Symbols – C3 Teachers

Lesson Duration

From C3 Teachers: College Career & Civic Life

Compelling Question: “What symbol best represents the United States?”

Students investigate what each American symbol represents, how we use these symbols, and what we, as US citizens, value. Students use evidence from multiple sources to support their arguments around the question, and present their understanding by writing a paper, creating a poster, or presenting their arguments to a small group. This inquiry enables students to examine the range of meanings generated by each symbol. 

Supporting Questions -

  • “What symbols represent the United States?”—students explore the idea of symbols representing something a group stands for by researching national symbols and what each one represents
  • “Do symbols mean the same thing to everyone?”—students conduct research outside of the classroom to explore the notion that the values and ideals represented by American symbols may resonate with people in different ways. The formative performance task calls for students to share the results of a survey in which they ask three to five people what they think the chosen symbol means. 
  • “How do people use the United States flag as a symbol?”—uses the flag as a case study of the relationship between symbols and values. 

Finally, students have the opportunity extend their arguments and to Take Informed Action by drawing on their understandings of symbols representing values and suggesting a new symbol for their class or school that represents an agreed-upon value. Students might conduct a class- or building-wide vote on whether to adopt the symbol.




C3 Teachers is a collaborative effort made up of teachers and teacher educators focused on using inquiry to enhance social studies teaching and learning. The C3 Teacher initiative is guided by John Lee (North Carolina State University), Kathy Swan (University of Kentucky), and SG Grant (Binghamton University).