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What does the U.S. flag symbolize?

Lesson Plans by subject 

June 13, 2002
Web posted at: 2:43 PM EDT (1843 GMT)
What does the U.S. flag symbolize?

Overview: Flag Day is a holiday meant to celebrate the date when the Stars and Stripes was officially adopted as America's national symbol. Have students discover how the design of the American flag has changed since it was first created and how the flag is a symbol of the United State. Have students discuss how the history and symbolism behind a nation's flag make it a source of emotion and national pride.

Curriculum connections: U.S. History, Political Science, Current Issues

Students will be able to:

  • Identify changes to and reasons for the design of the American flag.
  • Determine how the history and symbolism behind a nation's flag make it a source of emotion and national pride.

National Council for the Social Studies
II Time, continuity and change, grades nine -12
High school students should engage in more sophisticated analysis and reconstruction of the past, examining its relationship to the present and extrapolating into the future. They integrate individual stories about people, events, and situations to form a more holistic conception, in which continuity and change are linked in time and across cultures.

V Individuals and institutions, grades nine -12
High school students should understand the paradigms and traditions that undergird social and political institutions. They should be provided opportunities to examine, use, and add to the body of knowledge related to the behavioral sciences and social theory as it relates to the ways people and groups organize themselves around common needs, beliefs, and interests.

CNN Student News story, "She's a grand old flag"
Internet access

Suggested time
Article and questions only: 30 minutes
Full lesson plan: Two to three classroom periods

1. Inform your class that flags are powerful symbols of national identity. Find out what students know about their national flag. Have each student create a list of 10 words that their national flag evokes, and invite them to share their lists with the class.

2. Have students read the CNN Student News story,"She's a grand old flag", and ask the following:
What is Flag Day? For a video version of this story, please use the CNN Student News' June 14 broadcast on CNN TV (4:30 a.m. ET). Click here  for more information on the show

  • What is Flag Day? Who was Betsy Ross? What reasons did Lisa Moulder, an archivist of the Betsy Ross House, give in the article to explain why Betsy Ross' sewing of the U.S. flag was a "covert operation"? What suggestion did Ross make regarding the original flag design? Why? What was Betsy Ross' final design? What did the stars symbolize? What did the Continental Congress adopt on June 14, 1777?

3. What is a symbol? How is the flag a symbol of the United States? Inform students that the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner" looks different from the U.S. flag that flies today. Have students research the different flags that have flown over the United States and the history behind each one. Then have each student choose a flag from one time period and write a story from the flag's perspective, recounting what it has "witnessed" during its historical era. Create a timeline of the development of the U.S. flag around the classroom. Discuss how the history and symbolism behind a nation's flag make it a source of emotion and national pride.

4. Share with students the text of the "Pledge of Allegiance": "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Then ask: What do you think is the meaning of the "Pledge of Allegiance"? Do you think pledging allegiance to the flag represents pledging loyalty to the United States? Why or why not? Discuss.

Direct students to write letters to Betsy Ross explaining how and why the American flag has become such a powerful symbol to U.S. citizens since its adoption as America's national symbol in 1777.

Refer students to the Web sites below to learn more about flag etiquette. Groups of students can create posters summarizing flag etiquette. Display the posters around the building and the classroom.

Have students conduct research to learn about other countries' national flags. Assign each student a different country. Then, direct each student to the last link below and other resources to learn about the history and symbolic significance of the country's national flag. Pose the following questions to guide students' research:

  • To what extent do the flag's colors and design reflect the country's history and future goals?
  • Has the flag ever been a source of controversy?
  • Does the country have a holiday similar to Flag Day in the U.S.?

Have students make formal presentations of their findings.

Materials on this site are reproducible for classroom use.

• Flag Rules and Regulations
• Flag Etiquette
• Celebrate! Holidays In The U.S.A. - Flag Day (June 14)
• World Flag Database: Welcome

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