Street Law’s mission is to advance justice through classroom and community education programs that empower people with the legal and civic knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring about positive change for themselves and others. We know certain teaching strategies and activities are more effective than other approaches to engage, inform, and inspire students to take action. Street Law lessons feature a variety of these student-centered and interactive strategies.

The list and summaries that follow explain how to use the teaching strategies featured in Street Law lessons. These methods may be familiar to many experienced classroom teachers, but Street Law lessons are also taught by teachers who want to expand their repertoire of teaching methods and by thousands of professionals and volunteers who are not trained educators. In most cases, Street Law lesson plans and teaching materials contain all the steps to successfully use each method. However, in response to numerous requests, we have collected and explained the most common Street Law teaching strategies here, in one place.

Terminology

We have chosen to use the terms “teacher” and “student” here, but we know that in some cases, the terms “instructor” and “participant” may be more appropriate if the lessons are taught by volunteers and to people who are not in traditional school settings. Please substitute the terms if that better serves your purpose.  

Organization

We have chosen to organize the teaching strategies by category, which allows us to more succinctly outline the purposes and goals of each method. The categories are somewhat fluid because some strategies can fit in more than one.

  1. Acquiring, Sharing, and Presenting New Content
  2. Discussing Ideas and Exploring Controversial Issues
  3. Analyzing U.S. Supreme Court and Appellate Court Cases
  4. Simulations and Role-plays
  5. Analyzing and Interpreting Media and Websites
  6. Accessing Community Resources


1. Acquiring, Sharing, or Presenting New Content

 


2. Discussing Ideas and Exploring Controversial Issues

Please also see the methods in the “acquiring and presenting new information” section of this document. 

Student-centered discussions and activities to explore controversial issues help raise student interest and engage students in learning and practicing meaningful skills through reasoned debate. They also teach decision-making, social participation, careful listening, defending a position, and conflict management skills.

Teachers are sometimes reluctant to introduce controversy, fearing that students will be unable to discuss emotionally charged subjects or ambiguous issues rationally. The following suggestions can help make controversy constructive and educational:

  • Encourage students to examine and present conflicting views even if they do not agree with these views. Be sure all sides of an issue are equally explored. Raise any opposing views students may have missed.
  • Help students identify specific points of agreement and disagreement, places where compromise might be possible, and places where compromise is unlikely to occur.
  • Keep the students focused on ideas or positions, rather than people.
  • Emphasize that the outcome or the decision that your students reach is not as important as their ability to support a decision and express it in a civil manner. Stress that for many controversial topics, reasonable people can differ.
  • Before using a teaching strategy in which class discussion and sharing of opinions are critical components, you may want to establish some ground rules like the following: 
    • Everyone will get a chance to talk. Only one person will talk at a time.
    • Wait your turn. Do not interrupt.
    • Show respect for other students, even people with whom you disagree. Do not argue with people. Argue with reasons or ideas.
    • You may change your view or opinion. Be prepared to give your reason for changing.
    • Listen to reasons and ideas presented by your classmates. You will be called on to tell which one of your classmates’ ideas you found most persuasive.
  • Conclude or debrief the activities or discussions, summarizing all of the arguments presented and exploring consequences of any alternatives suggested.

Strategies

 


3. Analyzing U.S. Supreme Court and Appellate Court Cases

Analyzing cases that have been decided by (or are under consideration by) the United States Supreme Court and lower appellate courts is a quintessential teaching strategy in civics and law-related education. Analyzing cases gives students the opportunity to understand how the law affects real people. The process requires students to consider and understand challenging legal problems, to reach decisions, and understand the impact of the outcomes of a case.

There are a variety of case study methods to teach about court decisions, including the anatomy of a case, classifying arguments, unmarked opinions, applying precedent, and moot courts. They are listed below in order from the most basic to the most complicated method. Typically, students learn how to do case analysis (exploring the anatomy of a case) first. When they have mastered those skills, they build on them by engaging in more complex activities. Most teachers use a variety of these methods to teach important content and skills.

Street Law, Inc. has an extensive library of free and ready-to-use cases in its  Free Resource Library.

Choosing Cases

  1. Select the case materials. Consider the following when you select which case to teach:
    • Is the content of the case relevant to your course, to a specific school outcome (e.g., civic literacy or citizenship), or worth knowing?
    • Is it interesting to students?
    • Is it a topic of current interest in your community?
    • Are community resource people available to assist with the lesson?
    • Is there an underlying value conflict that is important for students to examine?
    • Cases may be real or hypothetical, long or short, based on written opinions of a court or derived from an everyday situation. 
  2. Prepare the student materials (or draw from our Free Resource Library) and decide if you want students to work alone or in groups.

 


4. Simulations and Role-plays

Please also see the strategies for moot courts and pro se courts in the section for analyzing court cases.

 


5. Analyzing and Interpreting Media and Websites

 


6. Accessing Community Resources

In every community, there are resources available that can enrich your lessons or program. In fact, community-based education is an essential element of best practice in law-related education. When you give students the opportunity to engage with an expert in their own community, to access community-specific resources, or to see how law works first-hand, the lessons become more realistic, personal, useful, and relevant.