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Deliberation: Should Washington, D.C. become the 51st state?

Grade Level Grades 8-12


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Washington, D.C. was established during the Compromise of 1790 and originally consisted of land provided by the states of Maryland and Virginia. Because of constitutional restrictions and federal laws, residents of the nation’s capital can currently vote for president but lack voting representation in the House and the Senate. The District also lacks the autonomy and political authority that is provided with statehood. In June 2020, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 51 which would make portions of Washington, D.C., the 51st state. In order to admit D.C. as a new state to the Union, the bill would need to be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president. 

This deliberation looks at the history and constitutional foundations relating to D.C. statehood and has students explore and analyze arguments relating to this topic. Students will  answer the question: 

Should Washington, D.C. become a state?

Objectives and Outcomes

  • Students will be able to explain the constitutional provisions that relate to admitting new states and the role of the nation’s capital.
  • Students will be able to describe the historic events that led to the establishment of Washington, D.C. and the evolution of rights for D.C. residents.
  • Students will apply this knowledge of the constitutional and historical background to evaluate the arguments for and against granting D.C. statehood.

Lesson Procedures and Activities

  • Pick and choose from the following strategies to engage your students in the issue.
  • Warm-Up Activity. Choose from one of the following strategies to activate prior knowledge and engage your students.
    • A/B writing. Write the following three statements on the board. Instruct students to choose the statement with which they most agree and then free write for two minutes explaining why they support that statement. Allow several students, at least one for each statement, to share their thinking with the class.
      • Washington, D.C. should become the 51st state.
      • Washington, D.C. should maintain its current status as a federal district.
      • Washington, D.C. should become part of Maryland.
    • Think-Pair-Share. Write the prompt on the board: “Should Washington, D.C. become a state?” Have students silently write down their thoughts and then discuss them with a partner. Give several pairs an opportunity to share their examples.
    • Take a Stand. Ask the students: “Washington, D.C. should become the 51st state.” Have students line up on a continuum based on their opinion from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.” Ask several students from different points on the line to share their reasoning and defend their position.
  • Vocabulary Preview. Before watching the videos, reading the constitutional foundation handout, background articles, and using the additional resources, have students define the terms on the Vocabulary Preview Chart. This could be done as a jigsaw or individually, and depending on available time it may be completed for homework or in class.
  • Background knowledge. Have students read the constitutional provisions,  read the background articles, watch the background videos, and complete the accompanying background handouts. Depending on available time, this may be done in class or at home before the class activities. Additionally, students should look for references to the vocabulary terms, and write quotes of the terms being used on the Vocabulary Preview Chart.
  • Deliberate. Have students watch the videos calling for or against criminal justice reform. While watching the videos, students should complete the note-taking chart for each side’s argument. Students can access each of the videos using the note-taking chart. Then, choose one of the activities from the Deliberations website to engage your students.
  • Assess. In addition to engaging in the Deliberation activity above, you may choose to have students complete an independent assignment to assess their mastery of the topic.
    • Have students provide a written response to the following prompt:
      • Should Washington, D.C. become the 51st state?
    • Based on their research, have the students create a list of arguments for and against Washington, D.C. becoming a state. Students should rank these arguments from strongest/most convincing to weakest/least convincing. For the strongest and weakest arguments, students should explain why they feel this way.
  • Online Alternative
    • Online Discussion Board- As an alternative to in-person deliberation, consider using this deliberation using an online discussion board. Consider following tips listed on the EDUCAUSE Review website.
  • Extension.  
    • Comparing Population Data- Using the Google Public Data tool, compare the District of Columbia to three other states. Research and provide the following information.
      • How does D.C.’s total population compare to the states you picked?
      • How does D.C.’s population growth (Numeric Population Change) compare to your states’?
      • How does this data support or refute the arguments for D.C. statehood?
    • Mapping the New Federal District- Use the D.C. Statehood map and Google Maps to determine at least five locations/buildings/monuments that would be included in the new federal district. For each, identify what it is and explain why you think it was included in the federal district.
  • Expanding Statehood to the U.S. Territories/Commonwealths- Using the World Atlas website, determine if the following U.S territories and commonwealths should be granted statehood. For each explain, why or why not.
    • Puerto Rico
    • Guam
    • U.S. Virgin Islands
    • Northern Mariana Islands
    • American Samoa
  • Create a Survey- Develop a survey that asks five questions about D.C. statehood. Using those questions, perform a survey that gauges the public’s interest. After performing the survey, write a summary of the results explaining which positions would get the most public support.
  • Federalist No. 43- Read the second section of James Madison’s Federalist No. 43 about the federalist district. After reading that section answer the following prompt:
    • Do you believe that James Madison would have supported or opposed D.C. statehood?
  • Additional Prompts and Questions:
    • What would be the potential political consequences of granting D.C. statehood?
    • Does there need to be a constitutional amendment to grant D.C. statehood? Explain your answer.
    • Explain the parallels between the use of the phrase “Taxation without representation” during the American Revolution and the D.C. statehood movement. 


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