Constitution Day Lesson Plans and Resources

Thanks to an amendment advanced by Senator Byrd in 2004 to an omnibus spending bill, all schools that receive federal funding must “hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution” on September 17. (Read the pertinent ED regulations.) This year, the 17th falls on Saturday so the requirement moves to September 16.

Of course, back in the day when civics was a standard part of the curriculum, the Constitution Day requirement wouldn’t be such a big deal. Nowadays, with fewer and fewer teachers equipped to teach about the Constitution, there’s growing demand for easy-to-use resources that anyone can teach and meet the Constitution Day teaching requirement.

iCivics is doing its part by offering free resources and free lesson plans for Constitution Day. Here are two choices for busy teachers:

1. Play a game. In Do I Have a Right?, students run their own law firm and help clients resolve funny yet thought-provoking issues. They’ll learn about the Bill of Rights and other amendments to the Constitution. This Game Guide for Teachers explains how to use this game in a classroom setting.

2. Teach a Constitution Day lesson plan. iCivics’ free Constitution Day lesson plan provides a great overview of the Constitution and how Articles I-III describe the structure, function and powers of our three branches of government.

Of course, there are plenty of other resources available for teachers, too:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Constitution Day Lesson Plans and Resources

Do You Have a Right? iCivics asks kids to master the Bill of Rights.

This is the first in a regular series of blog posts highlighting some of the featured learning games and free lesson plans on the iCivics website.

One of the most popular games on iCivics asks a basic question: Do I Have a Right? Do you think you sell your little brother? Can you vote if you have blue hair?*

iCivics Lesson Plan: The Bill of Rights

iCivics Lesson Plan: The Bill of Rights

On the latest national civics examination, fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights. One likely reason: social studies programs were left to fend for themselves when schools shifted focus and funding towards math and reading. That’s why iCivics provides free, high-quality resources: to help teachers close the gap.

Do I Have a Right? makes you think on your feet as you step into the shoes of a lawyer who is organizing a firm of experts who specialize in constitutional law issues. You’ll decide whether your clients have a right, and if they do, connect them with the right lawyer. The more cases you win, the faster your law firm grows. Spend 350 points for a First Amendment expert, or 100 points for a couch so future clients will wait for you in style. Best of all, you learn about your rights without even realizing it.

Students jump into the game ignoring the directions and assuming the rules as they go along. It’s self–explanatory. But teachers get more: free lesson plans!

iCivics offers free lesson plans about the Bill of Rights that help set up the Do I Have a Right game for classroom use. The subject material corresponds with the state standards you have to cover, but more importantly, all the work is done for you. What are most useful are the step-by-step directions, which leave nothing to chance and make sure all the state standards are addressed.

Students will learn about the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and other important constitutional amendments. Like all our lesson plans, there are no tedious readings — students jump right in and start learning, actively, right away.

Click here to jump right to the free lesson plan, Bill of Rights: You Mean I’ve Got Rights? Be sure to click on the “Related Standards” link to see how it matches with your state’s curriculum requirements.

* No. Yes.

Posted in Free Lesson Plans, Learning Games | Tagged , | Comments Off on Do You Have a Right? iCivics asks kids to master the Bill of Rights.

Games for Change, gamified


Games for Change 2011 brought together the leading voices in video games with a social mission. The iCivics delegation was happy to see our founder and Board chair Justice Sandra Day O’Connor featured in the conference’s metagame, Stakehold’em, which created a hyperlocalized version of MaconMoney. Her quote reads:

One third of Americans can name the three brances of governmnet. Two thirds can name an American Idol judge.

Posted in Events | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Games for Change, gamified

Florida DOE releases FAQ on mandated civics course

The Florida Department of Education has just released a memo answering Frequently-Asked Questions about the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act.

Read the iCivics summary of the Florida guidance on the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act. (We are, of course, very proud that this landmark legislation was named after our founder).

iCivics is now developing lesson plans that will satisfy Florida’s standards. To find lesson plans matched to Florida’s curriculum, please search for “Florida” in the iCivics Curriculum Finder.

Posted in Assessments, Courses | Tagged , | Comments Off on Florida DOE releases FAQ on mandated civics course

NAEP history report card highlights need for literacy

After revealing just how little our nation’s children know about civics last month, NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a/k/a “the Nation’s Report Card”) hit us with another bit of bad news — American students are doing even worse in history. As in 2006, only 17% of eight-graders hit the “proficient” level or better on NAEP’s history tests. (Read Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s statement on the NAEP civics findings.)

Education historian Diane Ravitch highlighted a particularly frightening finding: only 2 percent of 12th-graders correctly answering a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education. Students were shown an excerpt of the landmark desegregation decision that included the passage “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct. “The answer was right in front of them,” Ravitch was quoted as saying. “This is alarming.” (NYTimes / Boston Globe).

A little bit of digging by the iCivics staff suggests that, as Prof. Ravitch hints, the problem implicates literacy as much as it does history. The question was an open-ended one, which meant that students not only had to know the answer, but be able to articulate it correctly. Here’s what NAEP suggests is a “complete” answer:

The response may explain that the decision aimed to end legalized school segregation that was common in the South, or may simply refer to segregated schools. The answer uses specific references from the quotation or other historical knowledge in the answer. The answer may refer to “separate but equal” systems of schools.

By contrast, here are the markers of a “partial” answer:

The response explains that the decision aimed to end segregation or to bring about integration but may not relate it directly to schools OR gives specific references but lacks “segregation.” Specific references in the answer are absent, weak, or incorrect.

(In case you’re wondering, 26% of students had a “partial” answer, on top of the 2% who had a “complete” answer. If you want to see the data for yourself, here’s the link to the Question Bank – search for History, 2010, 12th grade, Block H6 Question #13).

What this question and lack of satisfactory answer highlights for us at iCivics is the importance of ensuring that all of this attention devoted to literacy of late be done in meaningful context. That’s why we’re launching our Argumentation Modules, designed to teach students how to use primary sources to make their points clearly, convincingly, and succinctly. It’s a critical skill not just for scoring well on standardized tests of writing, but for participating in a democracy.

And with a substantial grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges, we’ll start development on these modules right away.

Posted in Literacy, Social Studies | Tagged , | Comments Off on NAEP history report card highlights need for literacy