Ch 8: Analyzing Seminal US Documents: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9

About This Chapter

Get your students engaged with the most influential documents in early American history. Use the activities below as a starting off point for teaching these informational text ELA Common Core Standards to your 11th and 12th graders.

Standard: Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.9)

About This Chapter

Students who have gained a solid understanding of the documents discussed in this chapter should be able to discuss and analyze these famous US documents as well as other modern and historical documents in general. They should be able to describe what the documents say and how they impacted American history and discuss the historical context in which they were written and argued. The texts covered in this chapter include:

  • The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Bill of Rights
  • The Federalist Papers
  • The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
  • The Monroe Doctrine
  • The Reconstruction Amendments
  • The Homestead Act of 1862
  • 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'

As students watch these videos and work with the related documents they can develop a strong understanding of and relationship to the texts. Their discussions on political and historic topics will be augmented with an in-depth analysis of the modern and historic contexts as they synthesis the reasoning of the authors of the texts with modern concerns. Students can engage more easily in political and historical discussions.

How to Use These Lessons in Your Classroom

Deepen your students' understanding of these texts by pairing our videos with these activity suggestions.

Then and now

Watch the videos on the reconstruction amendments and Dr. King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' with your students. Discuss as a class why the amendments were necessary, whether the spirit of the amendments were held in the century separating their ratification from Dr. King's letter, and which elements of the letter addressed grievances which should have been addressed by the amendments.

Document evolution

After watching these videos in class, hold small group discussions in the class on the evolution of federal power at home and abroad. Encourage the groups to discuss the language in the Constitution and the Monroe Doctrine. Have them compare the rhetorical features to current US documents.

Videos as homework

Have students watch the videos after school, which they can do at home or on the go via mobile devices, and complete the lesson quizzes. Instruct students to compare the information in the videos to what they know about government today in their writing journals. Complete the chapter test as a class to test comprehension.

11 Lessons in Chapter 8: Analyzing Seminal US Documents: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9
Test your knowledge with a 30-question chapter practice test
The Declaration of Independence: Text, Signers and Legacy

1. The Declaration of Independence: Text, Signers and Legacy

After 12 years of tension and fighting, the colonists and their leaders were ready to declare themselves a new country, independent of Great Britain. This lesson examines the motives, the text, and the legacy of America's Declaration of Independence.

The Federalist Papers: Summary & Analysis

2. The Federalist Papers: Summary & Analysis

The Federalist Papers are one of the most important documents in American history. The letters played a large role in ratifying the Constitution by teaching the public why the Constitution was needed and what exactly it contained.

Gettysburg Address: Summary & Analysis

3. Gettysburg Address: Summary & Analysis

This lesson discusses the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history. Learn more about what Abraham Lincoln's speech means and test your knowledge with a quiz.

The US Constitution: Preamble, Articles and Amendments

4. The US Constitution: Preamble, Articles and Amendments

The U.S. Constitution is one of the most important documents in history. It establishes the government of the United States, and its first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, assures every U.S. citizen the rights we have all come to hold dear.

The Preamble to the Constitution: Definition, Summary, Purpose & Examples

5. The Preamble to the Constitution: Definition, Summary, Purpose & Examples

They may be the most famous 52 words in American history. Written almost as an afterthought, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution has come to represent everything Americans think a government ought to do and ought to be.

The Bill of Rights: The Constitution's First 10 Amendments

6. The Bill of Rights: The Constitution's First 10 Amendments

The Bill of Rights was pivotal in getting the U.S. Constitution ratified. More importantly, the Bill of Rights guarantees the rights of every citizen of the United States in a way that is nearly unequaled.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: Themes & Purpose

7. Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: Themes & Purpose

In this lesson, we will explore the context, themes, and purposes of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. We will see how Lincoln's speech answered three important questions that were on the minds of his listeners.

James Monroe's Presidency: The Monroe Doctrine

8. James Monroe's Presidency: The Monroe Doctrine

Can you imagine a time when there was only one political party in the United States? Find out why James Monroe was one of the nation's most popular presidents during his lifetime and learn about his foreign policy that endured for nearly a century.

The Reconstruction Amendments: The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments

9. The Reconstruction Amendments: The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments

Between 1865 and 1870, during the historical era known as Reconstruction, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified to establish political equality for all Americans. Together, they are known as the Reconstruction Amendments.

Westward Expansion: The Homestead Act of 1862 & the Frontier Thesis

10. Westward Expansion: The Homestead Act of 1862 & the Frontier Thesis

Between the mid-1800s and the turn of the 20th century, the American frontier opened and closed abruptly. What factors influenced this land rush, and how did it help shape American history?

Letter from Birmingham Jail: Summary & Analysis

11. Letter from Birmingham Jail: Summary & Analysis

Martin Luther King, Jr. takes on and beats nine tough criticisms in his 'Letter from Birmingham Jail.' Discover the hidden structure and radical rhetorical power of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most widely-read text.

Chapter Practice Exam
Test your knowledge of this chapter with a 30 question practice chapter exam.
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Practice Final Exam
Test your knowledge of the entire course with a 50 question practice final exam.
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