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The Constitution: Written or Unwritten?
An activity for use with the Canada in the Making site
The Canadian Constitution is both written and unwritten, the combined
product of acts and statutes, common law judgments and accepted
political conventions. In this activity, students will form teams
and debate whether the Canadian Constitution has evolved to be primarily
written or unwritten.
Subject: Social Studies (History); Ages 15 and up
This learning activity will give students the opportunity to examine
the evolution of the Canadian Constitution and understand it as
being composed of both written acts and statutes and unwritten elements.
The debate will give each group the opportunity to present a case
as to which element is stronger in Canadian governance.
This activity is best suited for a small class and can be completed
in three to four hour-long sessions. Note that the sources used
in ECO can be printed from the browser and then photocopied.
Outcomes (WCP, APEF); Expectations
(ON); Objectives (QC)
Table of Curricular Relevance by Course
British Columbia and Yukon Territory
Computers with Internet access
Student Work Sheet
Suggested Assessment Criteria
Extension Work Sheet
Early Canadiana Online: Canada in the Making
Essay writing resources can be found in the Writing An Essay
unit on ECO:
Other links can be found in the Student Work Sheet.
Students will need
An understanding of Web navigation symbols, tools and terminology,
particularly the tools used in ECO.
Familiarity with research skills.
Some background understanding of Canada's Constitutional history.
Ask students how people decide the rules of government. Is it the
same in all countries? Where do they think Canada gets its Constitutional
traditions? What documents do they think are the most important?
Hand out Student Work Sheets and introduce students to the ECO Canada
In the Making Web site. Read the assignment and discuss.
Divide the class into three groups:
1. The unwritten Constitution
2. The written Constitution
3. Judges (3 to 5 students)
Have students conduct research on the nature of the Canadian Constitution
using the sources provided on the Student
Work Sheet and any other sources they find. They must try to
build the strongest case for their own view as possible, and anticipate
arguments by the opposing side. The work is broken down on the work
sheets and can be shared.
Students choose spokespersons and conduct a debate. A debate is
stated as an affirmative proposition and is generally broken down
First speaker: in favour of the resolution (7 minutes)
Second speaker: in opposition to the resolution (7 minutes)
Third speaker: in favour of the resolution (7 minutes)
Fourth speaker: in opposition to the resolution (7 minutes)
Fifth speaker: opposition rebuttal (5 minutes)
Sixth speaker: affirmative rebuttal (5 minutes)
Judges rate and discuss their judgments. Winners do not necessarily
have to be chosen, but strengths and weaknesses in arguments can
be discussed with the class. A percent rating could also be given.
Discuss the balance of the arguments. Which aspect of the Constitution
do they find most important in Canada today? Does this seem a good
balance to them? Why or why not? What would they change?
See the Suggested Assessment Criteria.
Students can make a chart answering the following questions: What
are the advantages and disadvantages of basing a constitution mainly
on written rules? What are the advantages and disadvantages of basing
a constitution mainly on unwritten conventions? . See the extension
worksheet for details.