Thursday, October 30, 2008

Teaching the Declaration of Independence as a Break Up Letter - Podcast and Video

NOTE : This post is an update of my podcast and post from about a year ago describing how I use a fictional break up letter to help teach the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. In the original podcast, from September 2008, I included audio of my class while doing this activity. Today - October 30, 2008 - I did this activity with my 8th graders and instead of capturing their reaction using audio, I used my Flip video camera and took video of the activity while it was happening. It was great and really shows how the activity works in a real classroom. I have embedded the video with this post.

Hello. Today's podcast describes one of the activities I use in class to teach about the Declaration of Independence. Students often don't really understand the purpose of the document and this activity usually helps. I act as if I have found a note on the floor of my class the day before after school and then I read it to the class. It is a break up letter and at the end the students are stunned to learn that it is from "the American Colonies". I have included the text of the letter that I use below and the podcast has a recording of what happens when I read the letter in class and the discussion that follows. The podcast also has some hints and suggestions if you would like to replicate this activity in your classroom. I'm sure someone out there does something similar but I have not been able to find it anywhere else. I really enjoy this activity and my students have fun with it as well.

If you have any comments or questions please leave a comment on the blog or send me an e-mail at

Text of the letter that I read to my class this year:

I'm not sure how to start this letter but I feel we need to talk. I've been thinking about us a lot lately. Things used to be so great - it was like we were M.F.E.O. I mean everyone said it was perfect. I really thought we would be together forever but then things changed.

I feel like you started to take me for granted. You just started to do whatever you wanted and never even asked me about anything or how I felt.

I've been thinking about this for a while and I don't want to hurt you but I think it is time we broke up. I mean it's just not going to work. I need some time by myself to see what it is like on my own. I'm sorry things didn't work out but I do think YOU are the one to blame. Sorry but "US" is over.

The American Colonies


  1. I used to teach the DofI as an interaction between a parent and a rebellious teen. Love the breakup letter idea... nicely done!

  2. What a great activity! Thanks so much for sharing the video with us, it was fun to watch the students' reactions!!

  3. I love the part where you said you had to preview it first and one of your students said, "We're thirteen, c'mon!" Great stuff!

    Mr. C

  4. I just wanted to let you know that I used the "break-up" letter idea today in my 8th grade social studies class. The kids loved it. Thanks for sharing all of your great ideas!

  5. Eric,
    That is so great! I just love the reactions of your students. Thank you for making this lesson meaningful for your students and sharing it with us.


  6. This is a great idea! Seriously, I'm going to use it next year. This lesson would be a good way of showing the practical/political reasons for the DofI.

    But I also think the DofI is so much more. I usually talk about why Jefferson thought man should be free, the thinking behind this movement, and how it was the thesis statement for the Constitution -- My 8th graders EAT THIS UP! The discussions on Natural Law and and the philosophy behind the Revolutionary movement in the Colonies is the best unit of the year, year after year. You don't have to believe in a God or Creator to understand and agree with the ideals behind the arguments layed out in the DofI.

  7. Anonymous11:52 PM

    I used this idea in a high school class and they loved it. It was a great way to help the students relate to the declaration. I also had each of the students write their own break up letter. Worked great!!

    1. Anonymous6:19 AM

      I am a student and it is to hard to think of ideas for the Break Up Letter!!!!!

  8. Anonymous9:45 PM

    I did this with my 8th graders today and all I have to say is THANK YOU for sharing!

  9. This is great! I'm going to try it today, and see where it goes...

  10. Anonymous7:34 PM

    I can't wait to try this with my 7th graders! They're gonna DIE when they hear it. Ill post back with their reactions! So excited! Thanks for the idea!

  11. Anonymous12:53 PM

    This had brilliant results in my class.

  12. Anonymous8:57 AM

    I love it! Its a real attention getter!

  13. I tried this with my 11th graders when I was student teaching last year, and it was a hit! I have a US History class this year and will be doing it all over again. I used it to segue into summarizing the Declaration and what it really says. I learned my kids didn't know how to summarize, so walked them through the process. I then divided them into groups and gave each group a portion of the Declaration. They had to put that part in modern day words using no more than 2 sentences. They loved it!

  14. Anonymous1:18 PM

    I just finished using this activity with my 8th graders today. All the kids loved it, there were some great comments coming from the crowd as I read the letter. Thanks for sharing this great idea!!

  15. Anonymous3:22 PM

    Thanks for the GREAT idea! This put the idea of the D of I across to my ELL students in a tangible "real" way! Awesome!

  16. Anonymous4:47 PM

    I am so excited to try this out with my students. I think they will love it. Thank you so much for posting. :)

  17. Lari in Florida4:32 PM

    I did this with my 8th graders several months ago and they are STILL talking about it! It has been one of the most effective tools I've used this year. Thanks for sharing a great idea!

  18. I did this with Taylor Swift song "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" as part of the hook. The kids loved first. They still hated studying the document.

  19. Anonymous10:16 PM

    I'm going to use this tomorrow in an eleventh grade English class with many ELL students. Thanks man!

    --Student Teacher

  20. I adapted this intro for my 3rd graders and they absolutely loved it!! Thank you so much!!

  21. Thank you so much for sharing! I am going to try this tomorrow with my level one ELL sheltered U.S. History class. I think they will love it and will be able to connect to it!

  22. Anonymous2:55 PM

    I just did this activity with my 8th Grade US history class. I used this as an introduction into a group translation of the List of Grievances. "Colonists and Britain want to break up, now read this and tell me the reasons why!" Worked awesome! Thanks.

  23. I loved this concept, but altered the letter a little to follow along with the idea of the four parts of the DofI. Preamble, Statement of Rights, Grievances and Statement of Independence. I think (hope) it really got my 5th graders to _think_!

  24. JenaInBonlee6:54 PM

    I used this letter with my 8th grade class and they loved it. Thank you for the wonderful idea!