help my brother teach 5th graders how to write about the Constitution!
April 27, 2010 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Help with Grade 5 Writing Project (related to the U.S. Constitution)

Asking for my brother, who is currently student teaching in a Grade 5 classroom: Do you have any lesson ideas for an ELA writing assignment where students write their own Constitution? The students are already familiar with the reasons and ideas in the Preamble, and why the states came together to write and agree on the Constitution. What would be a situation for them to write their own Constitution, which could be displayed as their own, developed, piece of writing?
posted by DuckGirl to Education (9 answers total)
Have them design a card game, and write a "constitution" for the rules of the card game?
posted by Think_Long at 3:16 PM on April 27, 2010

A lot of people (a couple thousand, say) from a lot of different countries (who, for simplicity's sake can all speak English) are on a boat together, and it crashes on an island somewhere and they're all stranded there indefinitely. Tell the kids there's plenty of food and fresh water, and caves for adequate shelter, so the kids don't go off on some survival tangent. After a short time on the island, people start fighting because they didn't all grow up with the same rights and government, and so expect different things from each other. They now have to craft a new set of rules to live by so they can start over as a unified society with leadership and direction.
posted by phunniemee at 3:17 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

What about rules governing behavior, privileges and rights in the classroom?
posted by canine epigram at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2010

(er, obligations and rights I meant.)
posted by canine epigram at 3:18 PM on April 27, 2010

Basically, a constitution is a grant of power from a group of people to a governing entity, so you need a scenario in which the kids want to be governed by someone or some entity. Hopefully, they've already been thinking and discussing reserved rights, enumerated rights, whether they want a system of federalism, whether they want a tripartate form of government with checks and balances, or whether they want a very efficient form of government with a single executive, lawmakers, and judge all in one.
Perhaps they could decide to be pirates and they need a constitution to govern how they are to select a leader to govern their pirate ship (I know, that's sort of inherently non-piratey - but perhaps they're very democratic pirates) but that would be a good example of a scenario in which you need an efficient despot rather than a tripartate form of governmnet.
Or maybe set up a scenario in which they colonize a planet.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:21 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

They need their own modern Constitutional Convention. An all-week/multi-hour-per-schoolday thing planned by the teacher, parents, and students. Tape it, have roles, wear costumes, the whole thing.

In the fictional country they are deciding how to govern, each "delegate" represents a member of a small or large interest group - landowners, laborers, new immigrants, teachers, whatever - and they research what the interests of those people would/wouldn't be in a government.

Some questions that might come up in their convention would be *great* starting points for a bigger discussion of democracy:

• would elections online be more fair to young people, who are always online, than to poorer/more elderly people without computers?
• how often should we elect people, and who should we elect, if our country is only made up of a few dozen/thousand people?
• is one branch/part of government too powerful? is that fair? why or why not?
• what is the role of individuals in voting - can you vote for anyone, or do you have to vote for a party?
• what rights are guaranteed to individuals? what rights aren't?

At the end of the week, various drafts of the constitution are passed around, edited, voted on. There will be sweat and toil, perhaps, but that's how constitutions get made, no?
posted by mdonley at 4:01 PM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: They need -- NEED -- to form a government to protect them from aggression from the forth graders (who are trying to push them out) and the sixth graders (who are refusing to move on and give them room). They also have to improve trade relations with the lunch ladies, and must appoint representatives to present their diverse views in negotiations with teachers over this whole homework idea.
posted by Some1 at 4:05 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

hahahhaha@mdonley & Some1... maybe a bit much for 12 year olds, no?
posted by ruelle at 7:46 PM on April 27, 2010

maybe a bit much for 12 year olds

Not at all! Obviously the teacher can engineer the simulated convention to be as simple or complex as they wish, but there's no reason 12-year-olds can't make group decisions and guide the progress of something like a draft of a constitution. Some1's idea would actually be amazing, because the realities of the lives of fifth graders are hugely influenced by school - it's their primary site of social interaction, after all! Let the class finish their project, then post it in the hallway for the other classes to see!

I don't know if it's self-link-y to connect to the website of my sixth grade teacher, but we conducted numerous multi-week simulations along the lines of what I'm suggesting like this one to explore aspects of ancient civilizations through art and cultural projects in small problem-solving groups. Sixth grade was the single best experience of my entire education.
posted by mdonley at 11:15 PM on April 27, 2010

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