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Online Activity: Rewriting the Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence

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The Declaration of Independence: Rewriting the Rough Draft online activity

As students (and teachers) begin looking ahead to summer, why not celebrate the Fourth of July a little early in your classroom?

The Declaration of Independence: Rewriting the Rough Draft, an online activity from the Library of Congress, challenges students to explore evidence of the creative process behind one of our nation’s founding documents using close reading and analysis skills. Through this ready-to-use, hands-on activity, students can observe details of Thomas Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence–his handwriting, notations, cross-outs, and scribbles. They may be surprised to discover that even our nation’s Founding Fathers wrote drafts.

Students may also be interested to learn that Jefferson gave his original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence to others, including Benjamin Franklin and future president John Adams, for editing. [Note: For more details about the story behind the edits, read Jefferson’s Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence: A Primary Source Starter, previously posted to this blog by my colleague, Stephen Wesson.]

Rewriting the Rough Draft prompts students to examine edits in a section of Jefferson’s draft. For each edit, they must choose between Jefferson’s original text and the edited text. Through this process, students create a new draft and, after finding all of the edits, can compare their draft of the Declaration side-by-side with the first printed version.

A transcription showing revisions in The Declaration of Independence: Rewriting the Rough Draft online activity

By helping students to critically examine evidence of the creative process that produced the Declaration of Independence, this online activity demonstrates the importance of language, tone and word choice. For example, even a seemingly insignificant change in wording, such as replacing “a people” with “one people,” dramatically altered the meaning and expression of our nation’s democratic principles, first declared to the world in this document.

Consider these teaching ideas for your classroom or tech lab:

  • Invite pairs of students to try their hand at rewriting the Declaration through the online activity. Afterwards, review all of the edits together as a class, asking students to compare and defend each of their editing choices. Which version—Jefferson’s original text or the edited text—did they select and why?
  • After completing the online activity, have students use the Primary Source Analysis Tool from the Library of Congress to analyze the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence. Refer to the online activity’s Resources for Teachers for a printable PDF of this first printed version, along with other resources available from the Library’s website.
  • Have students investigate the Declaration of Independence’s influence on the tone and wording of later historical documents. For example, how did revolutionaries in France, or members of the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements in the United States, draw inspiration and adapt language from the Declaration when issuing their own proclamations?

Before starting, check to see if you need a Silverlight plug-in on your computers.

For additional information on Jefferson’s writing of this founding document, written at a reading level for younger students, visit America’s Library: The Declaration of Independence.

What new insights or appreciation do you think your students might gain about our nation’s democratic principles from exploring The Declaration of Independence: Rewriting the Rough Draft online activity?

Comments (3)

  1. Would it be possible in the future to allow students to pick a third option with the draft–to write their own idea?

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