Breaking Up with the British: The Declaration of Independence

Civics Lesson Plans banner

Lesson At A Glance

This will be one of the first lessons within a unit entitled “America’s Promise:  Fulfilled … or, Broken?.” This lesson outlines some of the founding principles of democracy, as found in The Declaration of Independence.


  • Students will understand the basic premises of democracy, as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Standards Addressed: 

Social Science:

12.1   Students explain the fundamental principles and moral values of American democracy as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and other essential documents of American democracy.

1. Analyze the influence of ancient Greek, Roman, English, and leading European political thinkers such as John Locke, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, Niccolò Machiavelli, and William Blackstone on the development of American government.

3. Explain how the U.S. Constitution reflects a balance between the classical republican concern with promotion of the public good and the classical liberal concern with protecting individual rights; and discuss how the basic premises of liberal constitutionalism and democracy are joined in the Declaration of Independence as “self-evident truths.”

Visual & Performing Arts 


Creating, Performing, and Participating in Theatre

Students apply processes and skills in acting, directing, designing, and scriptwriting to create formal and informal theatre, film/videos, and electronic media productions and to perform in them.

Common Core State Standards for ENGLISH LANGUAGE ART S & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading Grades 6-12

Key Ideas and Details

1.  Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2.  Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure

4.  Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

10.  Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing Grades 6-12

Production and Distribution of Writing

4.  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Essential Questions/Issues:

1. What does it mean to be a citizen?

2. Does legal documentation of citizenship change one’s rights and responsibilities?  Should it?

3. Is it important that we know our rights? Why or why not?


Students will perform a “Breaking up with the British” song, in which they alter the lyrics to a popular song, making sure to include key themes from the Declaration of Independence.

Click here to download assessment tools

Activity Steps:

1. Hook: Breaking up is Hard to Do - Show a picture of divorced couples and explain that sometimes, really long relationships end. Despite how hard you try, there are things about the other person that just aren’t compatible with you. After enough trying and fighting, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

2. The Declaration of Independence was our break-up letter to King George III and Britain. Class brainstorm: What did it say? Why did we write it?

3. Show Music Video: “Too Late to Apologize” & lyrics. Discuss the problems that the colonists had with Britain.

4. In partners, students read and discuss the Declaration of Independence. Students will read, highlight, paraphrase, and discuss sections of the document.

  • Teacher reads sections 1-6 aloud. Working in partners, assign groups to read and paraphrase sections 1-6. Have groups share out with the class, projecting the chart and filling it in with the students following along and doing the same.
  • Have students find and highlight what they believe to be the most important beliefs about the role of government. Discuss.
  • Assign partners 1-2 grievances to be in charge of paraphrasing and explaining to the class. They must explain the grievance and discuss why this was an issue worth being upset about. Share out and give students time to fill out their charts.
  • Have students highlight the three most important grievances. Which ones are worth “breaking up” for? Why? 
  • Merge partner groups into larger groups of 4. Assign them one of sections 7-11 to paraphrase and discuss. Students will create tableaus, scenes showing the main ideas in the Declaration about the role of government, the rights of citizens, and the colonies’ grievances.

5. Students will be given a list of break-up songs, which they then have to alter the lyrics to so that it becomes a song about the U.S. breaking up with Great Britain. Their lyrics must contain vocabulary words and main ideas from the Declaration of Independence. Students will perform these songs with an instrumental track accompanying them.

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson: 

1. Use the Declaration of Independence glossary to assist with reading.

2. Mixed ability partner groups allow students to share their strengths and learn from others.

3. Advanced students can ¬¬create longer songs, add choreography to their songs when they finish with lyrics, and can be required to utilize more vocabulary words in their songs.

Extension Ideas:

Students can record their work in either audio or video format and share it on the web! Students can create their own music video and share that on the web as well!

Materials and Resources Needed:

  • Projector
  • Copies of Lyrics
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Declaration of Independence Glossary
  • TJ and the Revo music video
  • Instrumental Tracks of songs

(i.e., H/SS Framework, websites referenced, books, videos, primary sources)

Student Handouts:

Download student handouts here