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Teacher Resource

DocsTeach: The Constitution at Work by NARA


Social Studies (NYS K-12 Framework Common Core)

Grade Levels

Intermediate, Commencement, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 7th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade

Web-Based Resource

Access this resource at http://docsteach.org/activities/16

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In this activity students will analyze documents that span the course of American history to determine their connection to the U.S. Constitution. Students will then make connections between the documents they have examined and the big ideas found within the Constitution.



This activity should be taught following an introduction to the U.S. Constitution and discussion of each branch of government and its responsibilities.

    Historical Era: Across Multiple Eras


1. Choose one document in the grid to model careful document analysis and matching for students.

2. Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Ask students to begin the activity, analyzing each document for a possible link to the Constitution. Students should match each document with the specific article and section of the Constitution that it best demonstrates.

3. After concluding, brainstorm with students major themes or “big ideas” they found. Then display the following. Briefly discuss each idea and ask students to consider both the documents they have seen and the Constitution itself. Ask each student to conclude class with an example from a document or section of the Constitution that shows one of the following “big ideas”:

  1. Representative Government - A system of government in which the people elect officials to govern for them. These officials are held accountable to the voters through periodic elections.
  2. Federalism - A form of government in which there is a constitutional division of power between a central government and regional governments.
  3. Checks and Balances - A system of overlapping powers of the separate branches of government that permits each branch to limit, restrain, or inform the actions of the other branches.
  4. Separation of Powers - A basic principle of American government that places different governing duties and powers among three independent and coequal branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
  5. Enumerated Powers - The powers of government that are specifically defined and authorized in the actual wording of the Constitution.
  6. Implied Powers - The powers of government that, while not specifically defined and authorized in the Constitution, are not specifically prohibited.
  7. Civic Responsibility - Actions by the people that demonstrate their interest and participation in the governing of their country.

Additional Resources


The Constitution at Work. DocsTeach initiative, http://docsteach.org/ accessed December 16, 2010.

Used with written permission from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 3rd Learning has aligned this document with New York State Learning Standards at the Performance Indicator Level. NARA granted full permission and written approval for use of this content within NYLearns.org including text, images, and links.

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