Dissecting the Declaration of Independence Through Group Preparation and Discussion.

 Dissecting the Declaration of Independence Through Group Preparation and Discussion.

A 3rd Grade Unit of Study in History.

This unit is designed to meet two standards in the 3rd grade common core curriculum, but it primarily focuses on Speaking and Listening. Through studying the Declaration of Independence, students will, in various forms of group discussion, identify the causes of the American Revolution and compare them with the grievances they have concerning situations with the management of the classroom economy system.

I have twelve students, ages eight and nine, most of whom are fairly high readers. I have three or four students who used to be ELLs, but who, if this were a government school, would no longer be designated as ELLs. Our history curriculum covers famous American heroes from Christopher Columbus onward, and lately the figures have featured prominent American revolutionaries such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. This unit is designed to coincide with those areas of study.

For almost a month now, the students have been over-taxed in our classroom economy system. They have faced a 10% income tax, a $2 paper tax for every paper they hand out, a $5 recess tax for every recess, a number tax in which students pay $100 if their number gets pulled out of a hat, a shirt tax for the uniform colors that changes each day (one day, blue might be $100, but $25 the next day), and many, many more taxes that have increased in cost over that period of time. The students will have a Tea Party, organized by my room mother, to protest the taxes. This will start the unit which we are discussing today.

The unit will focus on developing student’s speech and language skills through discussing the Declaration of Independence, its causes, and through working together to write a class declaration of independence from the unfair taxes and mismanagement of the Hoot Buck money system. This is designed to meet the following standard:


Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Proficiencies and Assessments:

There are several key proficiencies in this standard that will be addressed through this unit:

  1. Engage effectively in diverse, collaborative discussions on grade 3 topics and texts.
  2. Building on others’ ideas during those discussions.
  3. Expressing their own ideas clearly.

This activity appropriately meets the requirement of discussing 3rd grade texts and topics. Since the Declaration of Independence is covered in our units of study on the American Revolution, this is a Grade 3 topic of study. In the process of this unit, they will also use the library to research the topic using Grade 3 history texts in preparation for the group discussions.

In this unit of study, there will be several group discussions of varying kinds, all of which will require that the students build upon each others’ ideas and express their own clearly. They will appear in this manner:

Days One and Two: Students discuss, as a whole class, the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and what they mean. This will be mostly teacher-led, as the Declaration contains many vocabulary words that would be difficult for this age group to decipher otherwise.

Day Three: Pairs of students select a grievance and use Grade 3 history texts to research the cause of that specific grievance.

Assessment: Students will write out their grievance in their own words, identify the event that caused that grievance, and explain how that event connects to the grievance. This will be a written assessment of the success of the partnership’s ability to communicate and work together.

Day Four: In groups of four, students report the events that caused the writing of the Declaration of Independence to their peers, and discuss the relationship of these things to the “unalienable rights” listed by the authors.

Assessment: Working as a group, the students will create a single graph in which the grievances are sorted under columns titled “Life”, “Liberty”, and “Pursuit of Happiness”. They will write a sentence to explain why they put each grievance in that position.

Day Five: Teacher leads demonstration of Fish Bowl discussion, and students elect representatives from their group to be in the Fish Bowl.

Day Six: Students hold discussions in their groups with their representatives, with one student taking notes for their representative, to list the grievances the group has against the class government.

Assessment: The group’s list of grievances and teacher reports on participation observed during the discussion.

Day Seven: Student representatives discuss the grievances listed by their group and draft a class Declaration of Independence using the Fish Bowl methods. Students in the outer circle grade based on accuracy and attentiveness to the wishes of their groups. At the end of the exercise, students vote on whether or not they will accept the drafted Declaration of Independence.

Assessment: The draft of the Declaration of Independence, student assessment of the Fish Bowl discussion.

Grade-Level Appropriateness

Some may question the appropriateness of the level of rigor in abstract thought required by these discussions. In response, I will point out the three days of research and preparation through direct instruction on the topic matter. Students have also already studied several of the Revolutionaries, and so many of the events leading up to the revolution have already been taught, too. This class is also very high in its ability to connect to abstract concepts, as observed through other areas of study, primarily in our reading lessons. Students regularly are able to identify, through looking at the text, several key, but subtle, words that convey emotional nuances surrounding the events of a fictional story. They are also able to pull facts from encyclopedias and draft basic reports on the subjects they researched.

Because this class is high in its academic ability, then, I am able to pursue this type of instruction. I fully plan on providing significant teacher support throughout this process, with clear instructions at each step of the way. With other classes, I would include more lessons on research, on polite discourse in the classroom, and on connecting cause-and-effect type relationships. These things, though, have already been covered for this group, and so the level of rigor found in these activities is wholly appropriate for my current group of students.


This activity appropriately addresses, in a Grade 3-level manner, the skills required for students to hold effective, productive discussions on a topic at hand. It also provides students with an in-depth analysis of a primary source document. This activity clearly addresses the standard’s requirements and provides a deeper, critical-thinking learning activity through which these requirements are met.


English language arts standards » speaking & listening » grade 3. (2016). Retrieved March 26, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/3/

TeachLikeThis (2013, November 14). How to do a fishbowl – TeachLikeThis Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkWl9b0FZSE


One thought on “Dissecting the Declaration of Independence Through Group Preparation and Discussion.

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Applying Standards, SMART Objectives, and Backwards Mapping | 3rd Grade adventures

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