Investigative Question

What does it mean to be a citizen? How has the meaning of citizenship changed over time?

After studying the freedoms citizens enjoy in American democracy, students then consider the path to becoming a citizen, and the obligations of citizenship, such as serving on a jury, paying taxes, and obeying the law in an attempt to answer the question, What does it mean to be a citizen? Students learn that democracies depend upon an actively engaged citizenry — individuals who fully participate in the responsibilities of citizenship (such as voting, serving in the military, or regular public service) — for their long-term survival.

This inquiry set is designed in two parts to address the question, What does it mean to be a citizen? Sources 1 – 4 constitute part A and are focused on defining citizenship in a contemporary context, first on a global and then on a national scale. Source 1, from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), explains two ways that countries legally determine citizenship and interpret what that means on a worldwide scale. The next two sources provide explanations of how the United States grants citizenship, either from birth or through naturalization. Source 4 lists the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship in the United States today as defined by the US government.
The Sources in part B (5 – 10) are designed to provide historical examples of how the meaning of citizenship has changed over time for different groups now included in our definition of citizenship. These sources span from 1790 to the antebellum and post–Civil War era, through the twentieth century when Japanese and Japanese Americans wrestled with citizenship rights in the context of war. These documents help answer the question, How has the meaning of citizenship changed over time? The sources provide historical examples of how the determination of citizenship has expanded or contracted for different groups of people living in America. They begin to illustrate that there is not a linear increase or decrease in citizenship, but that groups of Americans have continually sought access to citizenship with varying degrees of success. The sources also illustrate how the federal government has responded to some of these calls for citizenship rights. Taken as a group, these sources illustrate that although there is no one answer to the question, How has citizenship changed over time? students should look to the ways in which this has changed dramatically over the past 200 years to see that there is no static definition of citizenship.
Although the two parts of this inquiry set could be done in any order, it is recommended to go through part A until everyone has a clear idea of what it means to be a citizen of the United States today. The Academic Conversation Literacy Strategies that are provided would work best with part B sources. Refer to the teacher directions and related handouts for instructions on how to organize the pedagogy and literacy of this inquiry set.

Below are teacher directions for Structured Academic Conversations. This literacy strategy can be adapted to a variety of topics, but it is particularly relevant to a topic in which students wrestle with change over time or a variety of perspectives on the same topic, as they do in documents 5 – 10 in this inquiry set. One way to structure this activity is for students to be divided into groups of three or four. Each group is provided with a different sources (group 1 is provided with Source 5, group 2 is provided with Source 6, etc.). Each student completes a source analysis sheet (also included in this inquiry set) to prepare them for the conversation. Then, within each group, students should have a “Clarify and Elaborate” conversation about the author and content of the source (details listed below). After the group discussion of the same source, each student should find a partner from a different group, and then do a “Stand and Synthesize + Paraphrase” (Convo 2) activity.

  1. Assign students to groups.
  2. Give each group a different source.
  3. Each student conducts a close reading of the document and then completes the Source Analysis Worksheet.
  4. Groups discuss what they learned from the reading for 5 – 10 minutes using conversation starters.
    • One begins discussion by Asking a Clarifying Question.
    • Each group member responds to the question by Elaborating on an Idea, going in clockwise order. If students are comfortable, they may also use Supporting Your Idea, Build on an Idea, or Challenging an Idea. Students MUST offer new or more detailed information each time.
    • The next member in the group then Asks a Clarifying Question, and the rest of the group responds using the sentence frames.
    • The conversation continues until all group members have had a chance to Ask a Clarifying Question.
  5. The conversation continues until all group members have had a chance to Ask a Clarifying Question.
This discussion can be used to review information from an activity, a reading, a lecture, or a set of documents.
  1. Pair students (if they were in groups before, each partner should be from a different group).
  2. Partners assign themselves to be either partner A or partner B. Partner A begins.
    • With 30 seconds on the clock, partner A attempts to Synthesize information using the sentence starters.
    • Partner B paraphrases what they just heard.
    • Partner B goes next. Again, with 30 seconds on the clock, partner B attempts to Synthesize information.
    • Partner A then paraphrases what they just heard.
  3. (If relevant) each student returns to his or her original group and reports out what they learned from the discussion with another group.Lead a whole-class discussion to determine how each of the sources helps to answer the investigative question. Ask students to use any of the sentence starters before they share.


12AD.2 Citizenship Student Handout

  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.
Citizenship can be a personal and triggering topic for many students in California. Please take care to ensure that the topic is addressed with as much context and empathy as possible.