Each year, educational institutions across the country honor the signing of the United States Constitution with special programming about the iconic document and its signing on Sept. 17, 1787, as well as the meaning of citizenship today.
The St. Mary’s University School of Law has developed a program to connect Texas educators with the resources they need to fulfill the federal mandate requiring education on the topic during the week of Sept. 17. The video below is a key component of the Constitution Day program and can be shown during classes and lectures. If you’d like to request a video be mailed to you on DVD, please email Frank Garza, Law Communications Coordinator.
Federal law requires, “Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.” See: Public Law 108-447, div. J, § 111(b), 18 Stat. 2809, 3344-45 (Dec. 8, 2004).
The U.S. Department of Education reads the law to require the program within a week of Constitution Day, particularly if Sept. 17 is not a working day. See: 70 Fed. Reg. 29727 (May 24, 2005). Any public or private school not in compliance may lose access to federal education funds.
The School of Law has prepared a statewide program to assist schools in complying with Constitution Day and Citizenship Day requirements. Our website will stream a video you may show in your classroom or assembly. We are also working with our alumni to provide lawyers and judges as speakers in schools, who will provide a program of their own (following our guidelines), which may be a discussion or a Q-and-A based on the material in the video. We recommend programs last less than an hour. The video is just under 11 minutes long.
Thank you for participating in the St. Mary’s University School of Law’s Constitution Day and Citizenship Day project. The collection of lesson plans, activities, essay topics and links below are intended to help you prepare quickly for a successful class experience and have been aggregated from a variety of sources.
When conducting your Constitution Day presentation, please use our student roll sheet so that we may better gauge the impact of this project. Download it here: Constitution Day Participant Roll Sheet.
You may submit the roll sheet via email or mail:
St. Mary’s University School of Law
Office of the Dean
One Camino Santa Maria
San Antonio, TX 78228-9923
Lesson Plan: Formation of the Constitution
This lesson focuses on the drafting of the United States Constitution during the Federal
Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. Students will analyze an unidentified historical document
and draw conclusions about what this document was for, who created it and why. After the
document is identified as George Washington’s annotated copy of the Committee of Style’s draft
constitution, students will compare its text to that of an earlier draft by the Committee of Detail
to understand the evolution of the final document. Source: The Library of Congress
Lesson Plan: Constitutional Structure
In this lesson, students will study the Constitution from three perspectives, examining its structure, content and underlying philosophy. After skimming and making inferences about the Constitution, students will focus on the separate articles: their purpose, content and underlying ideas. Next, they will jigsaw into new groups and brief each other on their articles. Finally, they will work individually to analyze constitutional principles and locate relevant sections within the Constitution. Source: The Bill of Rights Institute
Lesson Plan: Living Document vs. Original Intent
This lesson plan teaches students how interpretations of the Constitution vary. Many people — judges, legal scholars, political leaders and citizens — disagree about the best way
to interpret the different provisions in the Constitution. Source: Street Law, Inc.
Lesson Plan: The Idea of Rights
In this lesson, students will examine a copy of 12 possible amendments to the United States
Constitution as originally sent to the states for their ratification in September of 1789. Students will debate and vote on which of these amendments they would ratify and compare their resulting “Bill of Rights” to the 10 amendments ratified by 10 states that have since been known by this name. Source: The Library of Congress
The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
Cornell University Law School U.S. Constitution Page
Foundations of American Government
HISTORY: The Constitution
The Library of Congress
The National Constitution Center: The Constitution
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
The White House: The Constitution
Resources for Schools
Thank you for being a St. Mary’s University Constitution Day and Citizenship Day speaker. We realize that you are busy and that your gift of time to this project is very important. The suggestions and guidelines below are intended to help you prepare quickly for a successful presentation.
Arranging your visit
Coordinating with St. Mary’s Law
Please let St. Mary’s Law know that you are arranging to visit a school so that we can offer you appropriate resources and ensure your visit is a success.
Coordinating with the school
Please directly contact the person at the school who will be coordinating your visit on site. Be sure to collect the date and time of your visit, the desired length of the presentation, and the size and educational level of the audience. Teachers may have a preference for the focus of your presentation.
Please ensure the room in which you will be presenting will have the ability to project the Constitution Day video played from the web. If not, we can provide you with a DVD of the video.
Selecting your topic
St. Mary’s Law has created a brief video that provides foundational information about the Constitution for the beginning of your presentation. It also sets the tone for discussing the Constitution as a living document that still plays an important role in our country today. We encourage you to play the video for your audience.
Please consult the educator with whom you are coordinating your visit for additional guidance about the focus of your presentation. Having a personal commitment or engagement with the topic may make for a better speech. If you would like to focus on an aspect of the U.S. Constitution on which you have a particular expertise, please feel free to do so unless it is listed among the topics to avoid below.
In the event that you are presenting at middle or elementary school, please contact the School of Law for additional assistance in speaking to younger students.
Topics to avoid
Please do not raise politically sensitive topics. There is so much in the Constitution that is neither sensitive nor well known to the high school audience. Moreover, you are in the school as a representative of the St. Mary’s University School of Law. In this capacity, we would prefer you to avoid topics that might hurt feelings in the audience or limit our access to the school in future years.
Among the topics you should not address are: abortion, gun rights, health care, immigration, prayer in schools and same-sex marriage.
Presentation do’s and don’ts
- Arrive on time.
- Dress appropriately for a school setting.
- Let students know you are an alumnus or alumna of St. Mary’s Law.
- Use our student roll sheet to track student attendance at the presentation. Download it here: Constitution Day Participant Roll Sheet.
- Use visual aids, such as our Constitution Day video.
- Plan for the students in your room. Students will vary in their educational level and experience with this topic. Please begin with the basics of the Constitution and build from there as you gauge the understanding of your audience.
- Prepare to be an educator for the day. Think back to the worst teachers you had. More than likely, they either talked to themselves or talked down to you. If they attempted to engage students, it would have felt a bit like bullying and less like discussion. Now think of your best teachers. More than likely, they expressed the very basic ideas under discussion and then led a good discussion. Try to learn what not to do from the worst and emulate the best.
- Explain legal terms and large vocabulary words as you go.
- Encourage students’ pursuit of higher education.
- Share photos of your visit with us via email (email@example.com) or social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).
- Raise or encourage the topics to avoid described above.
- Neglect the clock. Teachers have to move students on time and your presentation needs to end on time.
- Forget to give us feedback on your experience as a presenter.