Unscramble the Preamble

Jim Stranix, Angie Mangum, Erin Robbins, Dana King

After exploring the depth of each part of the Preamble through the arts, students will gain a greater understanding of the true meaning of this historical document and its place in our history: How does understanding The Preamble (and the Constitution) affect our expectations and responsibilities as citizens?


Technology: I-Pads, Laptops, data projector, smart board, YouTube video “Prepare NY” (perhaps).
Realia: Bicycle (or another device made of many parts).
Literature: Story books for illustrating concepts through interactive read aloud
Art materials: variety of colored paper, white paper for background, 25 glue sticks


Day 1: The Preamble
1. Introduce the history of the Constitution, the Preamble, and how the Articles of Confederation (the government “rules” before the constitution) were insufficient.
2. Show “School House Rock” version of the Preamble on YouTube.
3. Divide the Preamble into its six parts and explain that the class will discover more about the meaning of the phrases.

Day 2: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”
1. Core and arts teachers involve students in using body percussion rhythms to illustrate the meaning of this phrase.
2. Divide class into four different groups who will each repeat a teacher created body rhythm. Model these rhythms with each group to ensure understanding.
3. Next, have the student groups perform their rhythms all at once (with no direction or order). Record the “composition” and play it back to the class to illustrate the “chaos.”
4. Brainstorm ideas for creating organization and a “more perfect” composition.

Day 2: “… establish justice”
1. To introduce the judicial system, students will use improvisational storytelling to explore the possible circumstances that led to an imaginary crime.
2. Scenarios of various crimes and subsequent pre-constitutional punishments (e.g. shoplifting, blasphemy…) will be chosen from a box and read aloud by the reader, or the first student in the circle.
3. Students will use the “Yes, but…” system of response to perhaps explain what might have led to the crime, and whether or not the sentence fits the crime.

Day 4: “…insure domestic tranquility”
1. Through body movement and dance, students will come to a better understanding of the word, tranquility.
2. Using the Smartboard, introduce various adjectives to the students that range from; disorder, confusion, commotion, pandemonium, mess, disruption, and chaos – to; peaceful, calmness, quietness, restful, serenity, placid, cool, still and—finally, tranquility.
3. Have students stand and respond through dance to various recorded sound and music, ranging from chaotic noise to more organized, and finally peaceful, tranquil music and sound.
4. After each dance, students will turn and talk, sharing with each other how they felt during each dance by using words form the board.

Day 5: “… provide for the common defense…”
ART PROJECT – COLLAGE focusing the armed forces and the “defense” part of this element of the preamble. As a precursor to our November Washington DC trip, this will also provide background knowledge about sites in DC that we will visit.

Day 6: “…and promote the general welfare …”
Naturalist Activity in which students will sit quietly outside and observe and list each thing that they see working together and playing their parts in the surrounding ecosystem. This system is experiencing “welfare” as each part is integral to the functioning of the system. This will be tied into the Preamble using a combination of dance and rhythm in which each student plays their own role in the system.

Day 7: “… and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”
A guest Speaker from armed forces or local govt. will address the students about their role in our government at the local and/or state level. Students will demonstrate what we’ve accomplished in earlier lessons to our guest(s).

Differentiation Approaches

We have incorporated small group and large group instruction in order that all students will be able to participate successfully in these lessons.


1. Students will receive a “pre-preamble” quiz in which they are asked about their interpretations of each element of the preamble.
2. They will also receive a post, or “unscrambled preamble” quiz to show new and improved understanding, as well as written/drawn response to the integration of the arts in the mastering of this material. Finally, students will create their own explanations, using art and performance to demonstrate understanding.

Follow Up and Extension Ideas

1. Parts of the activities will be taken “on the road” to our fellow fifth grade classes
2. All of the fifth graders will be visiting Washington, DC in late November where they can see the National Archives and our government at work.
3. Our music teacher will be working on a unit of music: What would George Washington have on his playlist? The students will also learn to dance the preamble.

Additional Details

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