The Declaration of Independence Summary & Lesson Plans

Perhaps one of the most defining documents in history, The Declaration of Independence is a literary masterpiece just as much as it is an historical one. Thomas Jefferson believed strongly in the power of language to influence politics, so it made him the right choice to pen the document. In it, Jefferson lays out the many grievances held against King George III, and sets out a new and daring course for the thirteen colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. It reads very much like a break-up letter, in which the colonies assert their rights, lay out their problems, and declare a future apart from England.

Jefferson’s writing harnessed the powers of different rhetorical persuasions, including ethos, pathos, and logos. In addition, The Declaration of Independence focuses on the themes of injustice, the strength of the ruled over rulers, the justifications for a war, and the inalienable rights of all people. These themes are still held dearly today, and students can make connections to current events that highlight these ideals.

Student Activities for The Declaration of Independence By Thomas Jefferson

What is a Grievance?

A grievance is a formal complaint, usually filed as the result of something viewed as wrong or unfair, especially in the workplace. Common kinds of workplace grievances include:

  • wages (including unequal pay)
  • workload
  • unfair hiring and promotion practices
  • unfair disciplinary actions/steps
  • abuse of power
  • unsafe working conditions
  • discrimination
  • sexual harassment

Why are Grievances Important?

Grievances, if left unaddressed, have led to larger actions such as union strikes, firings, lawsuits, and even… war. Some of the most important revolutions in history were caused by unaddressed grievances, including the American Revolution. Have students look up the causes of some of the major revolutions in history, such as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Cuban Revolution, and the more recent Arab Spring. What were the issues that sparked these events? How could a revolution have been avoided if the people’s grievances had been addressed?

Essential Questions for The Declaration of Independence

  1. What is a grievance?
  2. What happens when people feel their voices aren’t being heard?
  3. What are some common steps people take to fight injustice?
  4. Why is equality such an important concept to citizens?
  5. What are inalienable rights, and why are they important to all people?
  6. How can language be used to persuade a nation to fight in a war?

Check out our History lesson plans for more information and activities about the American Revolution!

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our English Language Arts Category!

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