Constitution 101 Curriculum: High School Level

Lesson Duration

From The National Constitution Center

Constitution 101 is a 15-unit asynchronous, semester-long curriculum that provides students with a basic understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, structure, and caselaw…Each module includes detailed materials for classroom educators, as well as opportunities for guided discovery and practice and tools to check for understanding.”

Module 1: Constitutional Conversations and Civil Dialogue (Primary Source: The Constitution)

  • Define the differences between political questions and constitutional questions.
  • Identify the seven methods of constitutional interpretation.
  • Explain the importance of civil dialogue.
  • Explore the structural constitution—Articles I through VII of the Constitution.
Module 2: Principles of the American Revolution (Primary Source: The Declaration of Independence)
  • Define natural rights, rule of law, and popular sovereignty—the key principles at the core of the American Revolution.
  • Describe how ancient and Enlightenment thinkers influenced the development of many of the key ideas on which the nation was founded.
  • Identify the factors that gave rise to the American Revolution.
  • Identify key principles of the American Revolution in significant sources from the era.

Module 3: Road to the Convention (Primary Source: Federalist No. 10)

  • Understand Shays’ Rebellion and its influence on the Founding generation.
  • Describe the Articles of Confederation and determine what type of national government it established.
  • Discuss what the Founding generation learned from key state constitutions.
  • Explain why the Founding generation decided to write a new constitution.
  • Examine the key lessons in Federalist Nos. 10 and 55.

Module 4: Constitutional Convention and Ratification (Primary Source: Closing Speech at the Constitutional Convention)

  • Meet the framers of the Constitution and their influence on the new constitution.
  • Describe the main debates and compromises reached by the delegates at the Constitutional Convention.
  • Explore the key arguments advanced by the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists during the battle over ratification.

Module 5: The Bill of Rights (Primary Source: Virginia Declaration of Rights)

  • Define the Bill of Rights and explain why the Founding generation added it to the Constitution.
  • Identify the factors influencing the Founding generation’s move to add a bill of rights to the new Constitution.
  • Describe the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
  • Describe the role that the battle over ratification (and the views of the Anti-Federalists) played in creating a Bill of Rights.
  • Describe how the 14th Amendment and later Supreme Court decisions transformed the Bill of Rights through the process of incorporation.

Module 6: Separation of Powers and Federalism (Primary Source: Federalist No. 51)

  • Define the separation of powers and explain how this system works.
  • Describe federalism, including how it functions within our constitutional system and how it affects our lives.
  • Identify where we see the separation of powers in the Constitution and why the Founding generation valued it as an important feature of their new system of government.
  • Identify where federalism is in the Constitution and why the Founding generation valued it as an important feature of their new system of government.

Module 7: The Legislative Branch: How Congress Works (Primary Source: McCulloch v. Maryland)

  • Explain the Founders’ vision for Congress and explore the key debates and compromises at the Constitutional Convention.
  • Describe the role that Congress plays in the national government.
  • Identify the powers that the Constitution grants to Congress.
  • Discuss how the Supreme Court has interpreted the powers of Congress over time.
  • Compare the Founders’ vision for Congress with how Congress works in practice.

Module 8: The Presidency and Executive Power (Primary Source: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer “Steel Seizure Case”)

  • Discuss Article II of the Constitution and outline the requirements to be president, the election process, and the President’s primary powers and duties.
  • Examine the origins of the Presidency and describe the Founders’ vision for the  nation’s chief executive.
  • Describe how the President’s role in our constitutional system has changed over time.
  • Review the role of the Supreme Court and Congress in checking the President.
  • Define what an executive order is, understand the roots of the President’s authority to issue executive orders, and study the role of executive orders in our government over time.
  • Analyze competing constitutional visions of the Presidency over time.

Module 9: The Judicial System and Current Cases (Primary Source: Federalist No. 78)

  • Describe judicial review and explain it is a key component of the American constitutional system.
  • Describe judicial independence and explain why the Founding generation viewed it as an important feature of the federal judiciary.
  • Examine primary source writings on the Supreme Court in Federalist, No. 78.
  • Describe how a case gets to the Supreme Court.
  • Identify how the judicial nomination process works and how a justice ends up on the Supreme Court.

Module 10: The First Amendment (Primary Source: A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom)

  • Identify the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment.
  • Discuss the First Amendment’s speech-protective rule.
  • Examine contexts in which the government has some additional leeway to regulate speech.
  • Analyze the First Amendment’s religion clauses and explore how the Supreme Court has interpreted them over time.
  • Explore landmark free speech and press cases and examine famous quotes. 
  • Examine historical examples of different people and groups asserting their petition and assembly rights and reflect on the methods available to you today.
Module 11: The Fourth Amendment (Primary Source: Speech Against Writs of Assistance)
  • Describe the origins of the Fourth Amendment and the Founding generation’s vision for this provision.
  • Discuss how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment over time.  
  • Describe how the Fourth Amendment contributes to debates about individual privacy.
  • Analyze how the Supreme Court has applied the Fourth Amendment to new technologies.
  • Identify current areas of debate over the Fourth Amendment.

Module 12: Slavery in America: From the Founding to America’s Second Founding (Primary Source: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”)

  • Analyze the compromises over slavery at the Constitutional Convention and discuss the the Constitution’s effects on how long the institution of slavery lasted in America.
  • Examine the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford and explain its importance to American constitutional history.
  • Analyze the events that led to the Civil War by using primary sources to explore the voices that pushed for the end of slavery. 
  • Describe the protections contained in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and how they promote freedom and equality.
  • Discuss whether the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments represented a “Second Founding” for America.
Module 13: Voting Rights in America (Primary Source: Declaration of Sentiments)
  • Describe what the Constitution says about voting rights.
  • Identify who can vote in America during various periods in our nation’s history 
  • Explore the role of federalism in the context of voting and elections in America.
  • Discuss the groups that benefited from the 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th Amendments.
  • Analyze battles at the Supreme Court over the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Describe the long battle over women’s suffrage, culminating in the 19th Amendment.

Module 14: The 14th Amendment: Battles for Freedom and Equality (Primary Source: The 14th Amendment)

  • Explain why the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution. 
  • Identify the core principles in clauses of the 14th Amendment. 
  • Summarize how the Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning of the 14th Amendment.
  • Evaluate the effect of the 14th Amendment on liberty and equality.
Module 15: Article V and the 27 Amendments (Primary Source: Article V)
  • Describe the reasons that the Founding generation included a formal process for amending the Constitution.
  • Explain how the Constitution’s amendment process works, and why the founders made it so hard to amend the Constitution.
  • Identify the key periods of constitutional change in American history and outline factors that drive successful pushes to amend the Constitution. 
  • Describe all 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.


The National Constitution Center