Lesson 4

Living Free: Our Rights and Responsibilities


Lesson Overview:

This lesson focuses on the Constitutional rights and duties of citizens. In Part 1, the children will review the introduction of the Declaration of Independence and discuss the Bill of Rights. In Part 2, they'll identify adult and youth citizen duties and perform acts of responsible citizenship. In Part 3, they'll define and give some examples of patriotism and complete a word find.


Content Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards 


Part 1: Citizens Have Protection


Ask the children to look at the second paragraph of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence on the reproducible. Read the first sentence. Remind them each person is a unique individual. Even identical twins are different in some ways. Each person is born with different abilities and interests, has different opportunities and family situations. How can American citizens really be "equal"?

The answer is found at the end of the first sentence:

"... they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The word unalienable means "cannot be taken away." A few years after the Constitution was written, the American people decided they wanted a written guarantee their government would never take away their basic human rights. Article V of the Constitution allows additions, or amendments, to be made to the original seven articles, and in 1791 the first 10 were added, promising to always provide citizens their rights. They form a separate document called the Bill of Rights.


Reproducible: The Bill of Rights

The children may need some help understanding the language of the Bill of Rights. Ask them to read aloud the introduction and each amendment. Then have them restate them in their own words.


Discussion Questions and Answers:

  • Read the first paragraph of the Introduction. Can you find phrases telling why the Bill of Rights was written? ("... in order to prevent misconstruction - misunderstanding - or abuse of its powers ..." or to extend "the ground of public confidence ...")
  • Name some activities you can participate in because of the First Amendment. (Answers will vary.)
  • Do the states still have militias? (Yes.) What are they called today? (The Air and Army National Guards.)
  • According to the Lesson 1 timeline, what historic event does the Third Amendment address? (The Quartering Act of 1766.)    ​ ​
  • What might happen without the Fourth Amendment? (Citizens and their possessions might be searched anytime by anyone for any reason.) If interested, the students can look at a typical federal district court search warrant on: http://www.uscourts.gov/forms/AO093.pdf.
  • Why is it important for people accused of a crime to be treated fairly? (This question addresses the Fifth through Eighth Amendments. Answers will vary; one might be to ensure a person wrongly accused of a crime will have every opportunity to be proved innocent.)
  • Why were the Ninth and 10th Amendments written? (To make sure the majority of power is in the hands of the people.)

More about amendments:

It's not easy to amend the Constitution. Two-thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives must support a new amendment, and three-fourths of the states have to approve it. Two well-known amendments are the 13th, which outlawed slavery, and the 22nd, which limits the president to two terms of office.


Part 2: Citizens Have Duties


U.S. Citizens are guaranteed many freedoms through the Bill of Rights. Ask the children to think about a typical day and name some actions which are protected. For example, the First Amendment gives them the right to hold friendly discussions at lunch without fear of being arrested for their opinions.

Citizens living in a democracy have rights and freedoms, but they also have obligations or duties. They must do what is best for the greatest number of citizens, called the Common Good. These duties include:


All citizens who have reached age 18 have the right to vote, unless they are in prison now or have been convicted of a very serious crime in the past. This was not always true. The 15th Amendment gave blacks the vote in 1870. Women weren't allowed to vote until 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. In 1971, the 26th Amendment dropped the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.

Citizens must first register to vote. On Election Day, citizens go to their polling places. If a citizen will be out of town or can't get to a polling place, he or she can mail a ballot ahead of time. Schools, libraries, churches and other places are open long hours so those who want to cast their ballots have the opportunity. Voting is done by secret ballot. Once the polls are closed, the votes are counted by hand or machine.

Citizens elect people to government positions by voting. They can also make community decisions by voting. For instance, they can vote to raise taxes. The extra money can be used for something needed by their community, like a new school.

Jury Duty

The right to trial by jury in guaranteed in the Constitution. Citizens aged 18 and over are chosen at random for jury duty. They may be interviewed by the judge and lawyers to make sure they will be fair. The jurors listen to the evidence that is presented by each lawyer. Afterwards, they must reach complete agreement as to whether the accused person is guilty or innocent.

Paying Taxes

To raise money to operate and provide services, a government may charge taxes. Citizens may pay income tax on the money they earn and property tax on the land they own. People who buy certain goods and use certain services may be charged special taxes. For instance, drivers may pay taxes when they register their vehicles and buy gasoline.

Military Service

The law requires all men between the ages of 18 through 25 to register with the Selective Service System, a government agency. They may be asked or required to serve if the armed forces needs extra help in an emergency.


Reproducible: Young Citizen Power

Young people also have duties as citizens. Ask the students to read them and then invite them to take one of the actions below. Helpful information is listed in the Level 2 Resources section.

  • Research a local, state or national issue. Explain which side they support and why.
  • Do one of the actions listed and report back to the group.
  • Think of an issue to support or protest. Plan an imaginary rally or demonstration, for instance, a rally to serve healthier food in the school cafeteria. Who will they invite to speak to the group? Where will it take place? What will the signs look like? What will they say to the media about the issue?
  • Also listed are four responsibilities of adult citizens. What are they?


Activity: Short Essay
What would happen if citizens only cared about their own needs and happiness? Ask the children to write a short essay about "A Day of No Responsibilities."
Activity: Invite a Guest
Invite a young citizen to talk about his or her involvement in a community program or project. Ask him or her to bring photos, posters or other visuals that will enhance the presentation.
Part 3: Citizens Have Pride
Patriotism is a loyalty to one's country. All patriotic citizens should be aware of their country's history, its battle for liberty and its commitment to protect the freedoms citizens enjoy. Patriotism doesn't mean always agreeing with everything the United States and its leaders do, but it does mean respecting our country and its leaders, appreciating liberty, and honoring the sacrifices made by other citizens to keep our country free.
How is patriotism good citizenship? Recall from Lesson 1 that even in our country's earliest days, leaders stressed cooperation to survive. Unity helps preserve our freedom, and patriotic activities unite us. Ask the children to name some ways American citizens show pride and love for their country.
Answers may include:
  • Displaying the flag.
  • Saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Wearing patriotic colors and clothing.
  • Singing the national anthem.
  • Marching in a Fourth of July parade.
  • Honoring veterans or deceased armed services members.


Activity: Celebrate Loyalty Day

May 1 is Loyalty Day in the United States. Invite the children to wear red, white and blue. Play and/or sing patriotic songs, put on a play about patriotism, or ask a veteran to come and speak about his or her experience defending our country. The students can write about "Why I'm Proud to be an American." 


Reproducible: Proud to be an American Word Find

Invite the children to find the patriotic vocabulary words. Answers to the word find can be found here.


MP3: Patriotic People and America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)

The lyrics may be reproduced, if desired. The students can sing or follow along. After listening, discuss the songs using the discussion questions.


Patriotic People

  • "All the sacrifices they have made so I can still be free"  What kinds of sacrifices were made by the Founding Fathers so all of us could enjoy freedom? (Answers include: leaving their homelands to go to a strange new land and fighting a war against England.)
  • "I will always remember all the people who have tried"  Discuss the value of trying, even if one doesn't achieve one's goals.
  • "We can share our love and our pride"  What are your favorite ways to share love and pride in this country? (Answers will vary.)


America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)

  • "Land where my fathers died"  Ask students about their family ancestry. How long have their families lived here? From which countries did the families originate?
  • "I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills"  Explain "rills" are brooks; "templed" means decorated with temples or churches. Invite the group to share what states they've visited. What natural wonders did they see?
  • The students may be interested to know the tune is the royal anthem, "God Save the King" (or Queen.)


Activity: Make and Vote on a Flag

Flags have been used for thousands of years and are known by various names: vexilla, pennants (triangular flags), banners and pennons (small flags with a V-shape cut our on the end.) They can be decorated with an infinite number of symbols, colors, words and shapes. See the Level 2 Resources section for the titles of flag books and website addresses.

The children may enjoy making classroom/group, family or individual flags. Encourage them to draw some sketches before beginning work on their flags. The earliest flags were made of wood, but theirs will be paper or cloth. Attach ribbons, crepe paper or fringe to the flag, if desired. Fly the flag from a dowel, broomstick or yardstick.

If the children make classroom/group flags, the flag-making activity can be combined with an informal voting experience. Ask each child to write a paragraph about their flag on an index card, explaining the symbols used and why the flag best represents the class or group. They can also give a short speech about their flag. Display the flags and cards during a campaign week. If desired, at the end of the week, distribute ballots to each child to vote for their favorite flag, which can be displayed in the room or in a public area.


Reproducible: Our Great Democracy Game

Divide the students into groups. Each group will need one die, one copy of the game board and one set of cards.

One student in each group will shuffle the cards and place them face-down beside the game board. In turn, the students will draw cards from the space and answer the questions. If an answer is correct, they'll roll the die and move that many spaces. If not, they'll stay on the space until their next turn. The answers to the questions can be found here.