Monday, March 30, 2015

Bill of Rights Made Easy!

Memorizing the Bill of Rights is hard!  In fifth grade, students must know all about them.  In searching for something to help my students, I stumbled upon this video, "Learn the Bill of Rights Finger Tricks" on YouTube.  Credit goes to Katie Loftin who uploaded the video.  It's a great visual and tactile way for students to remember all the important points of the Bill of Rights.  I  used it with my fifth graders and they loved it.  We practiced with it every day for a few weeks.  I started by showing the video so they could see the finger tricks.  Eventually, we'd practice without the video.  Sometimes I would tell them the amendment and they'd show me the finger trick.  Then I would switch it up and show them the finger trick and they'd tell me the amendment.  In just a few weeks, they had the Bill of Rights memorized!

Click on the link to watch the video:

Bill of Rights Finger Tricks Video

Here is the a short description of each amendment, along with a photo and description of each finger trick.

Amendment 1
The First Amendment protects the rights of every American.  It covers the freedom of religion, speech, and press. Basically, Congress can't make any law about your religion, or stop you from practicing your religion. The government can't keep you from saying whatever you want, or publishing whatever you want (like in a newspaper or a book). And finally, Congress can't stop you from meeting peacefully for a demonstration to ask the government to change something.   
The finger trick is to put your finger to your mouth like you are "shushing" someone.  It represents freedom of speech.   

Amendment 2
The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, or own guns.  Congress can't stop people from having or carrying weapons, because we need to be able to defend ourselves.
The finger trick is to form an imaginary weapon with your fingers.  I just make sure students understand this is to represent this particular Bill of Rights and not a symbol they should use otherwise.  I usually have them put their hand straight up in the air instead (like a pistol used at the beginning of a race), so it never points at anyone.

Amendment 3
The Third Amendment prevents the government from forcing citizens to shelter soldiers in their homes.  In other words, you don't have to let soldiers live in your house, except if there is a war, and even then only if Congress has passed a law to enforce it.
The finger trick is to put up three fingers to represent "three's a crowd".  

Amendment 4
The Fourth Amendment protects the privacy of American citizens.  It prohibits unnecessary or unreasonable searches of a person's property.  In other words, nobody can search your body, or your house, or your papers and things, unless they can prove to a judge that they have a good reason to think you have committed a crime. In this case, the government would need a search warrant. 
The finger trick is to put your hand into a fist like you are knocking on a door to go into someone's home to do a search.

Amendment 5
In Amendment Five, all Americans are guaranteed the right to a fair and legal trial.  This amendment also protects someone from testifying against him or her under oath in a courtroom.  In other words, you can't be tried for any serious crime without a Grand Jury meeting first to decide if there's enough evidence for a trial. If the jury decides you are innocent, the government can't try again with another jury.  This is called "Double Jeopardy". You don't have to say anything at your trial.  It's informally called, "pleading the fifth". You can't be killed, put in jail, or fined unless you were convicted of a crime by jury.  The government can't take your house, farm, or anything else unless they pay for it.
The finger trick is to cover your mouth to show that you aren't going to say anything.  This represents "pleading the fifth".  Plus,  you are using five fingers to cover your mouth.  

Amendment 6
The Sixth Amendment is the right to a speedy trial.  If you're arrested, you have the right to have a trial very quickly. The government can't keep you in jail without a trial.  The trial has to be public, so everyone knows what is happening.  The case has to be decided by a jury of citizens from the area in which you live. You have the right to know what you are accused of which are called the "Miranda Rights".  You have the right to see and hear the people who are witnesses against you and to have the government help you get witnesses on your side.  You also have the right to have a lawyer appointed to you if you cannot afford one.
The finger trick is to point to an "imaginary watch" to represent the right to a speedy trial.  

Amendment 7
The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in civil, or private legal cases where the damages are more than twenty dollars. A civil case is a law case between two citizens rather than between you and the government.  
The finger trick is to hold up two fingers on one hand and then hold up all the fingers on your other hand (which makes 7 to represent this amendment).  Then close the fingers in the hand where you are holding up all fingers into a fist.  It is supposed to loo like a 2 and a O which represents legal cases with damages more than 20 dollars.

Amendment 8
The Eight Amendment states that unreasonable bail or fines and cruel and unusual punishment are prohibited. In other words, the government can't make you pay more than is reasonable in bail or in fines, and the government can't order you to have cruel or unusual punishments (like torture) even if you are convicted of a crime.
The finger trick is to put your hands out like you are being handcuffed.  It represents cruel and unusual punishment.

Amendment 9
The Ninth Amendment recognizes that Americans have rights that are not listed in the Constitution.  Just because these Bill of Rights are listed in the Constitution doesn't mean that you don't have other rights too.
The finger trick is to hold up five fingers on one hand, and four fingers on the other hand.  This represents the Ninth Amendment.  

Amendment 10
The Tenth Amendment states that the powers not given to the United States government  by the Constitution belong to the states or the people.  In other words, anything the Constitution doesn't say that Congress can do should be left up to the states, or to the people.
The finger trick is to hold up all your hands and fingers like you're "raising the roof".  I always have my students say, "Power to the people" when they do this.

Do you have any special tricks for teaching / learning about the Bill of Rights?  Please share your ideas in the comments section. Thanks!

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