11th Grade New York


The goal of this inquiry is for students to gain an informed, critical perspective on the United States Constitution as it stood at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. By investigating the justness of the Constitution, students examine how the Constitution structures the government, the Constitution’s relationship to slavery, and the extent to which the amendment process makes the government more democratic. Through taking a critical look at the Constitution, students should understand the government the Constitution created and develop an evidence-based perspective that serves as a launching pad for informed action.


Compelling Question:

Did the Constitution Establish a Just Government?

Staging the Question:

Read the preamble to the Constitution and discuss how a government can achieve those goals.

Supporting Question Why did the framers of the United States Constitution feel a new document was necessary?

Formative Task Generate a list of concerns that prompted the writing of the Constitution.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from letter from Alexander Hamilton to James Duane
Source B: Excerpt from letter from George Washington to James Warren
Source C: Letter from John Jay to Thomas Jefferson


Supporting Question How did the Constitution structure the government?

Formative Task Create a graphic organizer that displays the branches of the federal government and their functions.

Sources Source A: Selections from the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 7–9; Art. II, Sec. 2–3; Art. III Sec. 2)
Source B: Excerpt from Federalist No. 51


Supporting Question How did the framers protect slavery in the Constitution?

Formative Task Write a paragraph using evidence that explains how the framers protected slavery in the Constitution.

Sources Source A: Selections from the Constitution (Art. I Sec. 2, Clause 3; Art. I, Sec. 9, Clause 1; Art. IV, Sec.2, Clause 3)
Source B: Excerpts from James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention
Source C: Excerpts from a speech by Benjamin Franklin


Supporting Question How democratic was the 1787 Constitution?

Formative Task Develop a claim supported by evidence that explains how democratic they consider the 1787 Constitution to be.

Sources Source A: Selections from the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 2; Art. II, Sec. 1–2; Art. IV, Sec. 4; Art. V; Art. VII)
Source B: Excerpt from James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention
Source C: Excerpt from Federalist No. 43

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Did the Constitution establish a just government? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Examine political cartoons developed during the ratification debates and create political cartoons that praise or deride the justness of the proposed Constitution.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Research efforts made since 1787 to make the Constitution more just through the amendment process.
Assess: Evaluate the extent to which an unsuccessful amendment (e.g., Equal Rights Amendment) could have contributed to a more just Constitution.
Act: Select a proposed amendment that students believe will make the Constitution more just and contact an individual or organization promoting that amendment to see how the students can participate.