A Dictionary of Independence

Language Arts and Social Studies Activity

Using events and biographies from their state's history and U.S. history, students create a dictionary of terms for citizens of a democracy.



  1. Write some of the following terms on the chalkboard:

    equal rights

  2. Tell students that they are going to create a "dictionary of independence" by defining words that are important to good citizenship, such as the ones on the chalkboard. Tell them they will then write a one- or two-paragraph example, or brief, from their nation's or the state's history to illustrate the use and meaning of the words. For example, in defining "independence," they might include the first few lines of the Declaration of Independence or describe how Sam Houston helped Texas gain its independence from Mexico.

  3. With the class, brainstorm to add other words to the list on the board, including words that can be illustrated by examples from state history. Divide the list among the participating students so that each has no more than two. (If it is necessary to have more than one student be responsible for the same term, have them work together to provide more than one brief to support it.)

  4. Students should then write the terms, the dictionary definition, and the brief neatly on sheets of paper of the same size. Students may also enjoy illustrating their terms. Choose one student to create a durable cover for the dictionary pages, then bind all entries together (in alphabetical order) for the library or classroom.


Encourage students, individually or in groups, to present their briefs as dramatizations. This might be in the form of an excerpt from a speech (for example, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech to represent "equal rights"), a reenactment of a historic event, or a reading of a letter, journal, or other primary source.

Have students interpret some of the terms from diverse viewpoints -- for example, Native Americans and Europeans, men and women, Anglo settlers and Mexican rulers, plantation owners and enslaved workers.

Activity Search | Reading Center | Math Center | Social Studies Center
Education Place | Site Index

You may download, print and make copies of this page for use in your classroom, provided that you include the copyright notice shown below on all such copies.

Copyright © 1998 Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.