Thursday, January 6, 2011

Teaching the Bill of Rights? Easy and Fun!

How to Help Kids Learn the Bill of Rights in Six (Mostly) Easy and Fun Steps

1. Pass out the amendments, and as a class, "translate" them into 8th grade English. Answer a billion legal questions along the way. Make sure you either have a J. D. degree, know a lawyer, or are good friends with Mr. Google.

2. Have the kids draw visual aids to help them associate the rights with their numbers. I draw them step-by-step, and the kids are able to reproduce them. Here are the raw, unretouched pictures I used today, #2 - 10, scrawled without knowing I'd be posting them. (Amendment One is in the first picture, and it's lame.)

Amendment Two is the right to bear arms. My bear has a gun-shaped two. Today I dressed period four's bear as Rambo.

Amendment Three:

"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

We call this the NO QUARTERING amendment. Get it? No quarters? Bahahaha.

This amendment protects privacy, so the fence made of fours protects the happy private guy in his four-shaped house. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The "fours" is with him--bahahaha, I crack me up.

The fifth amendment has waaaaay too many details to individually depict in one simple graphic, so we just draw the basic fact: citizens' lives, liberties, and property are protected by due process. Here's the picture--take it--take the fifth! Get it? Get it? Bahahaha.

Like its predecessor, we simply boil the sixth down with the catch-all title "The Rights of the Accused." I draw a downright accusable-looking dude who is obviously enjoying his rights.

Amendment Seven says you get a juried trial as long as what you are in court is worth more than twenty bucks. Here, the dozen sevens are transformed into jurors through the miracle of modern medicine, eye transplants. OK, so I just drew a dot on each one, but I prefer to be a bit dramatic.

The eighth amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment. Slap a number 8 behind bars and put a smile on his face because jail is fairly tame, or make an 8-shaped noose. I wondered if my noose was good enough, but then I remembered: no noose is good noose. Bahahaha.

Amendment Nine effectively says that we the people have waaaay more rights than are listed in the Bill of Rights. So many ways to portray this. But remember, I teach 8th graders, so I picked this one just for them. Bahahahaha! "Picked one"!! Ahh, I kill me...

Amendment Ten is like Amendment Nine for states. It says that if a power isn't specifically listed as belonging to the federal government, then the state has that power. Here is the mighty state of TENnessee showing his comparative strength to the federal government. I hint that this is the amendment that is a source of the Civil War-dun dun dunnnnn!--but they are too busy drawing to tune in.

3. Next, give each kid an amendment (or in the case of #1, 5, 6, and 8, PARTS of an amendment) for homework. The kid draws an example of the amendment on the front of a folded piece of blank paper and writes the amendment inside. The next day, set up a Gallery Walk where kids, using their notes, check out each other's art, trying to guess which amendment is portrayed. We do ours in a big circle, moving to the next art piece when I give a signal.

I let the kids do a silent victory dance if they guessed correctly. The Macarena surfaced today, along with the Hand Jive, the Sprinkler, the MC Hammer, the Robot and other classics. (The Michael Jackson crotch grab is verboten.)

4. Next, spend ten thousand hours making flash cards with the amendment (or PARTS of the amendment) on one side and the number on the reverse. Make enough sets, one per group of three for your whole class. (California's class sizes that meant I went through ten thousand reams of paper.) It's a hassle, but you will have them for a long time. I keep mine in ten thousand plastic baggies.

5. Have them play Bill of Rights Slap Jack©! Man, this really is fun. The dealer (who doesn't play) places a card, word side up, on the desk. The two players think and then whoever slaps and says the amendment correctly keeps the card. If a kid is incorrect, the dealer takes back the card AND one of the incorrect kid's previously won cards. Ouch--that stops random guessing! Winner of the most cards becomes the dealer.

Seriously, the kids love this game. Everyone gets better, and after a few rounds I put the dominators in groups together so they stay challenged, and the slower reflexed, thinkers, readers get mastery in less intimidating groups. NO ONE FEELS BAD about not being a dominator!

Listen, it really is super fun. If kids get hung up on who was first and all that nonsense, a quick game of Rock/Paper/Scissors ends the dispute so I never have to get involved. Everyone loves Bill of Rights Slap Jack ©--the seminar kids begged to keep playing, and the regular kids cheered when I said we'd play more tomorrow.

#6. For tonight's homework, they are prepping for my middle school version of Car Talk's Stump the Chump: each kid writes a short story that has a character who is getting three rights violated. Tomorrow, I will read some and the kids will have to figure out what amendments were violated. FUN. And then more Bill of Rights Slap Jack©, and then a test on Monday.


  1. Slap jack sounds awesome. You should sell this lesson plan and get rich! See, stuff like this is why you're my favorite teacher.

    The right to bear arms is brilliant though I like to misinterpret it as the right to have musuclar arms like a bear instead.

  2. Bahahaha about the muscular arms--next year when we play BOR Slap Jack© you'll have to swing by if you're in town and join us. One girl got really confident and challenged me to a game. I love it when kids go for it that way!!

    Thanks for the kind words. I commence grading their tests and we shall see how they do-dun dun dunnnnn!

  3. Alas, many of them needed even more time and repetition. I suspect it's because there wasn't any review going on at home. Sigh.

  4. Ouch. A laziness disaease must be going around. Don't feel bad though, I assure you these fun creative methods of teaching are far better than hammering it in through a book.

    Number 1 and 2 were always easy for me to remember. Number 1 because its first. Two, because its hilariously outdated.

    Three is another one of those outdated ones.

    Four I remember because of the Munnelly Court, and I had TLO.

    Five is easy because of law shows.

    Six and Seven tend to escape my mind since I don't ever need it. I tend to pair them up.

    Eight is another that tends to slip my mind but earns its spot as the last number I didnt write yet. (And its a very famous ammendment for its cruel and unusual line)

    Nine and Ten I tend to pair up as well, but I remember Ten is States, because States are larger than individials (Nine)!

  5. Oooh, I am so using your Nine and Ten idea next year--