Teaching the Bill of Rights:
The right to freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to free speech, and the right to a speedy trial; each of these is promised to us in the Bill of Rights. But what if they weren’t? What if you were unable to speak freely in public, or were persecuted for your chosen religion? The rights and freedoms promised to us through the American Bill of Rights are precious commodities and students should be able to understand and appreciate them.
In order to teach the Bill of Rights, I would suggest taking the rights away from students. While this seems a little harsh, creating an environment in which only the teacher has any rights and then discussing each freedom promised in the bill will show students, on a small scale, what the world might be like without the foresight shown when the Bill of Rights was created. For example; separate students into religious’ groupings and demonstrate (through words and pictures only please) the types of persecution they could have faced. Another example would be not allowing any student to speak until the teacher directly addresses them. By using this type of immersion, students can begin to understand the Bill of Rights, and they have a point of reference for their memories.
Another way to teach the Bill of Rights is to create a song for students to learn and remember. By setting the list of rights to music many parts of a students brain will work together to remember the song, and they have of a chance to retain the information no matter what type of learning style they have.
A third way to teach your students about the Bill of Rights is to begin class with a brief discussion of what rights’ are, the have each student write down the three rights that are most important to them. Depending on the age group and demographic, most students are likely to mention the right to free speech, although a discussion beforehand will allow them to contemplate other rights they enjoy. You can ask for volunteers to read their lists aloud, in order to gauge the levels of prior knowledge evident in your students before moving on. Next, present a mini-lesson on the background and content of the Bill of Rights, using the student prior knowledge as a jumping off point. Finally, present (in either a worksheet form, or as an overhead class project) several scenarios and ask students if the person is protected through the Bill of Rights. For Example: A person stands up on a plane and shouts “HIJACK” just to watch the reaction. This person is protected under the Bill of Rights; Agree or Disagree. If you agree, what Amendment is this covered under? Discuss answers.
The final way of teaching the Bill of Rights that I would like to discuss today is that of creating a play for the students to produce in which each Bill is enacted for the audience. Students can dress up, create backdrops, and perform for other classes or even their families. This experience can aid students in remembering the information presented to them while giving them a hopefully enjoyable experience.
These have been just a few suggestions to get your mind working. Have fun with this and your students will see this and learn more readily.