The Law: Your Rights and Responsibilities
Teacher: Bonnie Webb, Cooper Middle School

Overview: This activity was originally designed to introduce students to a study of the Bill of Rights. It can be used as a stand-alone activity to promote divergent thinking, problem solving, and provide basic knowledge of our First Amendment rights and responsibilities.


  • pen/paper
  • a copy of the first amendment
  • 3X5 Cards

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

- Ratified December 15, 1791

Teacher Preparation: Label each of the 3X5 cards with one part of the first amendment (5). The number of students involved in the activity would determine the number of cards.

Time: Approximately 90 minutes

Instructional Sequence:

  1. Warm-up: Distribute copies of the First Amendment for students to read silently and write any notes or thoughts.

  2. Meet in large group and discuss their initial reactions to the amendment.

  3. Provide a brief background of the Bill of Rights.

During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

    -From the National Archives and Records Administration

  1. Discuss the language of the amendment. Make sure that students understand what the words mean. ( Example: "redress of grievances")

  2. Randomly pass out 3X5 cards.

  3. Instructions:
    1. Get with a partner (or group depending on the size of the group) that has a card with the same right.
    2. Each student writes the assigned right on the top of their paper and then draws two columns labeled Positive and Negative underneath.
    3. Discuss with your partner both positive and negative outcomes possible because of this right given to the people. List comments in appropriate columns. Students may list incidents or scenarios, real life examples, incidents from their own life, etc. This is a good time to remind students that these rights are not necessarily afforded to them because of their age.

  4. Bring class back together to discuss and list (board/chart paper) what they have listed. At this time students may add to their list from what other partners have said about their right.

  5. Using their charts students can then write on the both the rights (Positive) and the responsibilities (Negative) that citizens have under the Bill of Rights.

Evaluation: For this activity participation grades could be awarded for group discussion/completed chart. The end writing could also serve as an evaluative tool for both the mechanics of writing and whether or not the student understood the concept.

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