Grade Level: 8 and High School Title: Declaration of Independence

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Materials Required

  • One copy of Activity 1 run front and back for each student

One copy of Visual 1 (Declaration of Independence) to project as well as run front and back for each student to highlight. Use PDF or

  • Highlighters

  • Pencils

  • Chart Paper

  • Markers in at least 10 different colors




homework assignment

Engage: First day of lesson






Activity for

Day One


Day 2:

Engage further:


Explain and Elaborate:


Engage Day 3





Future Lesson

One to two weeks prior to the lesson, distribute one copy of Activity 1. The students are not to know that this activity deals with the Declaration of Independence. Have the students read the directions and then discuss how to complete the activity. The petition is a paraphrase of the main points of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The goal of the activity is to have the students begin to discuss concepts in a modern sense that they will later deal with in the classroom from a 1776 perspective. The key is that the petitions need to be completed ahead of the introduction of the Declaration of Independence to the class so that the responses are based on current viewpoints. Allow several days for the students to turn in the petition so that students who are absent or who tend to be late with assignments are empowered to fully participate. The teacher can assign a grade based on completion because there are no right or wrong answers.
After collecting the petitions over several days and providing completion credit, begin the lesson.
Think, Pair, Share

Think: Return the petitions to the students. Ask them to review the responses that their signers provided. Ask the students to summarize the reasons for/against the petition in a paragraph of at least 5 sentences.

Pair: Have students work with one or two others to discuss what people believe about each of the five points. As a group, summarize the overall beliefs of the signers. Also, have the group total the votes for and against each of the five points. The students are to Include their own votes in the total, too.
Share: Have the students move their seats back to a general classroom position. Do a quick class wide summation of the votes for each of the five points. Post the votes on the board in a chart format.
As a teacher facilitated dialogue, discuss each of the five points. What were the views of the people questioned and why? How did people understand each of the five points? Were there any important disagreements as to what any of them meant?
Have the students write a paragraph comparing their views with others in the small group and/or class.
Rather than asking students to have others complete the petition, have the students simply look at the petition in class. They individually respond in writing to the five points. The

teacher then follows the above lesson design.

The teacher may want to keep a running tally of the votes on a chart that can be written on the board or projected as a PowerPoint.

5 Points

  • All Class Totals

  • For

  • All

  • Class

  • Totals

  • Against

Number voting for

By class period

Number voting against

By class period

  • 1

  • 2

  • 3

  • 4


Project the chart showing classroom votes or write on the board.

Have each student record three things they noticed about the viewpoints based on class period votes. (The answers will typically revolve around which points the respondents supported and disagreed with).

Ask students why they believe the people responded as they did. (Answers will vary).
Have the class discuss what they noticed about the votes. Were they consistent all day long or did they change? To what do they attribute the similarities and differences of the responses?
Ask each student to record three things they know about the Declaration of Independence.

Next, the teacher facilitates a short discussion allowing students to share what they know. The key summary of points include that this was a document written by the colonists and sent to King George III to announce their intention to overthrow the British control of them.

Ask the students if they know who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. (Thomas Jefferson)
Explain to the students that Parliament actually held much of the real power in making decisions by this time period. They were the ones voting on the various acts that many colonists felt were taxation without representation. So, why would they address King George in writing the Declaration of Independence? (They felt that there might be worse repercussions by writing to Parliament rather than the king. This is the first time they are actually making a statement against monarchies).
Next, distribute to each student a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a highlighter and a pencil. As you move through the lesson, students may begin to see the similarity between the petition they completed and the points of the Declaration of Independence.
Project this statement on the board:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Ask the students to discuss with one or two partners the meaning of this first statement in the Declaration of Independence. Each student writes notes in the margin of the handout.
As a class, discuss the meaning. (The colonists asserted that they were justified in declaring independence from Great Britain. The justification came from the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God which are a higher order than human law).
Show paragraph two on the board. Ask students to individually underline the 5 rights that the Declaration says that people have.
Next, move the students into groups of three or four and ask them to share their answers. They discuss their answers as to the people’s rights as outlined by the Declaration of Independence. As they discuss, have them erase those statements they no longer categorize as rights and underline new key phrases as they learn from their partners.

As a class, the teacher uses questioning to facilitate the student discussion. There may need to be some short teacher “lecture” that lasts about 1 to 2 minutes to provide background such as about John Locke’s beliefs that impacted Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence. As the students finalize the list of 5 rights, have them highlight the answers. They can write their notes in the margin surrounding the concepts.

What is the underlying basis for the rights claimed by the colonists? After the students find the answer, project the quote on the board:

  • All men are created equal

How will this belief lead to the rights of the colonists? (Notice that the colonists do not ground their rights on their descent from Englishmen with rights, but rather that they are granted them by Nature’s God. This allows them to claim rights that are not admitted by their rulers in Great Britain).
Background information: This statement has also raised many questions dealing with the slave trade. Thomas Jefferson was conflicted about the issue of slavery. Jefferson owned slaves and fathered children with one of his slaves. He personally understood the financial need for plantation owners to have slaves. He was concerned that freeing the slaves could lead to a conflict between the slaves and the owners. Jefferson also thought that the freed slaves would have no means to support themselves while slavery did provide work and food for them. For more information, see:
What are the five rights proposed in the Declaration of Independence?
Essential Questions: Have the students record their thoughts and then have the class discuss the following two questions.

Question 1: Among its list of self-evident truths, the Declaration asserts that “all men are created equal.” What role did equality and being equal play in that time period?

Question 2: What role does equality play today in the U. S.?
The teacher will facilitate a discussion on these two questions.

  • Rights 1 to 3: Unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Project the quote in the overhead:
That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Ask the students what un means (not), alien (foreign to us) and then how this “translates” into unalienable. (It means that something cannot be made foreign. It cannot be taken away. So, these rights could not be taken away). Note: There are many who believe that unalienable is not a real word. In fact, Locke called these inalienable rights.
Under what authority do they have these rights? (Their Creator grants these rights. Again, these rights stem from a higher authority than the monarch). The idea of Divine Right of kings to rule had been discarded by Great Britain and certainly was not believed by the colonists.
Explain to the students that John Locke used the term property rather than happiness. His definition of property included ownership of property, but it also included a person’s right over himself, his decisions for his life, health and happiness. Ask the students why they think that Jefferson substituted the term happiness. (Perhaps since all people in colonial America did not have the right to own property, he did not use that term. Also, happiness is a broader concept that includes a person’s control over his own self).

  • Right 4: Consent of the Governed

Project this quote for student viewing:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, 
Ask the students what right is included here and what that means. (Because men begin a government and give power to it, the power comes from the men. Thus, the leaders only rule with consent from the governed. This involves either every individual directly helping to make the decisions, as in a pure democracy, or electing people to do so, as in a republic).
Background: John Locke believed that people were born into a state of nature in which they were free. Because people might use that freedom to infringe on rights of others, people need a government to maintain order and protect life, liberty and property. To obtain this protection, there must be a contract between the people and the government. The people must agree to who will make those decisions and how decisions will be made.

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