The Articles of Confederation

The topic of this lesson is examining the Articles of Confederation and how they influenced the Constitution. The students will investigate several pre-determined articles to determine how they influenced the writing of the Constitution. The students will examine Articles II, III, and VIII. This is in accordance with the state standards of VA.

The learner will investigate the primary sources to understand the importance’s of the Articles of Confederation, why they failed, and how specific Articles helped shape our current form of government, the US Constitution.

Historical Background

During this time period, America was trying to define itself as its own government. The people during this time period were upset with Great Britain and the King (King George III) because they felt that they were not giving them the rights they were promised and they were upset with taxes, among many other complaints. The first step in breaking away from Great Britain was the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which served as the model for the Bill of Rights. The next step in the road to freedom was the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a formal letter to the King that declared the colonies as independent from Great Britain. In addition, the founding fathers listed the grievances against the King, affirmed certain unalienable rights, and established the ideas that all people are created equal under the law. The founding fathers also decided to write the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This document guaranteed freedom of religious beliefs and opinions.

Themes that highlight the American Revolutionary era include conflicts with Great Britain and the independence from Great Britain; the development and implementation of founding documents; establishing a weak national government that gives major powers to individual states.

By using primary sources, learners will use the processing skills of sourcing, close reading, contextualization, and corroboration.

Lesson Objective

How did the Articles of Confederation influence the US Constitution?

At the end of this lesson, students should understand that the Articles of Confederation:

Established the first form of national government for the independent states;Maintained that major powers resided with individual states; Central government was weak; Weaknesses led to the writing of the Constitution of the United States of America



  1. Teacher will remind students of the previous lesson, “The Break-Up”. We will review the steps the colonists have taken away from Great Britain and answer any remaining question the students may have on the how the US “broke up” with Great Britain.
  2. The teacher will then explain to the students that there is one more step prior to the drafting of the US Constitution. The teacher will ask students if they have any guesses as to what the next step in the “break-up” is. The teacher will lead learners to the first form of government, the Articles of Confederation, if they do not come to this conclusion on their own.
  3. The next step in the lesson is the ask students, “What usually happens after a break-up?” The teacher will allow for student responses and help lead them to the “rebound” and “connecting with friends”. The class will discuss what their rebound relationship would look like and how they would choose who they would “date” or why they would chose to this person. This would lead next into the discussion of what the colonists hated about their relationship with Great Britain and help students understand why they decided to make the Articles a weak government.
  4. The teacher will use the “guided primary source analysis page” and the teacher will model a primary source as an example of what the students will be asked to complete.
  5. Students will work in homogenous groups to dissect the Articles of Confederation, focusing on Articles II, II, and VIII.
  6. The students will explore a copy of the original Articles of Confederation and a readable copy and answer the corresponding historical thinking questions.
  7. The class will come back together to review what the students learned and the teacher will lead a class discussion using additional historical thinking questions including: “Who wrote this document?”, “What was happening during this time?” “What key words or phrases do you see?”, “What does the passage say (in your own words)?”, “Why do you think the drafters of the Articles decided to include this in the Articles?”, “Do you think it will carry over to the Constitution?” In addition, the teacher will ask students how the colonial money relates to the Articles of Confederation in this lesson.
  8. Students will watch a video clip from Safari Montage, The U.S. Constitution and The Bill of Rights, Chapter 3: America Before the Constitution.
  9. Teacher will lead class in taking notes on the four points they must know about the Articles of Confederation.
  10. Teacher will lead class discussion on what the students think will be the most important changes that delegates make when they go to the convention in Philadelphia.


Students will complete a formative assessment. Students will be asked to create a tombstone to remember the Articles of Confederation. They will be asked to include: a title, years “lived”, three things that “killed” it, three sentences on how it will be remembered, at least one quote that the Articles might have said.

Extensions: If time permits, students will write eulogies from the perspective of a state, the central government, and a person living in America. In addition, students will practice analyzing quotes they have seen in the founding documents to prepare for the summative test.


National Archives and Records Administration. “The Articles of Confederation.” The Charters of Freedom online exhibit, (accessed September 4, 2012)