Guest Blog: Needing New Lesson Plans for the New Year? Check out Street Law
by Jane Hicks, Edwardsville High School
On New Year’s Eve 2019, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a warning in his year-end statement when he observed, “We have come to take democracy for granted and civic education has fallen by the wayside.” Many civics teachers across the country heartily agree. Thankfully the State of Illinois now requires both middle school and high school civics education. More social studies departments across the state are re-examining the importance of teaching about government and seeking ideas to help their students. In addition to Illinois Civics, what is another great resource for political science teachers? Where can they find numerous lesson plans that help teach democratic simulations and controversial topics? Street Law.
While attending Street Law’s Supreme Court Summer Institute in 2019, I gained incredible insight on the workings of the Court, met teachers from across the U.S., and walked away with meaningful activities for my students. Street Law’s mission, since 1972, has been to provide teachers of the law and government free materials in order to help students with these difficult topics. Their materials are easily accessible to anyone on their website. Their shopping cart format might initially give the impression that you have to pay. But do not worry, most materials have a price of $0.00. The cart system helps keep track of the lesson plans that are of interest to educators.
Two activities that really stood out for me were the moot courts and deliberations. A moot court is a simulation of an appellate court. It is not a mock trial. Students act as attorneys making oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court for a real case. The classroom should be divided into three groups: the petitioners bringing the case, the respondents defending the previous ruling, and the justices asking questions of each. The Street Law website has numerous and step by step instructions. Full moot courts may take a few class periods, but their mini-moot courts might only take a day.
|Street Law’s 2019 Summer Institute practicing a moot court in a Georgetown Law classroom.|
Another Street Law activity that I brought into my civics class is a deliberation. A deliberation helps students to grapple with controversial topics by examining various points of view. The concluding piece is to come to a consensus. At the summer institute, we deliberated a federal ban on assault weapons. We were given readings to sift through and then applied quotes from the readings to both sides of the argument. My group had a very engaging conversation and we were provided time afterward for individual reflection. In the end, I was surprised to realize I had slightly altered my own long-held opinion on this topic.
As our society grows in complexity, so the job of the social studies teacher becomes increasingly more challenging. Thankfully there are many professional development resources like Street Law and Illinois Civics to help educators wrestle with the times and help students to do so also.