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English Bill of Rights Activities

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Any teacher seeking activity ideas for secondary and/or post-secondary students in American and/or World History, here's a lesson plan just for you. Each of these activities will cover subject matter regarding the English Bill of Rights.

The English Bill of Rights

The English Bill of Rights is a major historical document written in 1689 as an act of British Parliament. It follows in a long line of attempts to give democratic rights to common English people, while keeping their monarchy as a figure head of the state powerless to take rights from the masses. The English Bill of Rights also served as a guide to James Madison while writing the Bill of Rights that accompanied the U.S. Constitution. The similarities of both documents are unmistakable, and the English Bill of Rights influenced more American ideas of democracy than any other English document during the revolutionary period. The following activities will cover the English Bill of Rights, the people and places involved in writing this document, and its outcomes and relevance today.

Activities

Teachers can use these activities with their students studying the English Bill of Rights. Teachers can also use them as a guide in creating their own activities on this major historical document.

Class Debate

Teachers should place students in two teams. One team will represent the House of Lords, and the other team will represent the House of Commons. Teachers should give students on each team a chance to research the history and viewpoints of members in both Houses of Parliament in 1689 regarding commoners and their rights. After students have finished their research, each team should debate granting English commoners democratic freedoms and privileges based on their membership in both Houses, and the issues that are important to them as members of that part of Parliament in 1689.

James Madison

Teachers can ask students to pretend they are James Madison in 1789. They are tasked with writing the amendments to the U.S. Constitution so it can be ratified. The Revolutionary War was over, and the creation of the newly formed United States was on the brink of collapsing before it had even written its laws. The only solution to get the Constitution ratified was adding amendments to the document to satisfy those opposed to a strong federal government.

Give students a copy of the English Bill of Rights and the Bill of Rights Madison wrote to compare and contrast, identifying the similar Amendments in both documents. Have students decide if Madison's Bill of Rights borrowed enough from the English document, allowing them to add to Madison's document from its English counterpart as they see fit. Students should also be allowed to change or amend Madison's Bill of Rights, but only based on changes added from the English Bill of Rights. By the time the activity concludes, students should have an original version of the Bill of Rights, as James Madison would have created in 1789 to accompany the U.S. Constitution.

Rewrite History

Place students into three groups. One group will be the English barons of 1215 who wrote the Magna Carta. Another group will be the members of Parliament who wrote and passed the English Bill of Rights in 1689. The third group will be the members of Parliament who wrote the Act of Settlement in 1701. These are the major documents in English history that gave full rights and democratic freedoms to all English people, noble and common alike. The point of the assignment is for students to create one document that would have extended democratic freedom and privileges to all Englanders at one time, instead of in stages after wars and deposed monarchs.

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