Declaring Ourselves Free

By Teresita Herrera, October 1, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

180 minutes for classroom activities


The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important historical documents ever written.  It has been used as a model for colonial revolutions around the world since its inception. In order for students to understand the importance of this document, students are expected to know the causes, effects, results, and critical figures and events surrounding the writing of this document. As a result of this social studies lesson, students will have a greater understanding of how the Declaration of Independence came about and how it was designed, who played an important role in its creation, the difficulty of compromise, and its repercussions around the colonies and the world. Students will achieve the curriculum standards and other expected outcomes by designing a new, 2015 version of the Declaration of Independence – something students would write if they were to declare independence from the United States today.

National Standards

United States History

Standard 6.  Level III. Understands causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interest involved in shaping the revolutionary movement, and reasons for the American victory

2. Understands contradictions between the Declaration of Independence and the institution of chattel slavery

5. Understands the creation of the Declaration of Independence (e.g., historical antecedents that contributed to the document, individuals who struggled for independence)

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Text Types and Purposes:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.A Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.C Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.D Establish and maintain a formal style.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.E Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.A Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.B Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.C Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.D Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.E Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.F Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.3 (See note; not applicable as a separate requirement)
  • Production and Distribution of Writing:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.5 Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.6 Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.7 Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium's portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-7.9 Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

English Language Arts Standards: History/Social Studies

Grade 6-8

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Craft and Structure:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.



Students will be able to:
  • understand the purpose of the Declaration of Independence
  • be able to explain the impact the Declaration of Independence had on the nation and the world
  • understand the contradictions found in the Declaration of Independence
  • create a modern version of the Declaration of Independence


Our Documents from the National Archives:


  • copy of the Declaration of Independence (can be found in most history textbooks)
  • textbook –  American Journey published by Glencoe
  • handout – “Rough Draft”
  • handout – “The Design Process”
  • computer and printer


  • abdicate: to give up power
  • annihilation: complete destruction
  • convulsions: violent disturbances
  • despotism: absolutism: dominance through threat of punishment and violence
  • dissolve: bring to an end
  • endowed: provided or supplied or equipped with
  • evident: apparent; clearly revealed to the mind or the senses or judgment
  • impel: cause or force someone to action
  • inestimable: priceless
  • insurrections: rebellions or revolts
  • quartering: housing or lodging someone
  • rectitude: uprightness: righteousness as a consequence of being honorable and honest
  • relinquish: to let go of or give up something
  • render: cause to become
  • tenure: a period of employment or usage
  • unalienable: incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another
  • usurpations: unjust uses of power


Step 1. Provide a general review of events that led up to the writing of the Declaration of Independence (Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, Tea Act, Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, etc.). Students will be asked what “Declaration of Independence” means with the teacher writing the responses on the board.

Step 2. After discussing the students’ answers, the class will then take an in-depth look at the document using their textbooks.

The teacher will then explain to students that the Declaration is divided into four parts (Preamble, listing of basic rights, wrongs done by the king, and declaring independence) so students can easily interpret it.  Important issues, such as the writers considered treacherous and the contradictions regarding slavery, will be highlighted in addition to pertinent vocabulary terms as listed above.

Step 3. Once the document has been discussed, the objectives of the lesson and the directions of the design challenge will be given to the students.

Explain to the class that they are going to create a “modern” Declaration of Independence in groups of three using the original document as a model (their design must also include the same four distinctive parts as the original document).

Divide students into groups of three.

Step 3. Every group must then complete a design process worksheet where every member of the group must contribute to the design activities.

Have students go through the following steps in their groups:

1.     REVIEW the challenge.  Define the challenge in your own words.  Be sure to include any problems or opportunities present in the challenge.

2.     INVESTIGATE the problem.  Gather and analyze information from prior knowledge, books, the Internet, and textbooks.

3.     FRAME/REFRAME the problem.  Rethink, reexamine, and redefine the challenge and its problems.  Did you identify the correct problems?  If not, rethink it, and redefine it.

4.     GENERATE possible solutions.  Show your ideas on a separate piece of paper.

5.     EDIT and DEVELOP ideas.  Chose the design ideas with the most potential and prototype through writing a modern Declaration of Independence.

6.     SHARE and EVALUATE your ideas.  Each group should quickly present their prototypes to the teacher and make any needed adjustments.

Step 4. Students will then be given a Rough Draft handout onto which they will input their design ideas.

Students need to make sure that they consult with the teacher so he or she can be assured that they are headed in the right direction.

Step 5. Let students know that they have five minutes to finalize their drafts and start practicing their presentations.  At this point, the groups should be ready to finalize their documents.

Step 6. The groups will take this time to practice their presentations and fix any issues they may have.  Remind students that it should be clear in their presentation as to how they arrived at their final document.

Step 7. Each group gives a brief presentation.

Step 8. Students will be assessed in the following manner:

  • 30 pts – Final document
  • 15 pts – Design Handout
  • 15 pts – Rough Draft Handout
  • 20 pts - Understanding
  • 20 pts – Participation

Total = 100 pts.


The teacher should informally assess students by observation as the design process and rough draft portions of the activity are taking place.  The teacher can also assess if students are understand the purpose and objectives of the lesson, if students are properly using cooperative learning, and if they are following directions.

Grading their design and rough draft worksheets will also assess students and evaluate how well students grasped the concepts and objectives of the lesson.


Enrichment Extension Activities

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000194 EndHTML:0000008444 StartFragment:0000007931 EndFragment:0000008408 SourceURL:file:///Mac%20HD/Users/Sam/Desktop/For%20Sam%202/Herrera_Declaring_Ouedit.doc After everyone has presented their documents, the students can be asked which of the documents they believe can actually “function” the same way the original did.  Students can also be asked to write about what the repercussions would be if any of these documents were presented to the U.S. government today and compare them what occurred in 1776.

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