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Title: Origins of American Government

Subject: U.S./Virginia Government
Grade Level(s): High
Author(s): Carole A. Mauro
School: Mountain View AHS
Lesson Time: 4-5 90 minute classes

Topics Covered:
Ideas and Ideologies
Politics and Political Parties
Radicalism and Reform
Time Periods Covered:
Colonization & Settlement, 1585-1763
Revolution & the New Nation, 1754-1820s

Part 1

Essential Learning Description

  • Provide students with the opportunity to analyze and interpret primary source documents.
  • Select and defend positions in writing, discussion and debate.
  • Enhance student understanding of the political philosophies that shaped the development of the Virginia and U.S. Constitutional government.

National History Standards (Historical Thinking Standards):

Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS):
Grade 4
Grade 6
Grade 7
Grade 11

Learning Strategy Objectives:

Part 2


  • Chapter summary
  • Answers to Essential Questions
  • Presentations
  • Teacher anecdotal notes on group and individual participation.
  • Student journal reflection (self assessment) to be completed after presentation.

In small groups or as a whole class, students are to assist in determining the grading criteria for the project.
It is suggested the requirements include:

  • Historical accuracy, proper citing of sources etc.
  • A statement of the direct relationship between the philosophy of their document to the Declaration of Independence with specific examples to support these claims.
  • Rubrics completed by students with evaluations for individual students and teams (attached).

Instructional Strategies

Prerequisite: Students should have a basic understanding of United States political philosophy and be familiar with content area vocabulary terms such as social contract, democracy, natural rights, representative government, constitution, separation of powers, and federalism.

Divide class into a minimum of four (4) groups. This activity works best with small groups and is more challenging if more than one group is assigned a particular document.

Have student select, or teacher assign, the document to be worked on.

At this point a whole class mini-lesson on how to "read history" may be helpful.

  • In a whole class discussion, have the students offer reasons for reading the documents.
  • Stress the importance of reading with a purpose. While answers may vary, the purpose of this assignment is to understand the document and identify its connections to American political philosophy.
  • Where possible provide the students with consumable copies of the document(s). If this is not possible, provide pads of self sticking notes for students to write comments/questions on. This will help students identify passages that support their reading purpose.
  • Depending on the students' skill levels (including English language learners, or special needs students) you may choose to provide the documents in "plain" English. It may be desirable to read the documents as a whole class before breaking students into groups.
  • Encourage the students to re-read the documents as many times as necessary to insure understanding
After reading the documents the students will discuss what they have read with their groups. This step should not be skipped; it clarifies the text and reinforces understanding. To assess understanding, groups will be asked to report out to the rest of the class by providing a clear, concise explanation of their document with examples of its connection to U.S. political philosophy.

Once the group feels they have a good comprehension of the document the project can be started.

Students should assume a role within the group, for example:

  • A researcher will gather additional information on the document, its author(s), historic era, etc.
  • A writer will produce text/script.
  • The graphic artist will design the campaign, create the artwork and/or computer visuals.
  • Narrators in addition to the primary spokesperson, who will make the "pitch," should include students who will act as hosts to introduce the group and commentators who will serve as subject matter experts offering background information, historic context etc.
  • A project manager will act as an organizer, timekeeper, and troubleshooter.

The students will be "pitching" their ideas during the presentations. The students should ask other teachers, classes or administrators to act as the Founding Fathers (or their representatives) to add energy to the assignment.

The ad campaign itself can take a variety of forms, with the overall design being left up to the students. It can be a Power Point or a video taped presentation, or posters. The presenters may wear period costume or may have a modern day "Madison Avenue" look. They will use their ad campaign to "sell" their document(s) to the Founding Fathers. Essentially this is an oral persuasive essay with visual supports.

ESL Adaptations:

Many websites as well as texts have these documents available in a modern, everyday English language format.
The alternate assignment using only the Declaration of Independence could be used as a stand alone project or as a modeling lesson to prepare students for the multi-document version.
Note: Directions, materials, assessments etc. are the same for both assignments.

Materials and Resources

  1. Assignment Sheets
  2. Letter from the Founding Fathers
  3. Copies of the five (5) primary source documents:
    • The Magna Carta
    • The English Bill of Rights
    • The Mayflower Compact and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.
    • Two Treatises of Government
  4. Poster board, markers etc. to create visuals for ad campaign.



Remy, Richard C; United States Government: Democracy in Action. Glencoe; 2000.

This was one of several texts being used in Fairfax County Public Schools during school year 2004-2005. It is expected that any standard U.S. government text can be used for this lesson.

Ross, Laura; Reader's Handbook: A Student Guide for Reading and Learning. Wilmington, MA Great Source; 2002

This handbook provides a number of practical reading strategies. It is particularly useful for reading in the content areas of history, geography, science and math.

Internet Sites
This site provides excellent background information, strong vocabulary support and full text availability through a link to Yale University's Avalon Project.
This site presents the Magna Carta in an easy to read format, excellent for reproducing copies to be marked up and written on.
These sites are exceptional resources for Locke's Two Treatises of Government. The text is modernized; the chapters are identified to allow for easy excerpt selection. Spark Notes has some excellent study questions for the student group to use.

Attachment(s) (html documents)

  1. Letter From the Founding Fathers (One)
  2. Letter From the Founding Fathers (Two)
  3. Assignment Sheet
  4. Team Presentation Rubric
  5. Individual Performance Rubric

Download/Print (Word .doc format)