Breaking Down Foundational Documents To Make Them More Manageable in an Online World

The AP Government curriculum has nine foundational documents, all of which I’ve written about at some point.

Some of these documents are A-R-D-U-O-U-S and long. Here are a few tips for breaking down the documents into what they need to know so you don’t overwhelm them or yourself. More extended materials are sometimes too hard, or students straight up do not read them. These are significant documents, and we want to ensure students learn what they say and why it’s relevant to the study of politics and government.

+Word clouds are not a new thing, but it’s worth asking how we can use them to help with reading comprehension. You can even take different documents and compare them. Ask students what they can glean from the word cloud. What is significant about the larger words? What can this tell us about intent? Even having a small conversation can increase reading comprehension.

    • Below is Letter from a Birmingham Jail. You can pair this with Frederick Douglass “What the Black Man Wants” and John Lewis’ Op-Ed and ask students to look at the words in each and how that moves over time and circumstances.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Letter from a Birmingham Jail.


+Have students LISTEN to the document. This isn’t always available, but it’s powerful. For the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, I suggest the HBO Words that Built America. It’s free to watch and super exciting to see WHO is reading it and WHY that matters.  

+Create a document that everyone can comment on (this works if you can use Google Classroom and Google Docs as it shows who made the comments) and invited students to use comments to annotate together. Kami is also an excellent annotation tool. This works best if you give annotations first and let them add to it.

+If you don’t have that, add it to a Padlet! You can save the Padlet and add it to your virtual space when you are finished. Padlet allows them to add videos, pictures, and links. There are a lot of controls in the settings to keep it private.

+Start them with a podcast! Check out my Unit Guides for more podcasts! Look, reading might not be the best way. Check the CED to ensure what is expected and go from there.


Lastly- consider what they need to know and go from there. Many of the documents contain language that no longer exists or reading levels that are too high for your students.

Need more? Check out my posts on the required documents.


Happy Reading!


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