Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Know Your Rights

The Bill of Rights

Sarah Brewer, Susan McHale | Published: May 31st, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 8th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. Government, U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1-2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 100 minutes


Students explore the meaning and application of the Bill of Rights. Working in groups, students summarize each of the amendments in the Bill of Rights in their own words. Next, students practice using their knowledge of the Bill of Rights by determining which amendment could be applied in specific scenarios. Then, students have the opportunity to discuss whether or not "ballot selfies" should be a protected form of freedom of speech.  This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

What value do people place on individual rights? How does the Bill of Rights protect individual rights?



Students receive a letter from an alien nation that has invaded and conquered the United States. Per the alien nation, students are only allowed to keep two of their Constitutional rights as outlined in the Bill of Rights. Each student ranks the amendments and chooses two that they value personally.


In groups, students work together to summarize the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution in their own words. Each student chooses three amendments and creates visual representations for them.


Students are presented with 10 one-sentence scenarios and work in groups to determine which amendment can be applied to each scenario.


Students read an article and determine whether or not the "ballot selfie" should be considered a protected form of free speech.


Students reevaluate their choices from the Engage phase. Do they hold the same two rights as their most valuable, or would they change their decision?


  • Letter from an Alien Nation handout (attached; one per student)

  • Sticky notes (two per student)

  • Whiteboard or wall space

  • Bill of Rights note organizer (attached; one per student)

  • The U.S. Bill of Rights (Transcript) (attached; optional)

  • The U.S. Bill of Rights (Simplified) (attached; optional)

  • Applying the Bill of Rights handout (attached; one per student)

  • Applying the Bill of Rights (Answer Key) (attached; for teacher's reference)

  • Ballot selfies articles (linked below for online reading)

  • Internet-connected devices or access to the linked ballot selfies articles

  • Know Your Rights lesson slide presentation (attached)


Use the attached Know Your Rights lesson slides to guide the lesson. Begin by displaying slides two and three, which show the title slide and the Essential Questions of the lesson. Move to slide four. Hand out a copy of the attached Letter from an Alien Nation to each student. Tell students that, as of the beginning of class, an alien nation has colonized Earth. The letter explains that, due to the aliens' control, everyone in the classroom and all other United States citizens are now under a different governing body. The class can choose to keep only two amendments from the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.

Draw students' attention to the list of amendments at the bottom of the letter. Ask students to number the amendments based on which are most valuable to them. Students should rank amendments from one to ten, with one being the most valuable and ten being the least valuable. Once students have finished, move to slide five. Pass out two sticky notes to each student. Ask students to write their number one most important amendment on one sticky note and their number two most important amendment on the other. As they do so, create a number line with the numbers 1–10, as pictured in slide five, by writing on a whiteboard space or hanging the numbers on a wall. This creates the baseline of a bar graph for the Sticky Bars strategy. Invite students to place their sticky notes above the appropriate number, "stacking" their notes above those of other students to create a bar graph.

Once students have placed their sticky notes and created a bar graph, draw the class's attention to the two most popularly chosen amendments. The sticky bar graph should function as a visual representation of the class’s decision. Ask students which rights the majority of students chose as their top two and why they think these were selected. Continue the class discussion for no more than 10 minutes. Make sure the sticky bar graph stays visible and accessible to the class throughout the lesson, as it will be revisited later.


Divide students into groups of three or four, depending on class size. Pass out a copy of the Bill of Rights Notes Organizer (attached) to each student.

Display slide six. Invite students to, with their group, use the resources provided to summarize in their own words each of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights. To model what a summary might look like, begin by displaying slide seven. Read the displayed text of the First Amendment: "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."

Ask for volunteers to share what different parts of this amendment could mean. Allow time to address the major elements of this amendment through class discussion. Then, move to slide eight. This slide shows an example of a possible student summary. Have each group read about and discuss the amendments in the Bill of Rights, and create a summary in their own words of what each of the amendments mean. Students can write these summaries in the note organizer.

After students have finished their summaries, ask for volunteers to share summaries and correct misconceptions. As their classmates share, ask students to add to or change their summaries while participating in the class discussion. Call on someone from each group at least once.

Display slide nine. Ask students to choose three amendments to represent visually. Each group may choose to work together on the same three amendments, or students may choose to work individually. Students can create these drawings in the "Visual Representation" section of their Bill of Rights Notes Organizer. Once students have completed their drawings, consider asking a few students to share how they visually represented one of the amendments.


Now that the class has explored the Bill of Rights, they can apply their knowledge. Distribute the attached Applying the Bill of Rights handout. Display slide 10. Ask students to work with their groups to read each statement and determine which amendment is represented. Students should explain their answers using one or more complete sentences. Students may choose to do this on the handout or on a separate sheet of paper.

Once students have finished the activity, ask at least one volunteer from each group to share their answers. See the attached Applying the Bill of Rights (Answer Key) for answers to this activity.


Move to slide 11. Explain to students that the Bill of Rights might seem on paper to be a clear list of rights we have as citizens, in reality how these rights are applied in our daily lives is open to a lot of debate. For example, a number of opinions represented in the gun control debate are ultimately tied to how you interpret the rights outlined in the Second Amendment.

Invite the class to look at another example of how First Amendment rights are open to interpretation and debate. Ask the class if they have heard of a "ballot selfie." Based on student responses, fill in any gaps in understanding: a ballot selfie is a selfie that people take in the voting booth while they are casting their ballot. While this seems like an innocent thing to do, the "ballot selfie" has created legal controversy involving much discussion of whether or not U.S. citizens have the right to take ballot selfies. Direct students to read this online article about ballot selfies found on the USA Today website. You may wish to share this article on the whiteboard and allow students to read it as a class.

After students have read the article, ask them to answer the questions within their groups:

  1. Which First Amendment right is debated in this article? Explain.

  2. Do you think taking a selfie, in any form, is an expression of our First Amendment rights? Explain.

  3. Do you think it is a violation of our First Amendment rights for a state to make taking and sharing "ballot selfies" against the law? Explain.

To conclude this discussion, make the point that it is important for us as citizens to know our rights and form opinions about how our rights should be interpreted—this is how we make sure that our rights are protected. Additionally, if you have covered the concept of Federalism, laws regarding ballot selfies are an excellent real-life example of a reserved power.


Ask students to think back to the activity where they selected two rights they valued most and placed their choices on a sticky note bar graph. Display slide 12, along with the bar graph the class created in the Engage section. Now that students have a better understanding of the Bill of Rights and how each amendment might be applied to individual problems in daily life, ask students whether or not they would change their top two most important rights.

Ask students to write an Exit Ticket that explains their answer to that question: why they chose to keep the two rights they originally chose, or why their answer changed, and their reasoning behind the decision. Have students provide evidence from their research with their reasoning.

The Bill of Rights Notes Organizer, Applying the Bill of Rights handout, Ballot Selfie Article Questions and Exit Ticket all serve as assessments of this lesson.