Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
Making Civics Real Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues  
Home    |    Workshops 1-8    |    Tools for Teaching    |    Support Materials    |    Site Map

Workshop 7

Workshop Session
Lesson Plan
Teacher Perspectives
Student Perspectives
Essential Readings
Other Lessons
Lesson Plan: Teaching the Lesson: Overview, Goals, and Planning

In this 12th-grade law class at Champlin Park High School in Champlin, Minnesota, JoEllen Ambrose engages students in a structured discussion of a highly controversial issue--racial profiling--and connects student learning both to their study of due process in constitutional law and to police procedure in their study of criminal law. She begins by having students individually complete an opinion poll, which they then discuss as a group, realizing that the issue of profiling becomes increasingly complex as examples of it get closer to their personal experience. By physically engaging the students (they move around from “Agree” to “Disagree” to “Undecided” positions as the discussion proceeds), they get both a visceral and visual sense of the controversy. The poll is primarily a motivating activity to engage students’ interest. Next, working in pairs, they delve into studying a research packet that JoEllen Ambrose has prepared, reading local and national sources on the topic of racial profiling. The next activity pairs students in a structured debate. The framework for this debate, which comes from the Center for Cooperative Learning at the University of Minnesota, is highly specific with regard to both time and task and is designed to have each partnership argue both sides of the issue. Each group of four is next charged with the task of developing a consensus position on the issue and presenting it to the class. A debriefing discussion completes the lesson.

Students will:

  • Understand the tension that exists in our democracy between the government’s interest in promoting public safety and individual rights.
  • Take and defend positions regarding various criminal justice issues.
  • Define, explain, and evaluate racial profiling as a law enforcement tool.
  • Debate both positions on the controversial topic of racial profiling with support for each.
  • Develop a consensus position on how racial profiling as a law enforcement tool should be used.

JoEllen Ambrose wanted her students to come away from this lesson more interested in looking at issues in-depth than at simplistic solutions. She also would like students to have a deeper understanding of what individual rights are in our society and how the power of the government helps us to live safely, but can also be abused.

Prior to this lesson, JoEllen Ambrose’s students had a unit on constitutional law, in which they studied the judicial system, including how the courts work, trials, alternative dispute resolution, and appellate procedures. They have discussed due process as it relates to the right to die, and participated in a simulation of a trial, in which they role-played lawyers and argued in front of judges a position on an issue of constitutional law. More recently, they have had an overview of criminal law. They have taken a statistical look at crime in America and then focused on various elements of crime. Currently they are studying criminal procedure (police investigation, being stopped, searches, pretrial hearings, the trial, sentencing, prison, and so forth) and what happens at each step. JoEllen Ambrose introduces major topics through the appropriate chapter in the course text (in this case, Chapters 12 and 13 of Street Law: A Course in Practical Law by Lee P. Arbetman and Edward L. O’Brien. Sixth Edition. West Educational Publishing, 1999). Students also have seen a video that highlighted police procedures in such situations as drunk driving and illegal drugs.

Some teachers will find it useful to introduce and discuss some controversial vocabulary words prior to starting this lesson, e.g., racial, racist, discrimination.

Overview, Goals, and Planning    |     Activity 1     |     Activity 2     |     Activity 3
Activity 4     |     Activity 5     |     Activity 6     |     Scheduling and Adaptations


© Annenberg Foundation 2017. All rights reserved. Legal Policy