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VocabGrabbing the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Lesson Question:

How can students use VocabGrabber and Frayer Model graphic organizers to help them evaluate the essential American values outlined in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution?

Applicable Grades:

6-12

Lesson Overview:

What starts as a grammar mini-lesson on the preamble of the U.S. Constitution ends up expanding into a lesson on how students can use VocabGrabber and Frayer Model maps to evaluate how essential American values outlined in the preamble have prevailed and not prevailed throughout American history.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • identify concrete and abstract nouns in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution
  • use VocabGrabber to define key concepts in the preamble
  • complete Frayer Model graphic organizers focusing on preamble vocabulary, using events in American history and current events to identify "examples" and "non-examples" of American values

Materials:

  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • copies of the "Frayer Model Map" [click here to download], adapted for this lesson from the original graphic organizer designed by Dorothy Frayer and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin

Links:

Warm-up:

Identifying nouns in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

  • Organize the class into small groups with no more than three or four students in each group.
  • Distribute to each group a copy of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

    We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  • Ask students to work with their fellow group members to circle every noun mentioned in the preamble. (If necessary, you may need to briefly review the Visual Thesaurus definition of "noun" as a "person, place, thing, quality or action" before assigning groups this task.)

Instruction:

VocabGrabbing the preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

  • On the white board, use VocabGrabber (www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber) to "grab" the vocabulary from the preamble. (You can grab the article's key vocabulary words by simply copying and pasting the text of the article into the VocabGrabber box and clicking the green "Grab Vocabulary" button underneath the text box.)

  • Elicit from groups their lists of nouns from the preamble. As each group volunteers a word, verify its status as a noun by clicking on that word in the "VocabGrabbed" tag cloud to view its word map. (Words with red meaning bubbles in their word maps are potentially being used as nouns in the preamble.)

Identifying the American values highlighted in the preamble:

  • Establish that the highlighted words below are nouns in the preamble:
  • We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  • Among the list of nouns in the preamble, ask students to single out those abstract nouns that capture the big ideas, values or ideals that the founding fathers and framers of the Constitution felt would be embodied by the U.S. Constitution and form the basis of American government (i.e., Union, justice, tranquility, defense, welfare, and liberty).

Evaluating words/"American values" by completing Frayer Model maps:

  • Distribute a set of six Frayer Model maps to each small group [click here to download].

  • Explain that during the drafting of the US Constitution, the founding fathers were struggling to create a document that could provide the framework of the United States government and unite the thirteen original and independent colonies into one nation. Today, students will be reflecting on how the values of the Constitution relate to events in American history and in current events.

  • Ask students to work together with the aid of the Visual Thesaurus and the Internet to complete an adapted Frayer Model map for each of the abstract nouns they identified in the preamble as "goals" or "values" of the Constitution.

  • Explain or display the following instructions for completing a Frayer Model map for each of the six American values (the focus words for this exercise) mentioned in the preamble (i.e., Union, justice, tranquility, defense, welfare, and liberty).

 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR COMPLETING THE FRAYER MODEL MAPS

  • In the upper left hand quadrant labeled "Definition," students should write the definition from the Visual Thesaurus word map for the focus word that fits the particular context of the preamble. For example, the definition of liberty that fits the historical context of the Constitution would be "...political independence" since the Constitution was written only a decade after the thirteen original colonies declared their independence from Great Britain.
  • In the upper right-hand quadrant labeled "Associations," students should list Visual Thesaurus word map associations they discover with the focus word or prior associations they may already have with the word. For example, students may associate the word "tranquility" with the synonyms "serenity" or "placidity," or the word "justice" with Judge Judy. This space is intended to get students thinking about the multiple meanings of the focus words or associations they may already have with the focus word.
  • In the lower left-hand quadrant labeled "Examples," have students use school textbooks, the Internet, and their own knowledge of American history and current events to come up with specific examples of how this abstract American value has been realized. For example, some students may state justice had been served with the Brown v. Board of Education decision that called for the desegregation of American schools. 
  • In the lower right-hand quadrant labeled "Non-examples," have students use school textbooks, the Internet, and their own knowledge of American history and current events to come up with specific "non-examples" of the American value (i.e., the focus word). In other words, students should write a short list of events that "prove" how that value has not always prevailed. For example, the Civil War is a non-example of "domestic tranquility."

Wrap-up:

Sharing and Debating "examples" and "non-examples":

  • After establishing each focus word's definition in the context of the preamble, ask each set of students to verbally share their associations, examples, and non-examples.
  • Since selecting events for the "examples" and "non-examples" quadrants of the Frayer Model maps can be done subjectively, encourage debate among groups. For example, one group may argue that the events of 9-11 are "non-examples" of the government providing for the "common defense" of the U.S., while another group may disagree with that conclusion.

Extending the Lesson:

Assessment:

  • Check students' copies of the preamble to assess whether or not they identified all nouns in the preamble correctly.
  • Assess students' completed Frayer Model Maps to see if they comprehend the focus words and list appropriate examples and non-examples for each.

Educational Standards (McREL):

Civics

Standard 8. Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government and how this form of government has shaped the character of American society.

Level III (Grade 6-8)

2. Knows the essential ideas of American constitutional government that are expressed in the Constitution
3. Knows the essential ideas of American constitutional government that are expressed in a variety of writings
4. Knows that the Constitution is a higher law that authorizes a government of limited powers
5. Knows that the Preamble to the Constitution states the purposes of government
6. Knows that the Preamble to the Constitution states one purpose of the government is to form a more perfect union
7. Knows that the Preamble to the Constitution states one purpose of government is to establish justice
8. Knows that the Preamble to the Constitution states one purpose of government is to provide for the common defense
9. Knows that the Preamble to the Constitution states one purpose of government is to promote the general welfare of society

Language Arts

Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.

Level III (Grades 6-8)

2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; letters; diaries; directions; procedures; magazines; essays; primary source historical documents; editorials; news stories; periodicals; bus routes; catalogs; technical directions; consumer, workplace, and public documents)
3. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., arranges information in chronological, logical, or sequential order; conveys main ideas, critical details, and underlying meaning; uses own words or quoted materials; preserves author's perspective and voice)
4. Uses new information to adjust and extend personal knowledge base
5. Draws conclusions and makes inferences based on explicit and implicit information in texts

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps)
3. Summarizes and paraphrases complex, implicit hierarchic structures in informational texts, including the relationships among the concepts and details in those structures
5. Uses text features and elements to support inferences and generalizations about information (e.g., vocabulary, structure, evidence, expository structure, format, use of language, arguments used)


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Comments from our users:

Tuesday December 1st 2009, 8:20 PM
Comment by: Gabi F.
THIS IS VERRRRY USEFULL
Sunday October 17th 2010, 6:39 PM
Comment by: Luann M. (East Windsor, NJ)
I am very excited to try this lesson with my 8th graders:)

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