K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • Change in a democratic society (Lesson 1 of 3): This lesson will demonstrate how art can imitate society. Students will learn about democracy in America through an examination of and a Paideia seminar on "The Sword of Damocles," an oil painting by British painter Richard Westall. This lesson should be used after a study of colonial times in America and through the American Revolution.
  • Changes in a democratic society (Lesson 3 of 3): This lesson is a follow-up to Changes in a Democratic Society, Lessons 1 and 2. Students will reflect upon and respond to a sculpture by Auguste Rodin, "Monument for the Defense of Paris." Permission has been granted by Ackland Art Museum to use the following sculptures: "Monument for the Defense of Paris" (Auguste Rodin) and "Wisdom Supporting Liberty" (Aime-Jules Dalou).
  • The Craft Revival and economic change: In this lesson plan, originally published on the Craft Revival website, students will interpret photographs and artifacts as representations of western North Carolina’s economy at the turn of the century. They will also analyze historical census data and produce a visual web that will represent the changing nature of the economy of western North Carolina.

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This lesson plan is the second in a series of three. The other two are:

Learning outcomes

Concept Goal

  • Students will use information from primary and secondary sources to reflect on the formation of American democracy.
  • Students will understand and appreciate the American system of government.
  • Students will examine art work that reflects the theme of democracy.

Content Goal

  • Students will understand the history of democracy in the U.S.
  • Students will investigate the framework of the Constitution as the scaffold of democracy.
  • Students will identify the key components in the Constitution which established democracy.

Process Goals

  • Students will develop reasoning skills in Social Studies.

Content Outcome

  • Learners will identify implications of democratic change.
  • Learners will examine how democracy requires change to persist or endure to meet the changes in society.
  • Learners will investigate how change in a democracy is caused by the influence of individuals and groups.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

1-2 Days


  • Copy of the Constitution
  • Research materials in the media center and on-line
  • U.S. History textbook
  • Selected art work from Ackland Art Museum and The Sword of Damocles by Richard Westall.
  • On-line museum sites

Technology resources

  • Computers
  • Internet
  • Powerpoint


Participation in inner or outer circle of Paideia seminar on Westall painting “The Sword of Damocles” is required to complete the post seminar activity. Please refer to “Changes in a Democratic Society, Lesson 1 of 3″ for further information. Permission has been granted by Ackland Art Museum to use this painting.


The post seminar activity will be tiered in three levels. Students will work in groups on one of the three assignments. Groupings of students will be designated by the teacher in order to differentiate for the various ability levels within the class.

Level I Activity

View the Richard Westall painting, “The Sword of Damocles.” From the point of view of a loyalist or a patriot, list at least 5 reasons why you like or dislike this painting. Keep in mind the events that are happening. Then, select one of the following:

  1. Write a letter to King George if you are a loyalist telling him your feelings about this painting. Include the 5 reasons you listed above in your letter and provide sufficient elaboration for each reason.
  2. Write a letter to the editor of The Colonial Times in which you let the readers know of your feelings about this painting. Include the 5 reasons you listed above in your letter and provide sufficient elaboration for each reason.
  3. Create your own painting or other type of artwork to express the idea of democracy in the new nation.

Use the Level I Activity Rubric for the guidelines and expectations to complete this assignment. Give students a copy of the rubric as they work in order for them to have a clear cut understanding of the expectations and guidelines.

Level II Activity

What leader of America or North Carolina might you have traded places with during and through the American Revolution? What “swords” (problems) and “banquets” (perks) might you have encountered?

As that leader, write a letter to your wife, parent, or friend in which you tell of your feelings about democracy and its good and bad points. Cite two specific examples from history to back up your positions. In your letter, refer to the sword of Damocles or “hanging by a thread” in the proper context.

Use the Level II Activity rubric for assessment purposes. Give students a copy of the rubric as they work in order for them to have a clear cut understanding of expectations and guidelines. Some suggested leaders include:

  • Josiah Martin
  • Governor Tryon
  • Cornelius Harnett
  • Richard Caswell
  • George Washington
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Jefferson

Level III Activity

You are on a museum committee to select paintings and other works of art for a new exhibit entitled “Democracy in America”.

Link to one or more of the art/museum on-line sites. Find another work of art which is representative of the changes in democracy that America underwent from 1776-1814. Defend your choice. Write a letter to the curator of a museum arguing for the inclusion of the painting in a collection on democracy. Consult Level III Activity rubric for guidelines and expectations for this letter.


See attached rubrics for the assessment criteria for the three levels.

Supplemental information


The students had two computer lab days and homework time on this section. Two teachers were constantly busy with computer help as well as encouragement. At some computers there were problems with the connections. A technical helper in the lab or a parent volunteer would have been very beneficial in facilitating this lesson.

The students experienced growth in the area of reading for understanding.

Students’ comments included:
“have more sites to check out”
“easier questions”
“more teachers to help in lab”
“I learned if you look closely, all pieces of art have a message. You just have to look closely and think.”
“I learned to look at things in more depth.”
“We needed more time, but it was fun and creative.”
“I need to learn how to think a little better about what the questions are trying to say.”
“I need to work on my vocabulary in order to be able to answer the questions better.”

This lesson was constructed before knowing our specific students. We made assumptions about prior knowledge and thinking skills. Very capable students wanted explanations to avoid thinking for themselves. Some students had not yet learned about the format for a business letter. Adding a link to the correct format for a business letter would be helpful.

A day in the middle for teacher conference and for whole class questions would be wise. The students would benefit from brainstorming with a partner. The tiered assignments were helpful to ensure that the students were working at their level.

Level I students would have been more successful if that lesson had been formatted on a single page attachment instead of having to skip from place to place. Having Levels II and III activities on the same site bothered some of these students. Samples would have been beneficial.

For Level II students, we could have added links to information about the famous people.

This unit was developed during and following summer institutes at William and Mary on Curriculum for High-Ability Learners and at LEARN NC for integrated curriculum using visual art through Ackland Art Museum.

This lesson plan was created in a LEARN NC workshop held in Chapel Hill. This workshop was funded by the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for the purpose of giving teachers the time, energy, and resources to create lesson plans. Using the Ackland Museum in Chapel Hill was an inspiration for helping us to incorporate the elements of arts education into our series of lessons.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.H.1 Apply historical thinking to understand the creation and development of North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.1.1 Construct charts, graphs, and historical narratives to explain particular events or issues. 8.H.1.2 Summarize the literal meaning of...
      • United States History I

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 2: The learner will trace the causes and effects of the Revolutionary War, and assess the impact of major events, problems, and personalities during the Constitutional Period in North Carolina and the new nation.
    • Objective 2.01: Trace the events leading up to the Revolutionary War and evaluate their relative significance in the onset of hostilities.
    • Objective 2.02: Describe the contributions of key North Carolina and national personalities from the Revolutionary War era and assess their influence on the outcome of the war.
    • Objective 2.05: Describe the impact of documents such as the Mecklenburg Resolves, the Halifax Resolves, the Albany Plan of Union, the Declaration of Independence, the State Constitution of 1776, the Articles of Confederation, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights on the formation of the state and national governments.