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Linda R. Monk - Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution

- Grade 8

Originally published in Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution. New York:

Hyperion, 2003.

Learning Objective: The goal of this one to two day exemplar is to give students the opportunity to

observe the dynamic nature of the Constitution through the close reading and writing habits they‟ve been

practicing. By reading and rereading the passage closely, and focusing their reading through a series of

questions and discussion about the text, students will explore the questions Monk raises and perhaps even
pursue additional avenues of inquiry. When combined with writing about the passage, not only will

students form a deeper appreciation of Monk‟s argument and the value of struggling with complex text,

but of the Preamble of the Constitution itself.

Reading Task: Rereading is deliberately built into the instructional unit. Students

will silently read the passage in question on a given day first independently and then
following along with the text as the teacher and/or skillful students read aloud.

fluency abilities of students, the order of the student silent read and the teacher

reading aloud with students following might be reversed. What is important is to allow
all students to interact with challenging text on their own as frequently and

independently as possible. Students will then reread specific passages in response to a

set of concise, text-dependent questions that compel them to examine the meaning and
structure of . Therefore, rereading is deliberately built into the

instructional unit.

Vocabulary Task: Most of the meanings of words in this selection can be discovered

from careful reading of the context in which they appear. Where it is judged this is

not possible, underlined words are defined briefly for students in a separate column

whenever the original text is reproduced. At times, this is all the support these words
need. At other times, particularly with abstract words, teachers will need to spend

more time explaining and discussing these words. Teachers can use discussions to

model and reinforce how to learn vocabulary from contextual clues. Students must be
held accountable for engaging in this practice. There is a longer discussion of this in

for subsequent readings, high value academic

tier t words) have been bolded to draw attention to them. Given how crucial

vocabulary knowledge is academic and career success, it is essential that
these high value words be discussed and lingered over during the instructional


Discussion Task: Students will discuss the passage in depth with their teacher and

their classmates, performing activities that result in a close reading of text.

The goal is to foster student confidence when encountering complex text and to
reinforce the skills they have acquired regarding how to build and extend their

understanding of a text. A general principle is to always reread the portion of text

that provides evidence for the question under discussion. This gives students another

encounter with the text, reinforces the use of text evidence, and helps develop fluency.

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Writing Task: Students will

Teachers might afford
students the opportunity to rewrite their explanation or revise their in-class paraphrase

after participating in classroom discussion, allowing them to refashion both their

understanding of the text and their expression of that understanding.

Text Selection: This selection, taken from Appendix B of the CCSS, while brief, allows for an in-depth

investigation into three of the most highly charged words in the Constitution and offers a capsule history

of the dramatic and sweeping changes to how the phrase “We the People” has been interpreted over the
years. Rich both in meaning and vocabulary, not only does the excerpt from Monk‟s text validate the

close reading approach, but it also presents a focused and concise opportunity that students in both ELA

and history classrooms will find engaging.

Outline of Lesson Plan: This lesson can be delivered in one or two days of instruction and

reflection on the part of students and their teacher, with the possibility of adding additional days

of instruction (see Appendix A) or an additional day devoted to peer review and revision of the
culminating writing assignment.

Standards Covered: The following CCS standards are the focus of this exemplar: RI.6-8.1-3, 5, & 6;

W.6-8.2, 4 & 9.

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Text under Discussion Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students

Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African

American on the Supreme Court, described the


for a sense of the evolving nature of the

constitution, we need look no further than the

first three words of the document‟s preamble:

„we the people.‟ when the founding fathers

used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in

mind the majority of America‟s citizens . . .

the men who gathered in Philadelphia in

1787 could not... have imagined, nor would

they have accepted, that the document they

were drafting would one day be construed by

a Supreme Court to which had been

appointed a woman and the descendant of an

African slave.



Why does Marshall think the founding fathers could not

have imagined a female or black Supreme Court Justice?

This question is a good way to summarize the argument

so far as answering it will drive students back to what was

read and discussed earlier. The correct answer relies on

making the connection between the lack of political rights

granted to women and blacks by the founders—those that

wrote the Constitution—and recognizing Marshall‟s point

that at the time he was writing both a female and the

descendant of a slave were members of the Supreme

Court—the judicial body that holds the final interpretation

of the Constitution.

H quote, ask

students to put his ideas into their own words in a brief

two to three sentence paraphrase.

Insisting that students paraphrase Marshall at this point

will solidify their understanding of Monk‟s analysis as

well as test their ability to communicate that

understanding fluently in writing. Teachers should

circulate and perform “over the shoulder” conferences

with students to check comprehension and offer

commentary that could lead to on the spot revision of their

“translation” of Marshall‟s ideas.

Sidebar: Images of the Supreme Court over the last


If students are particularly intrigued by the composition of

the Supreme Court, Appendix B includes a series of

images of the justices every forty years starting in 1890,

vividly illustrating the demographic changes the court has


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Time The Preamble Directions for Teachers/Guiding Questions For Students



Through the Amendment process, more and more

Americans were eventually included in the

Constitution‟s definition of “We the People.” After

the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment ended

slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment gave African

Americans citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment

gave black men the vote. In 1920, the Nineteenth

Amendment gave women the right to vote

nationwide, and in 1971, the Twenty-sixth

Amendment extended suffrage to eighteen-year-olds.


change to a




in a state or

nation with



and duties

(Q4) What evidence is there in this paragraph regarding


This question requires students to methodically cite

evidence to completely answer the question and grasp

that the amendment process changed the meaning of

who was included in “the people.”

Sidebar: The Goals of the Constitution

If students are intrigued, teachers can share with

students the text of the Preamble and ask them to

identify what the founding fathers were trying to

accomplish in forming a Constitutional government

through popular sovereignty:

Text of the Preamble
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a

more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic

Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.

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Appendix B: Images of the Justices of the Supreme Court

Fuller Court, 1890

Taft Court, 1930

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Berger Court, 1970

Roberts Court, 2010
This work was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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