Create an Independence Day Activity (or 8!) With Formative
The Classroom

Create an Independence Day Activity (or 8!) With Formative

Laura Lewis
Jun 20, 2024

When do you teach about Independence Day in your classroom? Whether you talk about it during a relevant social studies lesson or in summer school, how do your students react? Chances are they get more excited talking about picnics and fireworks than talking about the Declaration of Independence. But what if you could change that? 

Today, we’re showing you how to create an Independence Day activity (or eight!) that will get your students thinking about history in brand-new ways.

8 historical activities to add to your Independence Day lessons

How do you take a 200-year-old document and make it relevant for today’s students? What about getting them interested in a newspaper article from before the United States as we know it today even existed? Using primary sources in the social studies classroom is a great way to send students back in time and drop them in a historical moment. But only if you can keep them engaged.

We’ve collected eight primary sources you can use to teach about the Fourth of July in your classroom. They each have an interactive activity from the shared Formative Library to keep students engaged and make lesson planning even easier.  

You can customize these activity templates by adjusting settings like randomizing the order of questions and answer choices or awarding partial credit for certain questions. You can also modify the existing questions or add content to fit your classroom’s needs more for a fuller, comprehensive assessment.

Plus, with a Newsela Social Studies license, sharing these primary sources and interactive activities together is easier than ever! With each document, newspaper article, letter, and speech available at five reading levels, you can share activities that will get student sin every grade band thinking about the history behind Independence Day:

1. The Boston Tea Party (1773)

Take students on a time-travel journey to a time back before the American Revolution began. With this interactive activity about the Boston Tea Party, they’ll read an article published in the “Boston Gazette” in 1773 that announced how colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor to protest the British tax on it. After reading, have students answer the three check-for-understanding questions about:

  • Why the colonists protested.

  • Which historical questions this primary source answers.

  • What quotes from the article are fact vs. opinion.

2. The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, adopted in 1776, was the colonists' official plea to become independent from British rule. With this activity, students can read the full text of the document (including the names of all the signatories!) at five different reading levels. After reading, they can answer three questions about:

  • The purpose of the document.

  • Historical questions the document answers.

  • How to categorize quotes from the document into true injustices and colonist complaints.

3. The Articles of Confederation

Following the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the start of the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation, adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777, established the United States’ first national government. Use this activity to have students read the full text of the document. Then use the interactive assessment to check students’ comprehension of:

  • The purpose of the document.

  • Which articles cover protections of which rights.

  • The powers of the national and state governments under the new document.

4. Alexander Hamilton finds deficiencies in the Constitution, 1780

Though the Continental Congress adopted the Articles as the nation’s first constitution in 1777, all 13 states didn’t ratify the document until 1781. Before that happened, Alexander Hamilton had time to review—and critique—the messaging. In a letter to Revolutionary leader James Duane, he shared his concerns about the Articles unfairly dividing power between the federal and state governments. With this activity, students can read Hamilton’s full letter and answer questions about:

  • The author’s purpose for writing the letter.

  • Comparing Hamilton’s views on the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

  • The areas where Congress has too much or too little power according to the Articles.

5. George Washington criticizes the Articles of Confederation, 1785

The Articles of Confederation made significant strides in unifying the 13 states. But like Hamilton, others thought there was room for improvement. George Washington, who would become the nation’s first president, wrote a letter in 1785 criticizing the Articles and the lack of a strong central government in the nation. With this activity, students can read Washington’s letter and answer questions about:

  • The letter’s purpose.

  • Quotes that support Washington’s critiques of the Articles of Confederation.

  • Viewpoints on the Articles and whether Washington would agree or disagree with them.

6. The Constitution of the United States

Washington wasn’t the only person to find problems with the Articles of Confederation. These criticisms prompted a new document, the Constitution of the United States, ratified by 9 of 13 states in 1788. This document created a stronger central government that we still use today. With this activity, students read the full text of the document and answer questions about:

  • The purpose of the preamble to the Constitution.

  • Qualifications for citizens to hold public office.

  • The powers of different branches of government as outlined in the Constitution.

7. The Bill of Rights

Even with the Constitution in place, state representatives still wanted more clarification on the rights of their citizens. In 1791, Congress adopted the Bill of Rights to share guaranteed civil rights and liberties for all United States citizens. With this activity, students can read the full text of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and answer questions that:

  • Require students to find textual evidence that supports certain rights of American citizens.

  • Have students identify government limitations in the Bill of Rights.

  • Sort rights and freedoms that are and aren’t guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

8. “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”: A speech by Frederick Douglass

Even after people in the United States started celebrating the Fourth of July, not everyone felt the holiday applied to them. In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at an Independence Day ceremony in New York where he criticized the United States for its support of slavery. With this activity, students can read the full text of Douglass’ speech and answer questions about:

  • What historical question this source answers.

  • The evidence Douglass used to support his argument against celebrating the Fourth of July while slavery still existed.

  • Statements from the speech that support Douglass’ perspectives of slavery and the celebration of American independence.

Create an engaging Independence Day activity with Formative

The Formative Library has a variety of free, pre-made activities developed by our curriculum experts and educators like you. You can use these templates as-is or customize them to fit your instructional needs. To find what you’re looking for, use the library’s sort filters to browse content by subject, grade level, and even language.

If you don’t see a template that matches your lesson, create your own! Log into your Formative account and choose how you want to make your activity or assessment. You can create a brand new document, import content from Google, or enhance a .PDF or .Doc that already exists.

Don’t have a Formative account yet? Sign up for Formative Bronze for free today to start creating activities for Independence Day and beyond!

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