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Voting, Voice and the Constitution


Return to Front cover Constitution Day 2020


The American Constitution did not originally afford everyone the right to vote. In fact, the Constitution itself did not specify who was allowed; states set the rules and they mostly only allowed white, land-owning males to vote. This unit introduces the 15th and the 19th amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments that respectively afforded black men and all women voting rights. The activities provoke analysis of primary documents (including historical newspapers), challenge students to consider voting rights in contemporary contexts, and encourage them to consider relationships between voice, activism, the press and voting.


●  Students will understand the relationship between suffrage and the 15th and 19th amendments.
●  Students will investigate the concept of “voice” and how it relates to voting.
●  Students will examine the role of the press in bearing witness to significant, historic events.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.


Approximately 175 minutes


National Parks Service
Suffrage in America – Women’s History (US National Park Service)
Civil Rights: Whose Voice is Heard? (US National Park Service)
The Fifteenth Amendment (US National Park Service)
The Nineteenth Amendment (US National Park Service)
Library of Congress
Research Guides: 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Primary Documents in American History: Introduction
Research Guides: 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Primary Documents in American History: Introduction

President Barack Obama’s eulogy of John Lewis

President Barack Obama’s eulogy of John Lewis
President Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John Lewis: Full Transcript

Activity/lesson Step by Step

Step 1 — Frame Introduction/Pre-Quiz (5 minutes)

1) T/F: The United States Constitution originally defined who was able to vote in America

2) The ______ Amendment, ratified in _________, stipulated the right to vote could not be denied according to _________________.

3) The ______ Amendment, ratified in _________, stipulated the right to vote could not be denied according to _________________.

4) The ______ Amendment, ratified in _________, stipulated the right to vote could not be denied according to _________________.

Answer key: 1: F; 2, 3, and 4 (in any order): 15th, 1870, race; 19th, 1920, sex; 26th, 1971, age (18 and over)

Modification: To make the quiz easier, a bank of possible answers could be included, ex:


Step 2 — Study: Voice and Suffrage (20 minutes)

Read through three pages of The National Parks Service’s Suffrage in America: The 15th and 19th Amendments, including: Whose Voice is Heard?, The Fifteenth Amendment, and The Nineteenth Amendment. How does the NPS define voice? How is voice related to voting and citizenship? How might people who are denied suffrage assert their voice? What might the press’ role be as people seek to build awareness and support of their causes?

Step 3 — Explore: Library of Congress (40 minutes)

Using historical newspapers freely available on the Library of Congress website, discover how journalism bore witness to the historic passage of the 15th and 19th amendments. Students can be split into groups to research the reaction to the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment. Compare and contrast. How is the coverage similar? What makes each unique? What do these articles imply about citizenship and the concept of voice?

Step 4 — Extend: President Barack Obama’s eulogy of John Lewis (40 minutes)

While suffrage should have been guaranteed by the 15th and 19th amendments, this was not the case. Read President Barack Obama’s eulogy for civil rights icon and Congressman, John Lewis. According to President Obama, what was the role of the press in the struggle for civil rights and the eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act? Even though the 15th Amendment should have guaranteed John Lewis’ right to vote, what suppressed his voice? How did he assert his voice in response to these barriers and what were some of the outcomes?

Step 5 — Perform: Your voice and the 2020 elections (60 minutes)

Option 1: Bear witness — document the lead-up to the 2020 elections as an observer. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? Perhaps focus on a significant event that is representative of major issues at play in the election. Who is asserting their voice? How? Is their voice in conflict with others? Who holds power in the situation?

Option 2: Editorial — Write a forceful and compelling argument focused on voting rights and the upcoming election. Consider focusing on the moral, historical, and civic importance of everyone getting a vote, or consider reflecting on how voting rights issues are still in the news (for example: mail-in voting, closing polling stations, and keeping ex-felons or people who owe money off the voting rolls). How does this editorial represent your values? Who is your audience and how can you convince them the importance of voting? How will you vote, if you can, or how would you vote, if you could?

Step 6 — Reflect (10 minutes)

3, 2, 1: In 250 words or less, share three things you learned, two questions you have, and one thing you could do to assert your voice.


If time is short, you could excerpt the sources. You could focus on only one of the digital newspapers in the Library of Congress. You could show an excerpt of President Obama’s eulogy instead of reading it. You could break students into groups to solely focus on the 15th or 19th amendments.


Formative: group discussion and responses in Study, Explore, and Extend

Summative: The “Perform” and “Reflect” assignments demand synthesis — while they don’t ask for regurgitation of content from the earlier steps, successful completion of these tasks will demonstrate competency with the foundational material.


If you have additional time or class periods, you or the students may also visit some of the links throughout the NPS or LOC sites. There are many opportunities for engagement with primary source documents and research.

The “Perform” assignment could be given more time for drafting. Perhaps the Bear Witness option becomes an in-depth photojournalism piece or video project using media excerpts with a voiceover.

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