In this lesson, students will explore the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Specifically, students will a) read and interpret the text of the Bill of Rights, b) consider arguments about civil liberties, and c) explain the meaning of an amendment. After watching a clip that raises the issue of freedom and tyranny, students work with a partner or a small group to watch a video clip about a specific freedom protected by the Bill of Rights. Each group answers a set of guiding questions about their video and their topic, and they then create a poster to illustrate their learning and share it with the rest of the class. The lesson is intended to take one to two block periods or three to four regular class periods.
Prepare the introductory video clip to be watched as a class. Introduce the speaker, Rep. Tom McClintock of California. Explain that he is a Congressman speaking about issues related to civil liberties. Before beginning the clip, ask the students to think about the question - "Why is Tom McClintock angry"?
VIDEO CLIP: Morning Hour Debate, Government Overstepping Bounds (5:13)
Briefly discuss responses to the video. Rep. McClintock complains about specific actions taken by the government, but his complaints fall into one of three categories:
a. freedom of the press
b. freedom of political organizations
c. protection against searches and seizures.
In general, he makes an argument that we need civil liberties and personal freedoms to protect us from tyranny.
Explain that the major topic for the lesson is the Bill of Rights, which lists the essential freedoms and civil liberties of American citizens. Project a list of specific topics on the board, break the students down into pairs or small groups, and assign each one of them a topic.
Each group first examines the text of the amendment and comes to a consensus about the meaning of the text. Then, they watch a video clip which provides an explanation of the amendment and/or raises a critical issue in understanding the amendment. After watching the clip, students discuss three general guiding questions along with one question specific to their video clip.
What does the amendment mean?
Why is this specific right or freedom important?
VIDEO CLIP: Freedom of Religion (5:56)
VIDEO CLIP: Freedom of the Press (6:55)
VIDEO CLIP: Freedom of Speech (7:04)
VIDEO CLIP: Right to Bear Arms (9:08)
What would you consider a regulation on the right to bear arms?
VIDEO CLIP: No Unreasonable Searches (4:16)
VIDEO CLIP: Right to Remain Silent (5:19)
VIDEO CLIP: Right to Counsel (6:14)
According to Mr. Gideon, which part of the Constitution should have provided him with legal counsel in his case?
VIDEO CLIP: Right to a Speedy Trial (2:31)
Explain the parameters of the Constitutional right to a “speedy” trial.
VIDEO CLIP: No Cruel and Unusual Punishment (4:55)
Explain the differing interpretations of the term “Cruel and Unusual” by Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer.
Each group then creates a poster to help illustrate the meaning of the amendment for the rest of the class. The poster should include:
The relevant text of the amendment.
A statement on the siginificance of the amendment.
Each group presents their poster to the rest of the class. As students present their posters, the rest of the class should complete handout below to take notes on the presentation.
HANDOUT: Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties (Google Doc)
Potential Follow Up Assignments / Homework
Students may choose one additional amendment to follow up and research in depth.
Students create a pamphlet explaining a citizen’s basic rights as protected by the Bill of Rights. The best pamphlet may then be reproduced and distributed to people in the school.
Students choose one civil liberty that was presented. They identify one potential disagreement over that amendment and write a one page editorial taking a position on that particular liberty.