One of the best practices in law-related education is the use of
community resource people in the classroom. They can provide students
with a wide array of information, materials, and experience not
available in any textbook. The use of community resources can also
expose students to vocational opportunities involving the law, and
broaden students’ viewpoints and perspectives.
Most teachers likely have an idea about who to invite as a “guest
speaker” for their students. Typically, those “guest speakers” lecture,
take part in a panel, or participate in a question-and-answer sessions
with students. The research on best practices in law-related education
suggests a different approach – one in which community resource people
co-teach interactive student centered lessons with you. They serve as
coaches or advisors for mock trials, roles plays involving traffic
stops, mock legislative hearings, etc. In this approach, the community
resource person does less “speaking” and more co-teaching lessons you
Before class, follow these steps:
- Select a community resource person based on the unit of study and
the goals of the class. Among the most common are lawyers, law students,
and police officers. Other possibilities include probation or parole
officers, ex-offenders, real estate agents, consumer advocates, social
workers, housing inspectors, elected officials, judges, journalists, and
representatives of various government agencies or public interest
- Prepare the community resource person and the class. The community
resource person should be given some background information on the
students and their prior knowledge of the topic of discussion. The
community resource person should be told the objectives of the class. If
you have a copy of the lesson plan, send it to the community resource
person and discuss how you will co-teach the lesson. If you do not have a
specific lesson plan, create one with the community resource person. Do
not plan to wing it, or to leave the planning all up to him or her.
Encourage her or him to avoid lecturing. Remind the community resource
person that the lesson should focus on what the students will be doing,
not what he or she will be saying.
- A few days prior to the class, confirm the visit. If necessary,
explain your school’s procedures for visitors. For example, is there a
designated visitor’s parking area? Does she or he need to bring an ID?
Will you or one of your students meet him or her in the front office?
- Tell students how the community resource person fits into the goals
of their class. They should do some background study on the topic of the
visit and should prepare a list of questions, preferably in writing,
prior to the visit.
When class begins, follow these steps:
- Introduce the community resource person and remind students the purpose of his or her visit to their classroom.
- Assume responsibility for class management, rather than depending on
the community resource person to do so. If the activity involves
small-group work, you might consider putting students into groups
because you know who will work together most productively.
- Introduce and conduct the student activity you have planned. The
community resource person will advise, coach, observe, make suggestions,
- As the student activity concludes, involve the community resource
person in the closing discussion. Focus on how the activity compares to
“the real world,” and local laws and procedures. Be sure to leave enough
time for students to ask questions that may not have been addressed in
the activity such as:
- What education and training is required for your job?
- What inspired you to do this work?
- What is a “typical” work day for you?
- What are the best/worst parts of your job?
After the class:
- Discuss the visit through questions such as these:
- What did you learn from the community resource person?
- How did his or her participation in our class compare to our usual activities?
- What else would you like to have learned?
- How did the community resource person’s remarks relate to other information you have learned on the same topic?
- Write a thank you note or email to the community resource person. At
a minimum, it should come from you. It would be even better if students
write or signed it. If possible and appropriate, copy the community
resource person’s supervisor.