Create a classroom constitution as the school year kicks off.
With the advent of a new school year, teachers far and wide are settling into classrooms full of new faces and new voices. And in this setting, many educators are seeking to establish standards that can guide student behavior and classroom interaction. This annual process of "rule-making" provides teachers with a unique opportunity to introduce the youngest of students to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
Building a 'Class Constitution'
By working with students to develop their own "Class Constitution," educators not only further civic education but also give children ownership of the room's rules. When students build and agree on their rights and responsibilities as members of a classroom community, they are much more likely to abide by those rules and to keep one another in check, experts say. To follow are suggestions on how to develop a Class Constitution.
- Introduce students to the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights through stories. Titles such as Shh! We're Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz, A More Perfect Union, The Story of Our Constitution by Betsy and Giulio Maestro, or If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution by Elizabeth Levy are available from www.amazon.com or other major booksellers.
- Ask students what the words "constitution," "right" and "responsibility" mean to them. Guide them toward accurate definitions through brainstorming and discussion, emphasizing the reciprocal bond between "right" and "responsibility."
- Building on the stories and definitions, invite student teams to write drafts of their own constitutions. Start with rights first. Begin by asking them to fill in the blank: "In our class, everyone has the right to ?" If youngsters need a little help getting started, suggest important classroom practices such as "play," "work" or "be safe." Bring all the teams together, ask them to compare constitution drafts and then to consolidate them into a single document.
- Once students have established their list of rights, shift the focus to responsibilities. What do students have to do to make sure the classroom rights are honored? Every right should have one or more corresponding responsibilities. For example: "To protect our right to be safe, we will use materials appropriately and walk (not run) in class."
- Ask students how the class should handle situations in which rights are not honored. Encourage student mediation, and provide a safe area for problem-solving, such as a "peace table."
- As an accompanying art project, let students draw, paint or color visual representations of each of their rights. Hang student illustrations alongside a printed copy of the Class Constitution in a prominent place for display throughout the school year. Teachers also can use the illustrations to decorate the mediation area or to set it apart from the rest of the room.
- Ask students to sign the Constitution, or to initial their artwork, as means of ratification. Have a "Constitution Party" to celebrate the accomplishment.
- Send a copy of the Class Constitution home to parents or guardians, or invite them to class for the "Constitution Party."