The library as the center of civics conversations….let’s celebrate Constitution Day!

What exciting times we live in! As librarians we have the perfect opportunity to provide resources, encourage thoughtful research, and teach the skills to explore deeply. In my last blog post, I shared some election resources. As we approach the fall, and school opening, it is now time to plan our library events, and in keeping with a continued look at civics, September 16th is Constitution Day, a perfect event to invite students and faculty to talk about how the Constitution shapes our daily lives.

Constitution Day – also known as Citizenship Day – is a federally recognized day designed to return our attention to this most important document and makes a perfect excuse to hold a library activity or support a classroom instructional goal.

As librarians and teachers, we can provide some darn interesting resources. There is much out there, and it’s well worth our time to get the word out to all our students that their job as citizens is to be – now and in the future – active participants in the workings of their government. Many students will not attend college or other after high school education, and so it is incumbent on us to make sure that they leave high school with the knowledge of how our government works and their role in making it work even better.

Librarians can easily lead the celebration of the day – and the ideas behind it – with the Constitution Day Poster Contest. Click on the photo below for a PDF of the poster:

small contest poster

The website and the Government Information for Children [GIC] Committee [ALA/GODORT] sponsor the contest and invite all students to participate. There are prizes for each grade and each grade winner will receive a Constitution commemorative coin, with the Grand Prize winner also receiving a $100 cash prize. You can review past posters online and encourage your students to join.

The National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) highlights the Charters of Freedom documents that have built our country. The Constitution is on display at the Archives in Washington, D.C., and it is well worth a visit. But for those of us living further afield, NARA has a digitized image of the original for us to peruse. Better still are the accompanying resources including information on the Bill of Rights and the Amendments and a deeper look into the founding fathers and the history of the documents. Students can read up on the process of creating the Constitution via the Constitutional Convention. Americans were, much as we are today, debating our best understanding of freedom, rights, and how to create a just and vibrant nation.

While the Constitution itself is a primary source, there are many primary sources that can be used to enhance and engage students. Use the Library of Congress web guide to see the most fascinating pieces of history relating to the Constitution. There is a digitized image of the proclamation of the ratification of the document by the Virginia delegate, an explanation of daily events at the Convention, and a copy of the Constitution with margin notes and additions by George Washington.

For fun take students to this site to learn how to read “old handwriting” and let them loose on these documents to see if they can transcribe a paragraph or two. Then, let them loose creating their own document…maybe an addition to the Constitution or a list of classroom rules, which can be described as the “Constitution for Room __”

A few more sites to have on hand and use:

1. Congress for Kids: Use this site for easy-to-read explanations of the Constitution. Create a scavenger hunt, create a class timeline of events, create informational posters where students curate their take on the most important events leading up to the convention. The Congress for Kids also offers a site specifically on the Constitution.

2. The Dirksen Center provides some incredible lesson plans for teaching about Congress. The Constitution story can be found within these lessons.

3. The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia offers many teaching plans, activities, and documents to use in classroom and library settings. The site offers a variety of resources. To celebrate Constitution Day, visit the center’s Constitution Day page for resources and ideas.

The center and a number of organization have banded to create a site dedicated to Constitution Day. It offers get all kinds of Constitution Day material.

All of these links can provide students with a background from which they can design their Constitution Day poster – engage your students now with these fun activities. The library is the perfect venue for lunch time, tutorial/ study hall time, and during class time to hold civics conversations, learn about the history of our government, the rights they have and how they – even as kids – can…and should be.. active participants in their government.

Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

3 replies

  1. A deeper look into this issue, as well as a curriculum guide, is found in the book: Teaching Civics in the Library: An Instructional and Historical Guide for School and Public Librarians (McFarland, 2015).

  2. An informative and fascinating look at our Constitution and how it affects our lives…great resources and such a timely subject during this election. Thanks, Connie! I will put this together with your election resources!

  3. Thank you for the Link, Renee – I will definitely get that book!

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