Articles of Confederation Lesson

Articles of Confederation Lesson

By Allie Niese

Subject: US Government and Civics


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce study of the Articles of Confederation and the spawning discontents which led to the Constitutional Convention and adoption of a new government under the Constitution. This text-heavy lesson focused on literacy strategies before, during, and after reading is aimed at assisting student comprehension and focusing on relevant sites for exploration throughout the remainder of the unit. The objective of the unit is to critically identify and asses the parts of government and to explore how perspectives on purpose change given differing contexts. The texts to be read in this lesson include lesson 8 and the theft of the Articles of Confederation from We the People: the Citizen and Constitution.

Critical Engagement Questions & Lesson Objectives

  1. What were the Articles of Confederation and what did they enumerate?
  2. Why did we replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution?
  3. What type of government did the post-independence Congress hope to create?
  4. Why were issues like taxation, boundaries, and law-making power so salient to the Second Continental Congress, and were they resolved in the Articles?
  5. How did the unresolved issues and ambiguities rampant in the Articles lead to the calling of the Constitutional Convention?
  6. How are we doing today? Does our existing Constitution satisfactorily answer the issues that plagued the Articles of Confederation? Are there new issues to be considered?


  1. Primary text: Unit Two, Lesson 8 (pages 59-66) of We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation
  2. Primary source: Printed and/or single digital version of the 5 political cartoons published in the colonies during the American Revolution
  3. Printed copies of discussion web
  4. Student journals

Teacher Warm-Up

Three-Part Blog from the National Constitution Center, "The Road to Union: America's Forgotten First Constitution"

Part One: An account of the Second Continental Congress, which birthed our nation's first constitution. Ripe with primary evidence and easy to read, Part A is focused on the two diverging views of government that emerged during the beginning stages of development. We get a nice bulleted list of what the first (and most influential) draft of the Articles, the Dickinson Draft, included.

Part Two: Continues where the story leaves off with the debates and changes brought about as the Dickinson Draft was considered in the full Congress. Three issues are highlighted and discuss: basis of Taxation, control of western territories, and representation in Congress. Again, we get a great discussion of issues which will be visited during the Constitutional Convention. Part two ends with the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1781. 

Part Three: The shortest and most concise of the series, part three deals with the challenges the new nation faced under the limitations of the Articles of Confederation. We read about the weaknesses in Taxation, Commerce and Trade, and Flexibility (ability to amend), both in definition and how these weaknesses affected America's reputation. Part Three ends with the Annapolis convention and resulting report calling for what would eventually be the Constitutional Convention.'s Articles of Confederation article, which comes from the Reader's Companion to American History by Eric Foner and John Garraty 

A shorter and more concise, but less complex, discussion of the Articles of Confederation. This article covers: strengths and weaknesses, reasoning for the adoption of the Articles, and a history of the Articles' development and adoption. This includes some interesting mention of issues that foreshadowed the great debates had during the Constitutional Convention. 


Before Reading 
  1. Present students with the five political cartoons in 30 second intervals, prefacing the presentation by stating, "Today we will be examining the Articles of Confederation. Before we jump into reading though, let's take a look at some political cartoons that were published during the revolution, when the Articles were adopted. While we view these images, I'd like you to think about the type of alternative government colonists were arguing for in their rebellion against the crown. I want you to consider these images as memory joggers rather than limiting facts."
  2. After students view the images, students spend four minutes writing in their journals in reflection of what the images suggest to them about revolutionary government wishes.
  3. Now, before having students spend the next 20 minutes reading the lesson and Articles of Confederation, spend a few minutes modeling how to read the Articles of Confederation. Make special note of antiquated vocabulary and phrases such as, "in Congress assembled..."
During Reading
  1. As students read, have them fill out their discussion web with statements and evidence to support either side of the question at issue. 
  2. The Controversial issue to be explored in this lesson is: What type of government was newly independent America looking for? Did it achieve it with the Articles of Confederation?
  3. While reading the Articles of Confederation, students should additionally be marking their text with plus signs to denote that they understand the new material, or question marks to indicate that they found the new information confusing.
After Reading 
  1. After students complete their discussion web, have students meet in their units to discuss what they've read. In their units, students should discuss what they've found for each side of the argument, and help each other in searching for evidence in the Articles of Confederation that might support their claims further.
  2. After giving units seven or so minutes to debate, bring the class together for another seven minute fishbowl discussion of the opposing sides, creating a list of strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation on the blackboard. 

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