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.
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.
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.
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).
“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 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 counselor to Hammurabi in order to create fair laws based on the idea of “an eye for an eye.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
U.S. History & Government
270 Votes to Win: The Electoral College in the United States (HS)
In the first part of this lesson, students read, annotate, and discuss a text that provides background on the creation, functioning, and debates over the Electoral College. Then, they participate in a scenario in which they act as members of a presidential commission making recommendations on whether (or how) to change the way presidents are elected in the United States.
The Amendment Process ( MS/HS)
In this lesson, students examine Article V of the Constitution, which outlines how the Constitution can be changed, or amended. First, they complete an introductory reading about Article V, the history of the amendment process, and the political complexities that arise when groups try to amend the Constitution. Then, they simulate a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee in which members must decide on a proposed amendment to reform the U.S. Senate.
Google Slides presentation - California v. Greenwood: A Fourth Amendment Case (provides introduction, directions, and debriefing questions) HS
Middle school presentation Part I: Background on key individual rights and freedoms and how they’re protected by the Constitution, especially the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments MS
- Middle school presentation Part II: Moot court activity examining a case of a police search that raised important questions about privacy MS
Chicago v. Morales Moot Court (HS) - Equal Protection
First section of PowerPoint provides background on how laws are made, how power is divided among different branches and levels of government, and the protections (and limitations) of individual rights. Second section of PowerPoint helps to facilitate moot court activity examining a case of a controversial local law that was challenged by people in the community.
‘Falsely Shouting Fire’: The Free Press and the Courts (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students learn about how the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted freedom of expression, particularly freedom of the press, throughout the 20th century and into the early 21st century. First, students read about how the Supreme Court has interpreted and defined freedom of the press with its main rulings starting during World War I. Next, they work in small groups to evaluate three fact situations in which someone or some organization has violated a law that restricts First Amendment freedom of expression.
Note: This lesson is Part II of a two-part lesson sequence that began with Part I: Why We Have Freedom of the Press. Both Parts I and II may also be done independently of one another.
Gratz v. Bollinger Moot Court (HS) - Equal Protection
- Part I: Background on slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S., including decisions and policies that extended both; explains constitutional amendments that were passed to address these abuses and inequality
- Part II: Moot court activity examining a case of affirmative action in university admissions
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Moot Court (MS/HS) - Free Expression
- Part I: Background on free expression and how it’s protected by the Constitution, especially the First Amendment
- Part II: Moot court activity examining a case of censorship of a high school newspaper
John Peter Zenger and Freedom of the Press (HS)
This lesson begins with a quick primary source document activity. Next, students read an article about the trial of John Peter Zenger, a colonial-era case about freedom of the press, and learn how that case influenced later court decisions, including New York Times v. Sullivan. Finally, students take on the roles of partners in a law firm who have to determine how they will handle several hypothetical libel cases.
McCulloch v. Maryland (HS)
In this lesson, students begin by reading about the controversy that surrounded the Second Bank of the United States. Next, they examine the facts of the case and the constitutional issues raised in McCulloch v. Maryland, summarizing the arguments on both sides and weighing in on the Supreme Court's decision. Finally, they participate in a scenario in which they decide ― as constitutional scholars ― whether the Constitution's "necessary and proper" clause gives Congress the authority to enact hypothetical proposals.
The Progressive case Moot Court (HS) - Freedom of the Press
Students explore various Supreme Court rulings on the public's right to know information about the government's actions (aka the right to know) and learn about the key concept of “prior restraint” through a background reading. Then they hold a moot court on The Progressive case, in which the government sought to stop a magazine from publishing an article on the hydrogen bomb.
Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe et al. Moot Court (HS) - Establishment Couse
Students explore the scope and limits of the establishment clause of the First Amendment with a background reading followed by a moot court activity on the constitutional issue of student-led prayer at public school events.
Texas v. Johnson (HS)
This lesson gives students the opportunity to examine exceptions to the First Amendment right of free speech and consider whether these exceptions should exist. Using a reading about the case of Texas v. Johnson, students explore and explain the facts of this well-known flag-burning case and consider the differing judicial opinions it offers. Finally, they participate in a scenario as aides to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to make recommendations on whether or not to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning flag burning.
U.S. v. Nixon (HS)
In this lesson, students read a background on the Watergate scandal and President Nixon's resignation, with emphasis on the struggle between Nixon and the special prosecutor that led to the Supreme Court case. Students then examine the arguments presented to the court and how it decided the case. Finally, they participate in a scenario as legal advisors to the president in which they evaluate whether the president can validly claim executive privilege in three cases.
What Is an Independent Judiciary? (HS)
In this lesson, students learn about the independence of the judicial branch of government. First, students read and discuss an article on the role and principles of an independent judiciary, including what this means or looks like at the federal, state, and local levels. Then, they participate in a scenario in which they act as voters deciding whether or not to recall judges.
Why We Have Freedom of the Press (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students learn about the historical context for the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press. First, students read about the historical background for a free press in medieval Europe, England, and England’s American colonies in the 18th century. Next, they work in small groups to determine if several hypothetical situations are proper uses of prior restraint.
Note: This lesson is Part I of a two-part lesson sequence that continues with Part II: ‘Falsely Shouting Fire’: The Free Press and the Courts. Both Parts I and II may also be done independently of one another.
Winner-Take-All: The Two-Party System (HS)
In this lesson, students learn about the U.S. two-party election system in history and in practice today. First, students complete a reading on the two-party system, as well as the "third parties" that have arisen within that system and what role they play. Next, students review the party convention system. Finally, students simulate a meeting of delegates at a third-party convention, drafting their own platform for what their political party would stand for.
Conspiracy Theories Past and Present (HS)
In this lesson, students learn how to identify conspiracy theories and to distinguish them from other questions about history or current events. First, students discuss a hypothetical conspiracy theory. Next, students complete a thorough reading about historical and contemporary conspiracy theories as well as ways to identify frequently used logical fallacies by conspiracy theorists. Finally, students take on the roles of federal investigators determining if a set of facts amounts to a conspiracy theory.
Does the First Amendment Allow Restrictions On Hate? (HS)
In this lesson, students read an article outlining trends in hate crimes, Supreme Court decisions on laws established to challenge these crimes, and current federal legislation on the issue. Then, they simulate a legislative session on a proposed hate crime law, taking on the roles of lawmakers.
Guns and School Safety: What Is the Best Way Forward? (HS)
In this lesson, students read an article on the background to the current crisis posed by mass shootings at schools, as well as proposed solutions from across the political spectrum. Next, students participate in a simulation activity in which they act as state legislators trying to design the most effective policy for reduction of gun-violence in their state.
Guns and School Safety: What Is the Best Way Forward? (MS)
This version of the student reading was abridged and adapted by Aniela Lopez, Middle School ELA Teacher at Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy, CA.
Police and the Use of Force (MS)
This lesson focuses on the issue of police use of force in field situations. After a brief focus activity, students read and discuss a reading that describes laws and rules affecting the types and level of force, including deadly force. Then, in a paired activity, students take the role of police officers, review guidelines, and apply them to hypothetical cases. Finally, in a debriefing discussion, students compare their responses to the situations.
Policing the Police (MS/HS)
In this lesson, students focus on issues of police discipline. First, in a reading and discussion, students learn about the processes many police departments use to investigate citizen complaints about misconduct and for disciplining officers. Then, in a simulation activity, students take the role of members of a police board of rights to make decisions about a hypothetical case.
What Caused the Great Depression and Why Did Recovery Take So Long? (HS)
Students read an article describing the causes of the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s recovery efforts. Students then take on the roles of advisors to President Roosevelt, who have been asked to make recommendations to him on how to address a range of policy issues.
What Should the U.S. Do About North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons? (HS)
Based on the same background text as the CivCon about North Korea, students now take on the roles of foreign policy expert witnesses who have been called to testify before a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee about how to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat. Witnesses must persuade the subcommittee to adopt one of the policy options outlined in the text.