Lesson Plan: The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention

Rosemarie Zabarri gives an overivew of the Constitutional Convention and debate over the powers of the Federal Government.


On May 25, 1787, framers of the Constitution gathered in Philadelphia, PA to deliberate ideas about establishing a system government for our new country. In this lesson, students will examine some of the founding principles that emerged from this meeting as well as hear about some of the people who participated.


  • Step 1.


    Ask students to research the definitions for the vocabulary terms for homework or as an in class assignment.

    Handout: The Constitutional Convention (Google Doc)

  • Step 2.

    As a class, view the video below and discuss the accompanying questions to provide background on the Constitutional Convention.

    Video Clip: The Constitutional Convention (4:12)

    Rosemarie Zabarri gives a brief overview of the Constitutional Convention and the debate over the powers of the Federal Government.

    • Describe the issues occurring in the States that led to the calling of the Philadelphia Convention.

    • Explain what the Philadelphia convention proposed in regards to the government.

    • What powers did Congress gain under the new Constitution?

    • What effect did the Supremacy Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause have on the nation?

    • Explain the controversy and debate during the ratification process of the new Constitution.
  • Step 3.

    This lesson may be completed over several class periods where students work independently or you can jigsaw this activity so they can work in groups to view the videos below and complete the chart on the handout.

    Video Clip: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention (8:26)

    Ray Smock talks about some of the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

    • Why was Robert Morris considered the financier of the American Revolution? What was the result of the land investments?

    • Describe some of James Madison’s contributions to American history.

    • Describe the circumstances surrounding the Constitutional Convention.
  • Video Clip: We the People Clause (2:18)

    Jeffrey Rosen talks about popular sovereignty and the meaning of "We the People" at the Constitutional Convention.

    • What was James Wilson’s central contribution to the Constitutional Convention? Explain its importance to the United States.

    • How was the idea of national popular sovereignty found in the Preamble important during the Civil War?
  • Video Clip: Benjamin Franklin and the Constitutional Convention (3:20)

    Author and journalist Walter Isaacson talked about Founding Father Benjamin Franklin and his influence during the Constitutional Convention.

    • According to Mr. Isaacson, which human qualities were necessary to the writing of the Constitution?

    • Which attributes does he assign to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison?

    • Which attribute does he assign to George Washington?

    • Which attribute does he assign to Sam and John Adams?

    • Which attribute does Mr. Isaacson suggest Benjamin Franklin brought to the equation?

    • In Mr. Isaacson's example, which motion did Benjamin Franklin introduce during the Convention that eventually became part of Article I of the Constitution?
  • Video Clip: NJ and VA Plans and the Constitutional Convention (4:12)

    Jeffrey Rosen talks about the NJ and VA Plans at the Constitutional Convention.

    • According to Jeffrey Rosen, what was the biggest problem for the Founders at the Constitutional Convention?

    • Who comprised the VA delegation? Explain the VA Plan that they proposed.

    • Who comprised the NJ delegation? Explain the NJ Plan that they proposed.

    • What was the reaction to these plans?

    • What compromise did the CT delegation propose?
  • Video Clip: Judicial Appointment Process (5:16)

    Barbara Perry spoke about the debate at the Constitutional Convention on the appointment process and selection of Federal Judges.

    • What did the framers initially propose for judicial appointments? Why did James Wilson oppose this proposal? What did John Rutledge argue?

    • Explain James Madison’s views on legislative appointment of federal judges.

    • What did Massachusetts delegate Nathaniel Gorham propose for judicial appointments?

    • Explain how the judicial appointment process illustrated the Framers’ focus on checks and balances.

    • How did James Madison explain the importance of checks and balances in Federalist Paper #51?

    • What was the final compromise of the delegates for judicial appointments?

    • What does the U.S. Constitution say regarding qualifications for Supreme Court Judges? What does Federalist Paper #78 show about the Founders’ thoughts on judicial selection?
  • Video Clip: Three-Fifths Compromise and the Constitutional Convention (4:14)

    Jeffrey Rosen talks about the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Constitutional Convention.

    • What were some of the concerns among the Founders regarding the issue of slavery?

    • Explain the Three-Fifths Compromise that is found in Article 1 Section 2 in the Constitution. What effect did it have on the Constitutional Convention?
  • Video Clip: Dissenters at the Constitutional Convention (4:58)

    Jeffrey Rosen talks about the dissenters who did not sign the Constitution and the Constitutional Convention.

    • Who were the three men who refused to sign the Constitution?

    • What is Gerrymandering?

    • What concerns did Edmund Randolph and George Mason have about the Constitution?

    • Explain the significance of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

    • Why did James Madison initially oppose the Bill of Rights? Why did he change his mind? What was the result?
  • Step 4.

    As a class, discuss each perspective that is provided in the videos.

    Either as a written assignment or as a class discussion, have the students address the following prompt:

    • Describe the role that compromise played in the creation of the Constitution. Why was compromise necessary to the ratification of the Constitution?
  • Extension Activities:

    Political Cartoon- Pick one of the states represented at the Constitutional Convention. From the perspective of that state, create a political cartoon that addresses some of the concerns that a delegate from that state might have.

    Letter to the Editor- Like the Federalist Papers, write a letter to the editor arguing for the ratification of the Constitution. After writing one from the Federalist perspective, write a letter to the editor from the perspective from the Anti-Federalists.

    Additional writing prompts-

    • Identify one of the compromises that was made during the Constitutional Convention.
    • Explain how it impacts our current structure and functioning of government.
    • How did the Constitution expand the powers of the federal government? Why were people at the time fearful of this?
    • Describe how the Constitution divided authority in order to provide a system of separation of powers?

Additional Resources


  • Apportion
  • Autonomous
  • Bicameral
  • Checks And Balances
  • Connecticut Compromise
  • Delegates
  • Federalist Papers
  • Necessary And Proper Clause
  • Popular Sovereignty
  • Ratification
  • Shays’ Rebellion
  • Supremacy Clause
  • Three-fifths Compromise
  • Virginia Declaration Of Rights


Constitutional FoundationExecutive BranchFederalism and State IssuesJudicial BranchLegislative BranchU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School