Civics for All
Curriculum Library for NYC DOE Civics for All Initiative
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
The Counselors of Hammurabi (MS/HS)
This lesson provides students with background on Hammurabi’s rule in Mesopotamia. The reading includes a vocabulary list and comprehension and discussion questions. The lesson also addresses how Hammurabi sought to govern his empire, as well as the concept of lex talionis. After reading, students take on the role of a conselor to Hammurabi in order to create fair laws based on the idea of “an eye for an eye.”
Promise and Problems of the Nile (MS)
This lesson examines the benefits and the challenges that the Nile River brought to the people of ancient Egypt. In small groups, students role-play advisors to the mayor of an ancient Egyptian city by analyzing a hypothetical problem on the Nile, brainstorming options, and deciding on which option to recommend to the mayor.
Rome: Republic to Empire (MS/HS)
This lesson provides an overview of governance in the Roman Empire. After defining and discussing the term “dictator,” students read and discuss an article on the beginning of Rome, the Roman Republic, and its transformation into an empire. Then, in small groups, students stage a simulation of a contemporary U.S. congressional committee deciding whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to give the president greater powers in an emergency.
Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire (MS/HS)
This two-part lesson explores the history of religious toleration and persecution in the Roman Empire. After discussing why religious freedom is important, students complete readings that illustrate how Roman law and policy treated Jews and Christians in the empire. Students then prepare and deliver two-minute speeches as advisors to the Emperor Theodosius (r. 379-395 CE) urging him to adopt freedom of religion in the Roman Empire.
Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau on Government (HS)
This study of Enlightenment philosophers Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau is designed to give students an understanding of the ideas of these philosophers. Students read about each of the philosophers’ main ideas. Then, they work individually and/or as part of a small group to prepare for a panel discussion in which students take on the role of each philosopher to discuss their influential ideas.
The Great Qing Code: Law and Order During China’s Last Dynasty (HS)
In this lesson, students explore the background and significance of the Great Qing Code, the 1740 codification of criminal and civil law in China. They learn how the code drew on laws dating back more than 2,000 years and set out instructions to local officials, known as magistrates, as well as to higher authorities. After completing a reading, as well as questions for writing and/or discussion, students participate in a simulation of the Autumn Court (a sort of appellate body that existed under the code) in order to make a recommendation to the emperor regarding the proper sentence in a criminal case.
“A Fire Waiting to be Lit:” The Origins of World War I (HS)
The initial reading for this lesson outlines key issues and events that ultimately led to the outbreak of World War I, including in-depth questions for writing and/or discussion. In an activity that teachers may want to use after students have learned about the course of the war and its end at the Treaty of Versailles, students simulate the meeting of a commission weighing differing expert assessments about assigning blame for World War I. As the commissioners, students decide which country, if any, was responsible for the war.
The River: Problems, Policies, and Solutions – Past & Present (MS)
This is a two-part lesson that demonstrates natural and human impact on an environment by examining changes in a river system over time.
First, students work in groups to solve a community's problem during one of four different eras in a hypothetical river system. Each group reads a short narrative before participating in a scenario where they hold a meeting to explore options for addressing their problem. Next, they decide how to solve the problem. Finally, students present their problems and solutions in chronological order, thus revealing a story of one river over time.
NOTE: "The River" lesson can be integrated into course curriculum for a variety of content areas and grade levels. Teachers of students who will benefit from additional scaffolding or background can precede "The River" lesson with the "A Day in the Life" lesson linked and described below.
A Day in the Life
In this lesson, students begin to see how communities and lifestyles change over time. Students work in pairs to fill in the blanks of a story about an ordinary day in a young person's life from one of four different historical periods. Then they compare and contrast their character's lifestyle with their own lives today.