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Members of the Continental CongressIn Congress Assembled:
Continuity and Change in the Governing of the United States

| Overview | Objectives | Lessons | Standards | Acknowledgements |


This unit includes four lessons using primary sources to examine continuity and change in the governing of the United States. Lessons one and two are focused on a study of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and provide access to primary source documents from the Library of Congress. Lesson three investigates important issues which confronted the first Congress and has students examine current congressional debate over similar issues. Lesson four features broadsides from the Continental Congress calling for special days of thanksgiving and remembrance.

The first three lessons are intended for middle and high school students. Lesson four provides a historical context for elementary school lessons that focus on celebrating national holidays. The unit also includes extension activities for each lesson which may be developed as classroom activities or individual research projects.

The lessons do not prescribe specific teaching methods. The primary source documents along with suggested focus questions may be used in a variety of ways, including Socratic seminars, cooperative learning, or individual or group work.

Readings essential to the lesson are provided online; however, recommended documents for extended lessons are linked to references in Selected Resources for the Development of Extended Lessons which can be found in local libraries.

In preparation for the following lessons, teachers should review the online documents and suggested extended readings to determine appropriateness for their class. Suggested times are given for each of the lessons. Before beginning each lesson, teachers should ensure that students understand the historical context.

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Students will be able to:

  • Interpret primary source documents in historical context
  • Analyze changes in the final drafts of the Constitution
  • Describe the evolution of the Bill of Rights
  • Compare issues facing the Continental Congress and present-day Congress
  • Analyze how Congress, under the Constitution, responds to contemporary issues

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Lesson One: Drafting the Constitution [ 3 days ]

Drafting the Constitution examines the report from the Committee of Detail which was assigned the task of drafting the Constitution based on agreements reached at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Lesson Two: The Bill of Rights [ 2-3 days ]

The Bill of Rights investigates the addition of the first ten amendments to the Constitution by the First Congress.

Lesson Three: Linking Past to Present [ 2-3 days ]

Linking Past to Present examines perennial issues - veterans' benefits, the national debt, and terrorism - confronting Congress.

Lesson Four: Early Congress Proclaims Holidays [ 1 day ]

Early Congress Proclaims Holidays examines proclamations calling for a day of thanksgiving and a day of remembrance to honor soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country.

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McREL 4th Edition Standards & Benchmarks

Historical Understanding
Standard 1. Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
Standard 2. Understands the historical perspective

Language Arts
Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

US History
Standard 8. Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights

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The teaching unit, In Congress Assembled, was developed and written by two teacher consultants to the National Digital Library Program at the Library of Congress. Kirk Ankeney is Vice Principal of Muirlands Middle School in San Diego, California. An advocate of teaching with primary source materials, Kirk was a focus group participant in the Educators Forum, July 1995, at the Library of Congress, and is also the author of teaching materials in support of Lincoln archival collections at The Huntington Library.

David Vigilante is a consultant in history education and Assistant Director of the National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA. He is the author of many teaching units and guides using primary source materials on subjects such as Truman and the Korean War (for the New York Times Live from the Past series), Abraham Lincoln (for The Huntington Library), and the Evolution of the Bill of Rights (published by Regents, University of California, Los Angeles).

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Last updated 08/30/2005