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Concept-Mapping the Key Terms of the Bill of Rights 

Lesson Question:

How can students use VocabGrabber and a graphic organizer to help them evaluate the meaning and impact of key concepts in the Bill of Rights?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students use VocabGrabber and the Visual Thesaurus to identify and define some of the key words and phrases contained in the first ten amendments of the Constitution. They then work in groups to research and graphically display how each of these key fundamental rights and freedoms have been exercised and defended in recent history.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • use VocabGrabber and the Visual Thesaurus to identify and define key concepts in the Bill of Rights
  • complete concept maps to display how individual constitutional rights and freedoms have been exercised and defended in recent history
  • orally share their concept maps with the class


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers or iPads with Internet access
  • copies of the "Bill of Rights Concept Map"  [click here to download]



VocabGrabbing the Bill of Rights:

  • Copy and paste the text of the Bill of Rights into VocabGrabber and click "Grab Vocabulary!" and then "List View" to reveal a list of the top words and phrases, listed in order according to "relevance. "
  • Ask students to quickly survey the list and to compare and contrast the terms at the top of the list (i.e. , compulsory process, cruel and unusual punishment, criminal prosecution, probable cause, due process of law, etc. ) with those words and phrases at the bottom of the list (e.g. , put, things, have, same, place, etc. ).
  • Through group discussion, establish that the terms at the top of the list (all indicated with the gold Social Studies icon of the courthouse) are important and  highly relevant to understanding the text of the Bill of Rights, whereas the words at the bottom of the list are common words in the English language.


Identifying Constitutional Rights and Freedoms:

  • Explain that the Bill of Rights is another name for the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and that if they click on "amendment" in the VocabGrabbed list of words and phrases that they will learn that an amendment is ‘a statement that reflects an addition or a revision to a document. ' (In this case, that document is the Constitution of the United States and these first ten amendments were adopted in 1789 – two years after the Constitution itself was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. )
  • Click on "freedom of speech" in the vocabulary list to display the word map for the term and reveal that it is "a type of civil right" by scrolling your cursor over the dashed line connecting the meaning of "freedom of speech" to the meaning of "civil right. "
  • Click on the red meaning bubble closest to "civil right" and display all the Constitutional freedoms and rights included in the Visual Thesaurus database.

Researching Constitutional Rights and Freedoms:

  • Ask student volunteers to identify those branches of the civil rights map that they recognize and to identify where they have heard or seen that particular phrase before. For example, students might recognize the phrase "freedom of assembly" from press coverage of the Occupy Movement or the phrase "right to an attorney" from television crime shows they may watch.
  • Organize the class into partnerships or small groups and assign each a different "freedom" or "right" that is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights:
freedom of religion
freedom of speech
freedom of the press
freedom of assembly
freedom to bear arms
freedom from search and seizure
right to due process
freedom from self-incrimination
freedom from double jeopardy
right to speedy and public trial by jury
right to an attorney
right to confront accusers
freedom from cruel and unusual punishment
  • Distribute a blank "Bill of Rights Concept Map" to each partnership or group, and direct students to write their assigned word or phrase in the center of the map, along with its Visual Thesaurus explanation. In the outer circles of the map, students are to use the Visual Thesaurus and various Internet resources to help them connect the central "right" or "freedom" with different textual, historical, and cultural contexts. For each word or phrase, students must make the following minimum number of connections:
  1. In the context of the Bill of Rights: Which amendment guarantees this right or freedom? In which sentence?
  2. In the context of the judicial system: How has this freedom or right been defended in a courtroom?
  3. In the context of a recent news story: How has this freedom or right been exercised or defended in a current event that the media has covered in the last ten years?
  4. An image: Supply an image that exemplifies this freedom or right to you.

For a sample concept map for the First Amendment's "right to assembly," click here.


Sharing rights and freedoms:

  • Ask each set of students to display their concept map and to orally share the meaning of their assigned right or freedom, along with its connections to the Bill of Rights, a court case, and a publicized event.
  • If time permits after the group presentations, extend the class discussion to have students share their personal reflections on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Where have they personally seen these freedoms and rights exercised? Do they agree with how courts have interpreted the language of the Bill of Rights? If they could, would they amend these amendments further to reflect a changing society?

Extending the Lesson:

  • Have students read Dennis Baron's article "Webster's Lays Down the Law" about how Supreme Court justices sometimes turn to dictionaries to inform their decisions: "In Washington, DC, v. Heller (2008), the case in which the high Court decided the meaning of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, both Justice Scalia and Justice Stevens checked the dictionary definition of arms. " If students were to amend the Second Amendment to include a more precise description or definition of arms, how would they revise the amendment?


  • Assess students' completed "Bill of Rights Concept Maps" to see if they made meaningful connections between the central concepts and how those concepts have been exercised and defended in different contexts.

Educational Standards:

Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy:

Reading: Informational Text

RI 1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RI 2. Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

Craft and Structure

RI 4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g. , how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

RI 7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g. , visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
RI 8. Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g. , in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g. , The Federalist, presidential addresses).
RI 9. Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Standards:


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 (Grades 6-8)
1. Knows the essential ideas of American constitutional government that are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other writings (e.g. , the Constitution is a higher law that authorizes a government of limited powers; the Preamble to the Constitution states the purposes of government such as to form a more perfect union, establish justice, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare)
3. Understands how the United States Constitution serves to limit the powers of government (e.g. , separation and sharing of powers, checks and balances, Bill of Rights)
4. Understands how specific provisions of the United States Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) limit the powers of government in order to protect the rights of individuals (e.g. , habeas corpus; trial by jury; ex post facto; freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; equal protection of the law; due process of law; right to counsel)
5. Knows opposing positions on current issues involving constitutional protection of individual rights such as limits on speech (e.g. , "hate speech," advertising), separation of church and state (e.g. , school vouchers, prayer in public schools), cruel and unusual punishment (e.g. , death penalty), search and seizure (e.g. , warrantless searches), and privacy (e.g. , national identification cards, wiretapping)
6. Understands important factors that have helped shape American society (e.g. , absence of a nobility or an inherited caste system; religious freedom; abundance of land and widespread ownership of property; large scale immigration; diversity of the population; market economy; relative social equality; universal public education)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)
1. Knows major historical events that led to the creation of limited government in the United States (e.g. , Magna Carta (1215), common law, and the Bill of Rights (1689) in England; colonial experience, Declaration of Independence (1776), Articles of Confederation (1781), state constitutions and charters, United States Constitution (1787), Bill of Rights (1791) in the United States)
2. Knows how the creation of American constitutional government was influenced by the central ideas of the natural rights philosophy (e.g. , all persons have the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness; the major purpose of government is to protect those rights)
6. Understands how various provisions of the Constitution and principles of the constitutional system help to insure an effective government that will not exceed its limits
7. Understands how the design of the institutions of government and the federal system works to channel and limit governmental power in order to serve the purposes of American constitutional government
9. Knows ways in which Americans have attempted to make the values and principles of the Constitution a reality


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