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Chronological Reasoning and Causation

What does it mean to be an American Citizen: Then and Now?

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Suggested Teaching Instructions

Example IDM:

Title: What does it mean to be an American Citizen: Then and Now? 

Overview: Students will examine who was considered a citizen in early America and compare it to what it means to be a citizen today. 

Goal:  The goal is for students to understand that citizenship has changed throughout history. 

Objectives: Students will understand that the meaning of citizenship has changed over time. They will use  primary source documents to explore which groups of people were excluded and what has changed. 

Investigative (Compelling) Question: What does it mean to be an American Citizen: Then and Now? 

Time Required: 3 - 5 class periods 

Recommended Grade Range: Grades 3-5 

Subject: Social Studies 


3.7d The definition of citizenship and the role of the citizen vary across different types of political systems, and citizens play a greater role in the political process in some countries than in others.

4.4e Citizens of the State of New York have responsibilities that help their nation, their state, and their local communities function. Some responsibilities are stated in laws.

5.6b Legal, political, and historic documents define the values, beliefs, and principles of constitutional democracy


A. Gathering, Interpreting, and Using Evidence

B. Chronological Reasoning

F. Civic Participation

Credits: Jill Rogovic 


Materials Used: 

Inquiry Design Model Template: What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen: Then and Now?: 


Fifth Grade Citizenship Essay (for launch with QFT) from


Naturalization Act of 1790 : ​​That act said, that any free white person of good character could be a U.S. citizen. They had to live in the United States for two years, later they changed it to five years, and in the state where they applied for citizenship, for at least one year, and then take an oath to support the Constitution.

Naturalization Act of 1855: Congress passed this citizenship act in 1855. Through this act, a child born outside of the United States is a U.S. citizen if the child's father is a U.S. citizen. It also provides that alien immigrant women can gain citizenship through marriage to an American citizen, or the naturalization of their alien husband. It is Public Law 22, "An Act to secure the right of citizenship to citizens of the United States born out of the limits therein."

 Snyder Act of 1924: The Snyder Act of 1924 admitted Native Americans born in the U.S. to full U.S. citizenship. Though the Fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1870, granted all U.S. citizens the right to vote regardless of race, it wasn't until the Snyder Act that Native Americans could enjoy the rights granted by this amendment.

National Constitution Center Resources for the 14th Amendement.

The Citizens’ Almanac  :

Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities :

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website :

Learn About Citizenship :

Teacher Resources: 

Khan Academy: Video - Citizenship in early America, 1789-1830s

Voting Rights of Native Americans  : 

Voting rights of African Americans

Amending America: The 14th Amendment 

National Constitution Center Resources for the 14th Amendement.  :


12. Resources Used: 

Inquiry Design Model:

The Question Formulation Technique (QFT): Developed by the Right Question Institute, the Question Formulation Technique, or QFT, is a structured method for generating and improving questions. It distills sophisticated forms of divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking into a deceptively simple, accessible, and reproducible technique.


The QFT builds the skill of asking questions, an essential — yet often overlooked — lifelong learning skill that allows people to think critically, feel greater power and self-efficacy, and become more confident and ready to participate in civic life.

The QFT in 90 seconds video from InquirED :


Primary Source Document Analysis Worksheets  from the National Archives :


Documents from :


Project Zero: Core Thinking Routines


Description of Procedure: 

See Inquiry Design Model Template: What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen: Then and Now?  :  to teach this lesson as an inquiry. 

Compelling Question

Staging the Question

Supporting Questions

Performance Tasks


Summative Assessment

Call to Action 




Have student write an essay: What does it mean to you to be a citizen of the United States of America? (Be mindful of students who may not be US citizens - consider asking this a different way). The length of the essay will vary depending on the grade. Students can also make a video.