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Activity 2

Essential Questions

Why is the Bill of Rights so essential to the protection of our basic rights?


The colonists had just fought a war to win their freedom and to preserve their basic rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Now, some of the founders were very concerned that with the new government under the Constitution, these rights might not be secure. They were reluctant to approve this new Constitution unless these rights were spelled out and included in the document. As a result, a Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was added in 1791. Many of the basic rights that the colonists came to believe were so important to them as a people were now written and guaranteed to them in the new Constitution. The country was truly born!

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1


Review with the students what they consider to be some of their basic rights. List these rights on the board. Pass out a copy of the Bill of Rights to each student along with a highlighter.

Have the students work in small groups, to identify which of the rights listed on the board are included in the Bill of Rights and are therefore considered to be “protected rights.” Have them highlight the word or phrase that matches the right on the board. These rights will most likely include:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of the press

Have them expand their list by reading each of the 10 amendments more carefully. Have them look for phrases such as:

  • Due process of law
  • Equal protection of the law
  • The right to bear arms
  • The right to assemble peaceably
  • Unreasonable searches
  • Nor be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy
  • Nor be compelled to be a witness against himself
  • Speedy and public trial
  • Assistance of counsel for his defense
  • Right of trial by jury
  • Nor cruel and unusual punishment be inflicted
  • Rights… retained by the people

Have students explain each of these rights in the context of their own lives.

Have the students star those rights that have an immediate effect on their lives. Have each student prioritize this smaller list. Use the phrases to form a Word Wall for student reference.

Make a collage to summarize this activity by having each group bring in old newspapers and magazines to look for illustrations of the list of rights they feel to be the most relevant to their lives today. Have the groups report out on their collages.

Writing in the Social Studies Classroom: Have each student use their notes and their collages to address the essential question in a well- organized paragraph. Provide them with a writing prompt that at the very least includes the following criteria for their paragraph:

  • Be sure to include the rights that you feel are the most important to your life today by giving examples of how they can be applied in their own life.
  • Be sure to tell why you would not want to see these rights ever taken out of the Constitution

Note: The basic rights should at least include freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, due process of law, equal protection of the law, and the right to assembly peaceably.


Check for Understanding

  • Why is it essential that these rights be included in the Bill of Rights? Why are they so important to Americans?

Strategy 2

Understanding Meaning from Context

Review the words and phrases for this module on your “word wall”. Tell your students that they are going to learn these phrases “in context”. Assign several of the phrases to each group and have the group use the computers in your classroom or in the computer lab to find references to these rights. They can either work as a group or they can divide the work up and work individually or in pairs on one phrase. The students will find ample sites on the web to do this assignment. Suggest such sites as:

Provide the students with the following list of directions for this activity. You may add other directions, but be sure students:

  • Locate a site that is useable to them in terms of readability
  • Read the information carefully, looking for the “context” of their phrase to help interpret the meaning
  • Write a definition of the phrase in their own words
  • Include a drawing, a cartoon, or a picture to help explain the phrase to their group
    • Write a paragraph to answer the following question:
      Why do you think it was important to put some of our rights in written form and include them as part of the Constitution?

Note: Students should note that some rights are so important that they cannot be left to general consensus- they must be in written form; students should also note that these rights were not easily won and need to be protected in writing; students should also note that leaders may change but our rights can never change and must be carefully protected although they can be limited or extended.

Check for Understanding

  • Why do you think it was important to put some of our rights in written form and include them as part of the Constitution?

Strategy 3

Application to Real Life

Journal Writing Activity: Have the students reflect on the rights and freedoms they enjoy as American Citizens. Have them write about an experience they have had related to one of the basic rights protected by the Bill of Rights. For example, they might write about a protest letter they wrote to the local newspaper complaining about the lack of bike trails in the park. Select experiences that reflect a variety of basic rights and have your student share their experiences with the class.

Share the following experience of a people in another country at another time. Compare and contrast this experience with the ones students have just shared in their class.

Ask students to read the following passage. Use the following questions to stimulate student thinking about Nazi Fascism and the Modern Totalitarian State:

  • Who was more important in this country – the individual or the state?
  • Why was “government by the people and for the people” not a likely motto for this country?
  • Why would people living in this country want to have a “Bill of Rights” after experiencing life under a totalitarian government?
  • Could this happen in our country if we suspended the Bill of Rights?

Printable Student View

Nazi Fascism and the Modern Totalitarian State


The government of Nazi Germany was a fascist, totalitarian state. Totalitarian regimes, in contrast to a dictatorship, establish complete political, social, and cultural control over their subjects, and are usually headed by a charismatic leader. Fascism is a form of right-wing totalitarianism which emphasizes the subordination of the individual to advance the interests of the state. Nazi fascism’s ideology included a racial theory which denigrated “non-Aryans,” extreme nationalism which called for the unification of all German-speaking peoples, the use of private paramilitary organizations to stifle dissent and terrorize opposition, and the centralization of decision-making by, and loyalty to, a single leader.

Check for Understanding

  • Why is the Bill of Rights so essential to the protection of our basic rights?
Updated January 19, 2023 1:43pm