Civics Lessons

Lesson Topic: Judicial Branch

What Makes a Court Supreme?

The purpose of this lesson is to help students understand the original purpose and
powers of the Supreme Court according to the Constitution. Students learn the Supreme Court’s role in preserving the U.S. Constitution and the balance of power it creates.

The Michigan Supreme Court

This unit includes ten lessons including a history of the Michigan Supreme Court, Procedures of the Court, and Civil Rights and the Michigan Supreme Court.

Appellate Courts: Let’s Take It Up

Students learn what happens in appellate-level courts and how those courts operate differently from the trial courts most people are familiar with from watching television. By following the case of a real middle school girl who was strip searched at school, students find out what happens when someone takes a case all the way to the Supreme Court. Through this case, students learn about the structure of the federal court system and the way appellate courts decide cases.

This is Our Town Too: The Jury Process

In this lesson students learn about the process of voir dire and the use of peremptory challenges. Through the study of three actual Supreme Court cases, students gain background information for a classroom lesson.

The Verdict of History

Features seven of the 20 most significant opinions of the first two centuries of the Michigan Supreme Court. from racial segregation in schools to eugenics laws to whether being a member of a nudist colony constitutes indecent exposure, The Verdict of History lesson plans teach student to think critically, develop their decision-making skills, and understand how the judicial system applies to their own lives.

I Can’t Wear What??

Students meet Ben Brewer and find out what happened the day he decided to wear his favorite band t-shirt to school in violation of a new dress code rule. Students read a summary of a Supreme Court case to figure out the “rule” that applies to Ben’s problem. This lesson lays the groundwork for students to write two short persuasive essays—one arguing each side of the issue.

Constitution Day Lesson-6th Amendment

The goal of this activity is to introduce 6th grade students to the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution (guarantee of an impartial jury for criminal defendants). The materials illustrate how the American juror selection process differs from the jury selection process used in ancient times during the Roman Republic.

John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme

In this lesson, students will learn, the role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution, the significance of Marbury v. Madison, the concept of judicial review and how Marbury v. Madison solidified it, and the relationship between the Supreme Court and laws passed by Congress and state legislatures

B.B. Wolf v. Curly Pig Mock Trial

Mock Trial Script of Curly Pig vs the Big Bad Wolf

What Makes A Good Judge?

This lesson focuses on the costs and benefits of various judicial selection methods. Students will list characteristics they think essential or valuable to being a good judge, and then see which system of judicial selection – appointment, merit, or election – obtains the highest quality judges. In discussing each method, students will understand the tradeoffs between accountability and independence in judicial selection.
This lesson was developed to be used on Law Day, but does not need to be limited to Law Day.

Goldilocks vs. the Three Bears

This scripted mock trial includes ideas for pre and post mock trial activities.

Krabbs v. Plankton Mock Trial

Students learn about the different roles and responsibilities in a court by participating in a mock trial.

The Problem of SpongeBob RoundPants

This short scripted mock trial for grades 4-6 involves SpongeBob suing Abercrombie and Fish for pants that don’t fit. Scripted parts allow the trial to move quickly to jury deliberations during which the student jurors actually decide the verdict of the case.

Yertle the Turtle Mock Trial

This mock trial exposes students to the mechanics of a jury trial, and stresses the importance of functioning as a juror.

Interpreting the Law

Students learn why laws need to be interpreted by discussing laws/constitutional provisions. They present their findings to the class.

Voir Dire Simulation

In this lesson, students will role play real lawyers as they carry out a voir dire simulation for jury selection. They will draft lists of favorable characteristics of jurors beforehand to aid in their questioning. Students will think critically about important juror characteristics, and identify factors – such as race, socio-economic status, and age – that may have influenced the voir dire process.

Qualities of Judges

Students brainstorm qualities that judges might possess, then discuss why those qualities are important.

People in the Courtroom

In this lesson, students analyze a photograph of a trial. They identify the people in the courtroom, learn about the roles that they play in the legal process, and discuss how each is essential to ensuring access to justice.

What is the Judicial Branch?

This lesson exposes students to the judicial branch and the power of judicial review. They read about an actual Supreme Court case, Torcaso v. Watkins, to see how the judicial branch used its power of judicial review to strike down an unconstitutional state law.

Understanding Contracts

In this lesson, students are asked which of two chocolate bars – one with nuts, one without – they prefer. A single representative is taken from each preference group. These representatives are given the chocolate bar that they prefer less, motivating a contractual trade. One student unknowingly has an empty wrapper, eliciting debate after the trade is completed. The class concludes by discussing possible equitable solutions.

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