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Historical Era

Thinking Skill


The Constitution at Work

Launch Lesson

National Archives Education Team
Seeing the Big Picture
Historical Era:
Across Multiple Eras
Primary Historical Thinking Skill:
Historical Analysis & Interpretation
blooms taxonomy
Bloom's Taxonomy:

Use to create an Activity

The Constitution at Work


In this activity students will analyze documents that span the course of American history to determine their connection to the U.S. Constitution. Students will then make connections between the documents they have examined and the big ideas found within the Constitution.

For a version in Spanish, visit: La Constitución en Acción.

Author’s Notes

Learning Objectives

Students will connect primary sources with sections of the Constitution and determine the big idea(s) found in the Constitution exemplified by each.


This activity should be taught following an introduction to the U.S. Constitution and discussion of each branch of government and its responsibilities. For grades 8-12. Approximate time needed is 50 minutes.

You may wish to share a full transcript of the U.S. Constitution and the history of its creation with students. Introduce vocabulary found in the text that might be unfamiliar to students, such as enumeration, ratification, amendment, jurisdiction or habeus corpus.

Choose one document in the grid to model careful document analysis and matching for students.

Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Ask students to begin the activity, analyzing each document for a possible link to the Constitution. Students should match each document with the specific article and section of the Constitution that it best demonstrates.

After concluding, brainstorm with students major themes or “big ideas” they found. Then display the following. Briefly discuss each idea and ask students to consider both the documents they have seen and the Constitution itself. Ask each student to conclude class with an example from a document or section of the Constitution that shows one of the following “big ideas”:

  1. Representative Government - A system of government in which the people elect officials to govern for them. These officials are held accountable to the voters through periodic elections.
  2. Federalism - A form of government in which there is a constitutional division of power between a central government and regional governments.
  3. Checks and Balances - A system of overlapping powers of the separate branches of government that permits each branch to limit, restrain, or inform the actions of the other branches.
  4. Separation of Powers - A basic principle of American government that places different governing duties and powers among three independent and coequal branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
  5. Enumerated Powers - The powers of government that are specifically defined and authorized in the actual wording of the Constitution.
  6. Implied Powers - The powers of government that, while not specifically defined and authorized in the Constitution, are not specifically prohibited.
  7. Civic Responsibility - Actions by the people that demonstrate their interest and participation in the governing of their country.

Documents in this activity: