Civil Conversation (CivCon)

The Civil Conversation (CivCon) strategy engages students in close reading and analysis of a text that presents multiple perspectives on an issue. Students then participate in a structured small-group discussion about the issue, using evidence from the text. Finally, students reflect on their participation in the conversation, with an emphasis on reaching their own informed conclusions and considering where they found common ground with their classmates. It is intentionally not a debate, but a chance for students to engage in thoughtful dialogue. 

Download: Lesson plan and student guide  pdf  |  Stand-alone student guide  pdf   |  Stand-alone student guide (Spanish) pdf

 

A note to teachers about MS/HS designations:  Middle school (MS) and high school (HS) designations are based on the text's readability and/or on when the content is usually taught. We know you are the best judge of what makes sense for your students, so of course, use any lesson as you see fit! 

 

World History

Confucianism or Legalism: Which is a Better Way to Govern? (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students complete a background reading that explores the lives and contributions of Confucius and Qin Shi Huangdi and describes Confucianism and Legalism. Students then participate in a CivCon to consider the pros and cons of these two schools of thought about how to govern.


The Meeting at Runnymede (HS)
This lesson features a background reading on the Magna Carta and the concept of the rule of law, including King John’s arguments against the document. Students participate in a CivCon and evaluate the most important ways in which the Magna Carta influenced democracy in the United States.


Two Very Different City-States: Sparta and Athens (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students read a text that outlines key aspects of (and differences between) life in Sparta and Athens. Then, they participate in a CivCon to consider which city-state was most likely to win the Peloponnesian War and which had the best government. 


Two Visions of Government (HS)
In this lesson, students read a short text that outlines and contrasts Thomas Hobbes’s and John Locke’s political philosophies. Then, they participate in a CivCon to further compare and evaluate these visions for a system of government.


When England Industrialized (HS)
This lesson starts with a reading that provides a snapshot of the process of industrialization in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, including the dramatic changes that took place in Manchester and how groups like the Luddites resisted them. Students then participate in a CivCon to discuss the costs and benefits of industrialization in England, as well as to consider the merits of the Luddites’ protests. 


Why Did the Communists Win the Chinese Revolution? (HS) 
In this lesson, students complete a reading that provides background on tensions and differences between Nationalists and Communists before and during China’s civil war (1946-49), including reasons for the victory of the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, over the Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek. Then, they participate in a CivCon to explore these differences more deeply and to consider some of the long-term impacts of Communist rule.


U.S. History & Government

The 14th Amendment and Due Process (MS/HS) 
In this lesson, students read a short text that explains how the 14th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in the wake of the Civil War and how significant it has been since that time. Students also get background on how this amendment formed the basis of the Supreme Court’s “incorporation doctrine.” Then, they participate in a CivCon to explore additional questions about the impact and importance of the 14th Amendment. 


Diversity and the Census (MS/HS)   
In this lesson, students read a short text about how the census defines and seeks to measure racial and ethnic diversity in the United States, examine questions this data gathering raises, and consider what projections tell us about population trends in the future. Next, they participate in a CivCon based on the reading in order to delve more deeply into these questions.


The Emoluments Clause and the President (HS)
This lesson begins with crucial background reading on the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution and explains the arguments currently being debated in the courts as to whether or not President Trump has violated this clause. The reading also includes detailed questions for writing and/or discussion, which help to prepare students for a CivCon based on the text. 


Examining the Constitutional Issues of Chicago’s Gang Congregation Ordinance (HS)
After a brief introductory discussion about possible community responses to gang-related violence, students read about how the Chicago City Council passed a controversial ordinance to suppress gang activity and how each branch of government was involved in shaping that policy. Next, they participate in a CivCon based on the reading. Finally, students debrief the CivCon process, as well as the policy issues raised by the case of City of Chicago v. Morales. 


How Should We Judge Our Nation’s Founders? (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students read a short text that poses questions and describes differing viewpoints about honoring Founding Fathers of the United States, as well as other historical figures, who were slave owners. Then, students participate in a CivCon based on the reading and their own questions about these issues.


The Role of the Judiciary (HS)
In this lesson, students learn about the judicial system, aka the judiciary. First, they read and discuss an article on the role, structure, and principles of the judiciary, including the essential concept of the rule of law and its key features of due process and equal protection. Then, students explore these and other concepts during a CivCon based on the reading.


Slavery and the Electoral College (HS)
This lesson follows the reading “270 Votes to Win” and the activity “What Should We Do About the Electoral College?.” With a background on the history, function, and contemporary criticisms of the Electoral College, students delve into the historical question of slavery's role in its development.

Note: It is essential that students have the information and context from the previous lesson in order to participate effectively in this lesson.


Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism (HS) 
In this lesson, students explore British philosopher Herbert Spencer’s theory of “Social Darwinism” and its impact on Americans’ justification of laissez-faire, or unrestricted, capitalism in the 1800s. They then examine key questions about the ideas in the text during a CivCon.


Taking About Reparations (HS)
In this lesson, students examine and evaluate arguments for and against the passage of H.R. 40, (“Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act”). First, they read a selection of excerpts from scholars and writers who have thought extensively about this question. Next, they participate in a Civil Conversation (CivCon) based on the reading. 


 

Current Events

Blurring the Lines Between Fact and Fiction (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students read a short text about the ways in which filmmakers and producers — including of the films JFK and 300 — take liberties with historical narratives for the sake of entertainment. Next, they consider the implications of these practices by participating in a CivCon on the reading.


The Debate Over Gun Laws in the United States – An Introduction (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students read a short text that provides statistical background on gun ownership, gun violence, and public opinion on gun control laws in the United States. Then, they evaluate frequently cited arguments on the issue of gun-control policy. Finally, they synthesize and engage with the reading by participating in a CivCon.


Immigration Enforcement Raids (HS)
This lesson gives students important background information about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), its role in enforcing immigration policy, and different perspectives on methods ICE has used to conduct raids. The short reading also provides in-depth questions for writing and discussion, which prepare students for a well-informed CivCon addressing this timely issue.


Is Democracy in Decline? (HS)
In this lesson, students read a text that examines recent research into the question of whether democratic forms of government are in decline in the world, and also whether young people have less affinity for democracy than in the past. Then, they participate in a CivCon to dig more deeply into this question being examined by many political scientists around the world.


Police Body Cameras (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students read a short text that outlines common arguments for and against the increased use of police body cameras, as well as some evidence from initial research studies and examples of cities that have adopted new policies about this technology. Once they have this background, students participate in a CivCon to further examine questions, including whether this development is positive or negative.


Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism (HS) 
In this lesson, students explore British philosopher Herbert Spencer’s theory of “Social Darwinism” and its impact on Americans’ justification of laissez-faire, or unrestricted, capitalism in the 1800s. They then examine key questions about the ideas in the text during a CivCon.


Tackling Fake News  (HS)
In this lesson, students learn about the constitutional, legal, and practical considerations and controversies surrounding regulation of fake news. First, students read and discuss an article that reviews what fake news is and then describes measures taken by private parties (such as social media platforms) and government to try to regulate fake news. Next, they delve further into the text through a CivCon to consider some of these issues.

Note: This lesson continues from where the Understanding Fake News lesson leaves off, so it is recommended to start with that introduction and the SEARCH checklist that it provides as a tool for “sniffing out” fake news.


What Should the U.S. Do About North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons? (HS)  
In this lesson, students gain background knowledge on North Korea and its relations with the U.S. and the international community before exploring several policy options available to the U.S. as it considers how to engage with North Korea around the issue of nuclear weapons. Then, students participate in a CivCon to delve more deeply into the text and to consider additional perspectives.  


Why Don’t More People in the U.S. Vote? (MS/HS) 
In this lesson, students discuss the problem of low voter turnout and explore ways to increase it. First, they read an article about low voting rates and proposals for addressing this problem. Next, they participate in a CivCon on the reading. In an enrichment activity, students conduct a poll to determine political interest levels and ideas for increasing voter turnout in a selected community (e.g., school or community). 


 

Some of these lessons deal with controversial issues. Please consider your own students and community as you choose topics.

 

 

 

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