Learning from the Source: Preamble to the Constitution Image Sequencing

Preamble to the Constitution

Students deepen their understanding of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution with this primary source image sequencing activity.

Lesson implementation

  • Direct students to work individually, in pairs or in small groups to write a definition of the word “democracy”.
  • When students have finished, tell them that the word “democracy” comes from two Greek words: “demos” meaning “people” and “kratos” meaning “power” or “authority.” Ask them if they now want to revise the definitions they wrote.
  • Review student definitions and then explain that they will be looking at how our democracy was defined in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Read aloud the background information as a class. (Note: For more information on the Articles of Confederation, read this In Custodia Legis blog post.)
  • Display the preamble to the Constitution and read it aloud (you or a student).

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  • Divide students into groups and ask groups to define the following phrases in their own words as best they can (you may choose to have them work with or without the assistance of a dictionary), writing down each phrase on one side of a strip of paper, notecard, or sticky note and the translation on the other side.
    • form a better union (unite and act as one),
    • establish justice (create and enforce common laws)
    • insure domestic tranquility (keep the peace within the country)
    • provide for the common defense (keep a national army and navy)
    • promote the general welfare (provide for citizens; basic needs and respond to the nation’s needs)
    • secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity  (keep this country free strong now and for future generations)
  • Give each group a set of six primary source images. Tell students that all of these carvings appear on a community building in Maryland and that under each there appears a phrase from the preamble to the constitution. Inform students that their task is to analyze the images and pair them with the underlined phrases from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, noting specific reasons for pairing each image and phrase. (Note: to access the images with the text descriptions included, click the Library URL links below.)
  • When students have finished, read the preamble aloud again. When you come to each underlined phrase, have a representative from each group stand and hold up the image they chose to accompany that phrase.
  • Discuss students’ reasoning for pairing images and phrases. In the end, you may want to clarify any vocabulary as well as show students the images with the text included (see Library URLs).
  • Discuss with students the rules of the class and the rights and responsibilities you have as the teacher and they have as students.
  • Direct student groups to create a class preamble that describes the purpose and function of their classroom community.
  • Share each group’s class preamble and use these to create a unified class preamble. Display the class preamble prominently in the classroom.

Constitution primary sources & teaching resources

Image sequencing resources & activities