Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 5-12, students play a game called Race to Ratify that brings them back in time to 1787 and into the heated national debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Through interviews with politicians, merchants, businessmen, and others in all 13 states, students form an opinion, then compose pamphlets persuading to ratify or reject the existing Constitution.   

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Identify the main positions of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists between 1787 and 1789.
  2. Understand the key debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution.
  3. Interact with the ideas, perspectives, and arguments that defined the ratification debate.
  4. Explore the different viewpoints, spanning geographic regions, populations, and socio-economic class.
  5. Identify the building blocks of the proposed Constitution.



This lesson plan features a game called Race to Ratify developed by our partner,  iCivics. The game transports students to 1787 to explore the issues deeply dividing the 13 states about whether ratify or reject the newly-drafted Constitution. Once they form an opinion, students write pamphlets persuading others towards their Federalist or Anti-Federalist point of view.  

Review the Race to Ratify Game Guide for step-by-step directions on how to play the game. Then, preview and play Race to Ratify to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

You may also want to review the Race to Ratify History Files, designed to support teaching the game with helpful vocabulary, a timeline of ratification, research, and additional ideas for activities in your classroom. Determine which, if any, activities to use before, during, or after game play.

Next, preview and print out the extension activities, which include pre- and post activities along with a mini-quiz. Make enough copies for each student, or for pairs if they’re working that way.

For ideas on how to use SnapThought with this game and for specific prompts to provide students with during game play, read Race to Ratify: SnapThought Prompts

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies:

Constitutional Convention, U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Democracy, Branches of Government, Articles of Confederation

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Begin the lesson with a class discussion about the Constitution. Ask the following prompts to spark the discussion:
    • What document organized the new government after America won the Revolutionary War? Why didn’t it last?
    • How do you think people reacted to the new Constitution in 1787? Why might they have liked it or not liked it?
    • How did people communicate back in the 1780s? Where did they get their information?
    • Which kind of groups had more power in the 1700s, less power? What has changed since then? What hasn’t?
  2. Display the BrainPOP movie  U.S. Constitution on the whiteboard and watch as a whole class. After the movie, review key concepts they will need to know to play the game, including Anti-Federalist, Articles of Confederation, Federalist, ratification, and monarchy. For more associated concepts, see the History Files glossary section.
  3. Next, display Race to Ratify on the whiteboard. Explain to the class that in this game, they will go back to 1787 where they “meet” supporters and opponents of the new Constitution from the 13 states. Upon forming their own opinion, students are to influence others through pamphlets — the social media of the time!
  4. To prepare students for the game, download and distribute the two pre-game extension activities: Ye Olde Social Media and Before the Constitution.
  5. Now have students play Race to Ratify. They can either jump in and start playing, or if needed, you can model how to play, reviewing the steps as outlined in the Game Guide.
  6. Students can play independently, in pairs, or in small group. Circulate, listening in to students’ discussions and decision-making, providing support as needed. Game takes between 30 to 45 minutes to play, so you may want to have them play over two or three class periods.
  7. If students have individual logins through My BrainPOP, encourage them to use the SnapThought® tool to take snapshots during the debate and after. Review Race to Ratify: SnapThought Prompts for suggested prompts.
  8. After playing, challenge students to identify Federalist vs Anti-Federalist statements by completing the post-game extension activities, Whose Argument Is It? and Race to Ratify Mini-Quiz.
  9. Finally, come together as a class to discuss what they learned. Ask the following post-game questions:  
    • What surprised you in the individual interviews? What did you learn that you didn’t already know?
    • How did the responses differ across gender, class, and geography?
    • Which side did you choose? Did you feel the same after the game ended? Would you have chosen that side if you lived back in that time?
    • What was your strategy to win? What impact did the competing pamphleteer have on your strategy?
    • What topics (tokens) came up in conversation again and again? Why do you think these topics were so popular?

Extension Activities:

  • Ask students to select one of the issues and write a longer pamphlet article taking a side.
  • Have students read various selections of The Federalist Papers and other Anti-Federalist writings and assign which tokens each covers.
  • Ask students to research the real state-by-state strategy used to convince Americans and the convention delegates to ratify the Constitution. (Hint: James Madison was the mastermind.) How did this differ from current political campaigns, how is it similar?