Constitutional Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons Lesson Engages Students

Today’s post comes from Emily Worland, an intern with the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and an AP U.S. Government & Politics teacher at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas to celebrate Constitution Day on September 17.

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Anyone Home? by Clifford K. Berryman, February 24, 1920; U.S. Senate Collection; NAID 60115

A critical understanding of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution is vital to the success of U.S. Government, Civics, and U.S. History students both in the classroom and as maturing citizens, but how can we, as teachers, engage students with the document? In my classroom, I’ve tried telling anecdotal stories to accompany the major provisions, highlighting Supreme Court case interpretations, and have even tried asking students to ‘translate’ the document. But no methods seem engaging enough.

The Center for Legislative Archive’s new lesson, Constitution Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons, puts an end to this struggle. Drawing on the tremendous collection of nearly 2,400 pen-and-ink drawings by cartoonists Clifford and Jim Berryman, this lesson guides students to an understanding of how the provisions of the U.S. Constitution are visually represented in popular media.

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The Next Time It May be Final by Clifford K. Berryman, July 14, 1946; U.S. Senate Collection; NAID 60123

In the lesson, students will analyze 16 political cartoons drawn during the early-to mid-20th century and assign each to a provision in the U.S. Constitution. Students will search through the Constitution and associate each cartoon with a specific clause. Through networking, students will analyze all 16 cartoons and read the entire Constitution as they learn about its outline, structure, and content.

While the cartoons depict the events of the late 19th and early 20th century, the provisions of the Constitution provide students with an anchor in which to assign each cartoon regardless of historical context, making the cartoon universal. Beginning a U.S. Government course with this activity will not only enhance student knowledge of the Constitution, but allow them to build confidence in cartoon analysis which enhances social studies skills based on understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating.

I really look forward to using this lesson with my AP U.S. Government and on-level students in the first unit of the course to establish a concrete understanding of the Constitution and begin a practice of using current political cartoons to analyze the workings of American politics.

To read the full instructions for the lesson and download the material for your classroom, visit Lesson Plan: Constitutional Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons.

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