Curricular Unit Information

Unit Title:  The Constitution, Reconstruction and Early Civil Rights Activism: 1865-1877; 1915 

Course: US Government (primary); DC History and Government (sections)

Grade Level: 12th Grade (Deering)

Unit Length: 5-6 Days

Length of Class Period: 90 Minute Block Periods

© Deering (Teachers can use compiled materials for classroom use)

Personal Stake:

This lesson is of interest to me for many reasons, which include  interests in the presidents of this era (i.e., Lincoln, Johnson and Grant), an interest in policy, politics and legal studies, and an interest in pre-20th century civil rights activism. 

Unit Topic:

The big ideas students should come away with from this unit are the following:

(1) That the concept, "civil rights" can/should be examined from a historical perspective (before the 20th century).

(2) The structures of government (Congress and the Courts) can affect social interaction between racial/ethnic groups.

(3) The politics of "Reconstruction" served multiple purposes - to assist affected African Americans transitioning from slavery; and when ended, contributed to large scale inequality among affected African Americans.

(4) African Americans possessed a sense of agency and allegiance to the laws of the country by seeking to pursue legal redress under oppressive social conditions.

(5) The importance of acquiring knowledge about government processes and structures.

(6) Improving analytical reading and writing skills are valuable for school success and post-secondary opportunities (e.g., resume writing, career exploration, post-secondary educational opportunities). 

DCPS Content and Skills Standards:

Power Standards

11.1.7; 11.1.9 Formation of the Constitution (amending) and the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

DC Historical & Social Studies Skills

HCI.1, HCI.3, HCI.7 Comparing the Past to the Present; Connecting Events, Determing Meaning and Impact of Historical Events

Common Core Reading Literacy

RH. 11-12.1; RH. 11-12.2; RH. 11-12.4; RH. 11-12.10 Cite evidence, summarize, vocabulary, and complex texts.

Common Core Writing for Literacy

WHST 11-12.8a; WHST 11-12.8c; WHST11-12.5a Use digital resources, determine the value of a source, brainstorming, outlining (preparing a case brief)

WHST 11-12.1ai; WHST 11-12.1cii; WHST 11-12.1bi-bii Use evidence in paragraphs, cite evidence

Methods of Inquiry:

Analyze legal cases, create legal briefs and review related court documents.

Archival research (via the Internet) for cases, legislation and newspsper articles

Site visit to either the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the US Supreme Court or the US Congress.

Lesson Activators and Exit Tickets

Field Trips

Guided Notes

Video Clips and Guided Questions

Stations or Gallery Walk (propsed, depending on size of the class) 


The main things I want student to come away with including the following:

(1) The struggle for civil rights (historical or contemporary) have been affected by a number of individual and institutional actors;

(2) Civil rights can be examined through an analysis of politics, economics, history, law, religion, science and social customs;

(3) Government and policies and legal rulings have historical contexts which must be taken into consideration when examing outcomes (i.e., policies and case law);

(4) Students should also understand that the creation of historical documents occurs within a context and for reason(s) (legislative and case intent).

(5) Students  should examing the meaning of documents considering the conexts and from using a number of sources (if available, triangulation); and 

(6) Studying history and conducting historical research is more than just memorzing name, dates and events - it's telling or explaining events using research-based activities and methodologies.

Essential Questions:
[These include the central questions that help you organize and formulate lessons within a curricular unit. These should include a range of questions that include recall, descriptive, explanatory, analytic, synthesis, and evaluative thought processes. Please note that when engaged in historical thinking, the traditional ordering of Bloom's Taxonomy is flipped on its head—one has to evaluate a source or group of sources before one can adequately describe it/them (see Wineburg).]

(1) What were the contexts for early civil rights activism following 1865?

(2) What roles did the federal government (Congress, Courts, Presidents) have during political and economic crises? 

(3) How did the Court construct its view of constitutionalism and the notion of civil rights for African Americans during this era?

(4) How did African Americans maintain a sense of agency during this era of the Reconstruction? 

(5)  How did the early struggle for civil rights (i.e., the Civil Rights Cases) affect the doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson?

Assessment of Student Learning:
[For each category below, what indicators or evidence will demonstrate student learning; how do the assessments reflect the content, skills, and attitudes outlined above; how will you know what students do and don’t know at the beginning, middle, and end of the unit?]

Pre-Assessments - will assess how much prior knowledge a student has on the subject(s)

Preparing a Case Brief - will capture the analytical reading and writing skills of students as they read legal cases (primary source documents).

DBQs -  will assess the reading comprehension, analytical and writing skills of students who are required to read lesson materials.

Quizzes - will assess students ability to comprehend lesson materials

Lesson Activators and Exit Activities - will determine the initial and acquired understanding of lesson knowledge and activities. 

Formative Assessments - will determine the level of undesrtanding and comprehension (academic performance) of students at a determined point in the unit lessons.

Summative Assessment - will determine  the level of understanding and comprehension (academic performance) of students concerning the lesson objectives, essential questions and content materials.

Diagnostic Assessment:

Students will be required to complete at least one comprehensive pre-assessment pertaining to the unit (reconstruction, the constitution, early civil rights, and legal terminology).

Students will also complete various DBQs/Sourcing Exercises concerning various primary source documents. 

Lesson Activators and Exit Activities will be used as checks for understanding throughout the unit. 

Formative Assessment:

Announced Unit Quizzes (at least 2)

Lesson Activators

Exit Tickets

Learning Logs 

Guided Notes/Outline

Legal Briefs

Classroom Participation 

Summative Assessment:

For this unit, students will complete one major assessment which will include the following question formats:

(a) Mutiple Choice;

(b) True/False

(c) Brief Constructed Responses/Extended Constructed Responses

(d) Vocabulary terms

In addition, students will be required to complete a major writing assignment that will include the preparation of two (2) case briefs.


Due to the number of documents that will be used in this unit, the use of the documents will vary by student learning style and reading, and reading comprehension skills (inclusion classes).

The documents may be edited for length and/or font size (vision impaired students).   

Written assignments (i.e., sourcing exercises) may also be abbreviated, depending on the learning style and reading ability of students.

Audio-visal resources will be used in this unit to assist learners who have this dominant learning style.

Guided notes will also be used throughout this unit to assist all students in managing the volume of content material.  In addition, using guided notes/outline (graphic organizer) will assist students who present with challenges in displaying organizational skills.  

Every effort will be made to group students with stronger reading and written skills with students who possess not-so-strong skills.  

Checks for understanding and class discussions will be incorporated throughout the lesson to ensure that students are comprehending the materials.

Finally, for students who have IEPs or 504 plans,  all legal classroom modifications and accommodations will be implemented.

Community and Cultural Resources:

Ideally, a visit to the US Supreme Court is the idea place to re-inforce certain content of this unit.  Alternative sites include a visit to the Library of Congress, or the National Archives.

Daily Instruction:

Day 1: Introduction to the Reconstruction and Presidents (short biographies), and the Constitution and Constitutional Law.  Introduction to the Civil War Amendments and the Civil Rights Acts (Enforcement Acts).

Day 2:  Presidential Reconstruction, the Constitution and Constitutional Interpretation, and the Civil War Constitutional Amendments.

Day 3: Constitutional Interpretation (continued), the Enforcement Acts (Civil Rights Acts), Introduction to Introducing Legislation (Simulation).

Day 4: The Role of the US Supreme Court.

Day 5: Guest Speaker; Understanding the Law - Reading and Analyzing Case Law; Preparing Legal Briefs; and early Civil Rights Activism. 

Day 6: Understanding the Law - Reading and Analyzing Case Law; Preparing Legal Briefs; and early Civil Rights Activism. (Extra Session)