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Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

Freedom of Religion — Workshop Session

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Key Constructivist Methodologies:

  • Questioning strategies
  • Mock trials

Teacher: Kristen Borges

School: Southwest High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Grade Level: Ninth Grade

Course: Team 9 Arts and Humanities Civics

Lesson Objectives:

  • To explore the structure and process used by the United States Supreme Court in interpreting and applying the Constitution; and
  • To apply those operational principles to a case previously decided by the Supreme Court.


The Lesson

In this program, you will see Kristen Borges and her ninth-grade students involved in a simulation of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on a First Amendment case. The case concerns a Texas school district that appealed a lower court decision directing them to discontinue having a student deliver a prayer over the intercom before football games. The case was originally brought against the school district by a group of parents.

Kristen Borges’s students–who do not know the actual outcome of the case at the start of the lesson–assume the roles of justices, attorneys for the families, or attorneys for the school district. Over a three-day period, they first work in groups to prepare for the hearing, then participate in the hearing, and finally, debrief their experiences and write a paper stating their position on the case, including the benefits and potential problems to society of their recommended decision.


Support Materials

The downloadable Support Materials listed under Sessions will lead you through the viewing of the workshop video and the related activities and discussions for “Freedom of Religion.” These materials can be used by individuals and by facilitators of workshop sessions.


Additional Materials

The materials described below—Lesson Plan, Teacher Perspectives, Student Perspectives, Essential Readings and Other Lessons— provide background and context for the lesson seen in the workshop video. They also supply the tools you need to adapt this lesson and its teaching strategies for your classroom.


Lesson Plan

Provides information on Kristen Borges’s method of teaching the lesson on freedom of religion, the national standards this lesson addresses, and additional resources and her teaching materials, including:


Assessment Rubrics (PDF)

  • Supreme Court Scoring Sheet: Attorney’s Performance
  • Supreme Court Scoring Sheet: Justice’s Performance
  • Scoring Sheet for Final Essay

Lesson Materials

  • Student Instructions (PDF)
  • Instructions for Attorneys
  • Instructions for Supreme Court Justices
  • Supreme Court Conference Instructions
  • After-Hearing Discussion Instructions
  • Instructions for Supreme Court Opinion Essay

Background Information Packet (PDF)

  • The First Amendment
  • First Amendment Freedoms
  • Discussion Questions
  • Background: The Church, the State, and the Public Schools
  • Should Students Have the Right to Lead Prayers at Public School Events?
  • Background of the Case
  • Arguments Presented by the Santa Fe Independent School District
  • Arguments Presented by Catholic and Mormon Families

Supreme Court Cases

  • Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (PDF)
  • Lemon v. Kurtzman (PDF)
  • Tinker v. DesMoines (PDF)


See Lesson Plan

Teacher Perspectives

Provides Kristen Borges’s reflections on the following topics:

  • Students as citizens
  • The lesson’s teaching challenges
  • What makes cooperative learning successful
  • The value of constructivist learning
  • How to get started
  • How you know when you’ve done a good job
  • Her background

See Teacher Perspectives

Student Perspectives

Provides Kristen Borges’s ninth-grade students’ reflections on the following topics:

  • The case
  • Group work
  • Role-playing
  • Kristen Borges’s class
  • Being a citizen

See Student Perspectives

Essential Readings

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Socratic Questioning
This guide, prepared by the National Education Laboratory, discusses the role of Socratic questioning in problem-based learning, drawing substantially on the work of Richard Paul on critical thinking, and then presents a taxonomy of Socratic questions developed by Paul.

Teaching About the United States Supreme Court
by Sarah E. Drake and Thomas S. Vontz
This ERIC Digest highlights the origin and foundations of the Supreme Court, discusses the changing role of the Supreme Court in the United States, and recommends World Wide Web resources helpful in teaching and learning about the Supreme Court. Sarah E. Drake is a doctoral student in the School of Education and project assistant at the Social Studies Development Center of Indiana University. Thomas S. Vontz is assistant professor of education at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri.

Study About Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum
This National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) policy paper was prepared by the Religion in the Schools Committee and approved by the NCSS Board of Directors in1984, and revised by the Curriculum Committee and approved by the NCSS Board of Directors in 1998. It is included here because classroom discussions of the First Amendment often bring up issues relating to specific religions.

See Essential Readings

Other Lessons

Controversial Issues in Practice
By Maria Gallo

In this article, Maria Gallo, director of legal studies and a teacher at Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, New York, presents three lessons on the First Amendment: The Establishment of Religion, The Free Exercise of Religion, and Putting It All Together: A Round Table Discussion. The lessons include extensive documentation on Supreme Court cases that are relevant to the lessons.

See Other Lessons

Series Directory

Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers


Produced by State of the Art, Inc., in collaboration with the National Council for the Social Studies and the Center for Civic Education. 2003.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: ISBN: 1-57680-679-0