Constitutional Interpretation

An Inquiry lesson idea for using primary sources to teach about the impact of the Supreme Court Justices and Constitutional Interpretation


As Supreme Court nominations and their vision of the Constitution continues to be part of our national discussion, challenge students to understand the connection between the formation of our Constitution by the founding fathers and the interpretation of the document in our times.

Essential Question
To start the lesson, provide students an essential question such as: "How does our historic Constitution continue to guide to our government through changes over time?"

Student Challenge
Show how the appointment of Supreme Court Justices and their subsequent interpretation of the Constitution has an impact on citizens.

Guiding Questions
Students brainstorm guiding questions for their challenge. Those might include:

  1. What do we know about the origins of the Constitution? (What were the Founders thinking?)
  2. How has the Constitution been interpreted over time?
  3. How do different Justices view their role in interpreting the Constitution?
  4. How does the intrepretation of the Constitution effect my life?
  5. How much does my community know about the Supreme Court and nominations to the Court?


For a strong inquiry lesson refer students to primary source documents that can be found at the Library of Congress and by searching the C-SPAN Video Library for current news about the Court and nomination of Justices. 

Help students with inquiry by asking them, "What questions do they have about these documents or videos?", "Where can they go to find the answers?"

Students can work together to interpret documents via Google Docs or other collaborative online tools. They might want to survey their community based on a recent C-SPAN survey about the Supreme Court.  They can gather survey information via mobile devices on a Google Form. 

Culminating activities might include video, a slide presentation, a  collaborative white paper, a podcast or other media showing their findings. It is their job is to inform the class, school and community about the topic and explore the guiding questions. Once each team has completed their culminating activity, the class revisits the essential question, reviews the research and determines if the question and answers need further revisions.
Technology ideas from Cheryl Davis, Acalanes Union High School District