The American Flag as a Symbol

animated-American-flagThe American Flag as a Symbol:

A lesson to celebrate the flag

Social Studies Grade Levels 5 – 12

Bonnie Cooper, Caney Creek High School, Conroe (Texas) ISD

Students use images of the US flag in to identify different ways the United States flag has been used as a symbol over time.
Learning Goals:

  • Students will be able to understand different ways the flag has been used, over time, to represent attitudes of different groups.
  • Students will be able to analyze images from different time periods to determine similarities and changes over time.
  • Student will be able to construct a cohesive paragraph expressing an opinion using evidence from the images viewed to support their opinion.

 Lesson Description:
Time: 1 50-minute class period
Grades: 5 – 12
Over arching concepts: democracy and citizenship
Enduring Understanding:The ideals of American democracy are reflected in the nation’s founding documents and symbols. 
Warm-up: As students enter the room and get settled have the following warm-up activity (available on the Prezi linked here) on the board or projector: 
Throughout history armies have used flags to signal who was in control of an area or winning a battle. Individuals have used flags to show how they feel about issues. Think of a time when you may have seen an image where a flag has been used to demonstrate something and in one or two sentences, describe that time.
This warm-up should take no more than 3 – 4 minutes.
Materials Needed: Computer with Internet access, projector or a way to view the Prezi (linked here) and the graphic organizer (linked here).
Lesson: Tell the students they will be seeing a series of images involving the US flag over time. As each image is shown give the student 45 to 60 seconds to write a brief few words about what they are seeing and how the image makes them feel. You may use the Prezi linked here to show the images. (average 45 seconds per image, about 20 minutes) When showing the Prezi, start with the Warm-Up slide then move fairly quickly through the images until you get to the Francis Scott Key (1814) image. Linger there for 45 – 60 seconds. Repeat this for each of the 19 images. I have included a date and a graphic of an eye to help the students re-focus and not get lost in the images. I’m also attaching a graphic organizer to the lesson for those teachers who need to scaffold the lesson for struggling learners.
Once the Prezi is finished and all the images have been viewed, ask the students to use the remaining class time (15 to 20 minutes) to write a short paragraph answering the following:
How is it possible for such different signals or messages to be represented by one thing – the flag?
CCRS Standards:
Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation of Information. Critical examination of texts, images, and other sources of information. Evaluate sources from multiple perspectives. [IV. A. 3]
State Standards:
Each state should have standards that mandate lessons recognizing various symbols of United States unity and democracy. In Texas those standards include the following:

  • TEK US History (1) History The student understands the principles included in the Celebrate Freedom week program.
  • TEK US History (22) Citizenship. The student understands the concept of American exceptionalism.
  • TEK US History (23) Citizenship (A) identify and analyze methods of expanding the right toparticipate in the democratic process, including … non-violent protests and … Amendments to the US Constitution.
  • TEK US History (23) Citizenship(C) explain how participation in the democratic process reflects our national ethos, patriotism, and civic responsibility as well as our progress to build a “more perfect union.”

As the students enter the room they need to take their place and respond to the warm-up on the board. To start class the teacher explains that the student is going to look at a series of images of the United States flag over time. The student is to write a few words about each image so the student can remember how each made him or her feel and ideas about what they may be seeing. After viewing all the images the student needs to construct a well developed paragraph to respond to the prompt.
This lesson can be an extension of a previous lesson about the Star Spangled Banner’s 200th Birthday celebration in September, 2014. There are a number of lessons on this site for which this lesson can be an extension. The lesson can also be extended the following day by having students volunteer to share their reflections on the previous day’s images. Another possible extension is to play a variety of versions of the Star Spangled Banner and ask students where, on this virtual time line of the flag, should each version fit.
Prezi: link to Prezi online here
Graphic Organizer found here

About the Author
Bonnie Cooper has been a Social Studies teacher for the last 23 years and has taught US History for the past several years. She has 3 adult daughters and 5 adorable grandchildren. You can reach Bonnie at
About Banner Moments
Made available as part of the 2014 Banner Moments K-12 Institute—a project of the American Music Institute of the University of Michigan and the Star Spangled Music Foundation, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities