

 

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Declaration of Independence: Lesson Plan Overview

 

Irrespective of grade, I like to organize a lesson plan on the Declaration of Independence in the following manner (depending on what grade the lesson plan is for determines the level of detail I go into for each topic!):

 

Lesson Plan Overview (topics to cover):

  • Introduction to the Declaration of Independence
  • Historical Context of the Declaration of Independence
  • Key Concepts of the Declaration of Independence
  • Structure of the Declaration of Independence
  • Declaration of Independence in Everyday Language
  • Declaration of Sentiments - OPTIONAL

 

 

Introduction to the Declaration of Independence:

I'll start the lesson with an overview of the Declaration of Independence by discussing its purpose. I'll briefly discuss how a special committee from the Second Continental Congress, the Committee of Five, which included among others, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, were tasked with devising an important document that would essentially declare American independence. I'll also briefly go over the major events that led up to the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

 

Historical Context of the Declaration of Independence:

I'll follow that by going right into an explanation to my students of the historical context of the Declaration of Independence and why it's such an influential and historically significant document. Namely, how it formally marked the American colonies first official step in creating a new nation by proclaiming their collective desire and motivations for independence from British rule. With the Declaration's emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, it also was a significant step forward towards democracy and influence several amendments of the United States Constitution, in particular the Bill of Rights.

 

Related Article: The BEST Declaration of Independence Worksheets!

 

Key Concepts of the Declaration of Independence:

Next, introduce students to the key concepts of the Declaration of Independence, such as natural rights, equality, and the consent of the governed. Use historians or influential historical figures, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine, to provide students with historical context so that they understand the specific events that led to the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

 

Structure of the Declaration of Independence:

I then like to teach my students about the structure of the Declaration of Independence by breaking down the document into each of the five parts, as outlined by the National Archives: the introduction; the preamble; the body (which can be divided into the indictment of George III, the denunciation of the British people/Parliament, and the list of grievances); and the conclusion. For each of these five parts, I'll provide an explanation as to why the Founding Fathers included it in the Declaration and have them analyze the structure of the document and how and why it's organized in the manner it is. As we're doing this, I try to ensure my students fully comprehend the significance of each of the five sections. As I'm going through the five sections, I'll typically place added emphasis and attention on two of the sections in particular: the "Introduction" and "Preamble." 

 

 

 

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Declaration of Independence in Everyday Language:

Help students understand the Declaration of Independence in everyday language. Use small groups to break down specific sections of the document, and have students rephrase them in their own words. This will help students understand the concepts and language of the Declaration of Independence, making it more accessible to them.

 

OPTIONAL Declaration of Sentiments:

If you're teaching, say, 8th grade and up, I LOVE to introduce my students (if they haven't already been introduced) to the Declaration of Sentiments by a group of five women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, during the summer of 1848. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of Sentiments highlights the inequalities faced by women in the United States and resolves that women should have the same equal rights afforded to men. This can help students see the complexity of the issues of equality and rights that were at the heart of the American Revolution and have continued to be an important part of American history and society to this very day.

 

Excellent source for information on the Declaration of Sentiments: https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/declaration-of-sentiments.htm

 

 

 

Declaration of Independence: Assessment Ideas

 

After covering the material outlined in the lesson plan, it is important to assess students' understanding of the Declaration of Independence. Here are some assessment ideas to consider:

 

Creative Writing:

Encourage students to write their own version of the Declaration of Independence in a creative way. Provide them with a list of grievances, and have them create their own statement of beliefs, or have them write a summary of the Declaration in their own words. This will help students engage with the material in a new way, help them better understand the language of the document and its meaning, while also foster their creative writing skills!

 

Group Discussion:

Divide the class into small groups to discuss specific events that led to the writing of the Declaration. Have each group present their findings to the rest of the class. Some other ideas include encouraging your students to take an analytical view of the Declaration by having them discuss the language and structure of the document and what it says about the writers' intentions and motivations. Another good group discussion topic would be to have your students discuss the complex issues of equality that are at the heart of the Declaration. 

 

Group Projects:

Assign group projects in which students research a specific aspect of the Declaration and present their findings to the class. This can include analyzing the impact of the Declaration on American society or examining the historical context in which the document was written.

 

Short Essay Questions:

Have students answer short essay questions that ask them to analyze the language, structure, and significance of the Declaration.

 

Debate:

Assign a debate in which students argue for or against the signing of the Declaration. This can help students understand the different perspectives held by the colonists at the time and the risks they were taking by signing the document.

 

Historical Documents (Primary Source Documents):

Provide students with access to historical documents related to the Declaration of Independence, such as John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and the Magna Carta or letters from members of the Continental Congress. Have students analyze these documents and discuss their influence on the Declaration and its creation/drafting.

 

Multiple-Choice Quiz: Create a multiple-choice quiz to assess students' comprehension of the key concepts and historical context of the Declaration.

 

 

 

 

Declaration of Independence: Key Teachings for 5th Grade Students

  1. Historical context - it's important for students to understand the events that led up to the drafting of the Declaration, such as the French and Indian War, the Proclamation of 1763, and the Stamp Act, to understand the significance of the document.
  2. Purpose and structure - students should learn about the preamble, the grievances against the British government, and the declaration of independence itself to understand how the document is structured and what it seeks to achieve.
  3. Key ideas and principles - students should be familiar with phrases such as "all men are created equal," "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and "consent of the governed" and understand what they mean in the context of the document.
  4. Impact - students should understand how the Declaration influenced the American Revolution, the founding of the United States, and its continuing impact on American society today.

 

 

Declaration of Independence: Key Teachings for 8th Grade Students

  1. Political philosophy of the Enlightenment - the ideas of thinkers such as John Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau greatly influenced the authors of the Declaration of Independence, and understanding these ideas is important to understanding the document itself.
  2. Role of the Declaration of Independence in the American Revolution - students should understand how the Declaration helped to inspire the colonists and unify them in their fight against the British, and how it helped to establish a new nation.
  3. Debates and compromises that went into drafting the Declaration of Independence - students should understand the disagreements and compromises that the authors of the Declaration had to navigate in order to produce a document that everyone could agree on.
  4. Enduring legacy and relevance of the Declaration of Independence - eighth graders should be able to connect the ideas and principles in the Declaration to current events and issues, and understand how the document has influenced American society throughout its history.

 

Related Article: Declaration of Independence Activities for 8th Grade

 

Creating and/or using engaging and effective lesson plans on the Declaration of Independence is an essential part of teaching American history to middle school and 5th grade social studies students. Use a variety of teaching resources, including primary source documents and secondary sources, and encourage positive attitudes towards the material. The Declaration of Independence is an important document that has historical significance and is a great resource for learning about American government, so take the time to develop well-drafted and well-designed lesson plans

 

 

Teaching about the Declaration of Independence is essential to understanding American history and the values that have shaped American society. It is important to approach this topic with a well-designed lesson plan that covers the key concepts and historical context of the document. By engaging students in creative and interactive activities, teachers can help students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of this important historical document. Finally, by assessing students' understanding through various assessment methods, teachers can ensure that students have gained a comprehensive understanding of the Declaration and its significance!

 

As you can see, there's a whole slew of crucial components and aspects to take into account when it comes to lesson plans and teaching about the Declaration of Independence. Hopefully this article has helped spark some ideas, but if you're still struggling, I certainly understand!

 

That's why I've created my own lesson plans and curriculum bundles which I'm so proud to offer to my fellow educators. I've put my years of experience in the classroom, my background as an administrator, and my pure love of all things history to good use!

 

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Thanks so much for reading!

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

 

 

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