This activity could be used to conduct a community or legislative hearing on any issue that might come before a town council, state legislature, or U.S. Congress.
- Share the scenario / issue for discussion with the students – explain why the hearing is to take place.
- Divide the students into groups. There are two approaches here - one is to make all students legislators, and the other is to assign some to be legislators and others to be community members or interest groups. If you choose the second approach, divide the students into the following roles:
- Legislators or committee members - Between five and nine legislators is a practical number for a committee but this number may vary to meet class requirements. One legislator is designated as committee chairperson.
- Witnesses - The number and nature of the witnesses will depend upon the topic being discussed. Witnesses should represent different points of view on the issue.
- Work to make sure that every student has a role. If you have too many students, you may want to conduct two simultaneous legislative hearings to give everyone a substantial role.
- Explain the purpose of the legislative hearing and the procedures to be followed.
- Allow time for participants to prepare for the legislative hearing in accordance with their roles. If they are all legislators, decide whether students are assigned perspectives or may choose their own. They should conduct research and prepare their position on the topic. If you have legislators and witnesses, students could prepare in groups – legislators to review all the facts provided and develop preliminary positions and questions to ask, witnesses in favor to coordinate testimony and witnesses opposed to coordinate testimony. Or if there are more than two sides to the issue, witnesses could collaborate based on their positions.
- Provide each participant with background information and a worksheet to track their preparation. If you are assigning perspectives, provide each student with a short statement about them and their position. It is best to have students design their witness statement by themselves rather than to provide them with a script.
- If all students are legislators, prepare the room so they can see each other and converse. If some students are witnesses, set the room up to have the legislators in the front and witnesses and facilitators seated facing the legislators. You might provide a gavel for the chair and nameplates for committee members.
- Start the hearing and proceed as follows:
- The committee chairperson calls the legislative hearing to order, states the purpose of the hearing, and announces the order and time limits for witness testimony or legislator opening statements, depending on whether you have witnesses.
- Either have each legislator make a short opening statement of their position, or each witness present a statement for a set amount of time, followed by questions from members of the committee.
- After the legislators have made statements or the witnesses have been heard, the legislators on the committee review the issue, discuss the problem, and make recommendations or vote on what their next step(s) will be.
- Debrief the activity by asking students what they thought about the situation, whether they personally agreed with their perspective (if assigned), whether it was difficult to present their position (as a witness) or to decide what to do next (as a legislator), and which arguments were strongest. Conclude with a comparison to the ways in which real lawmaking bodies have addressed similar issues.