Purpose

Field trips are an exciting way to engage students in civics and law-related education. They give students “real world” exposure to the legal system and government in action, and they make it possible for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to what they see in their own community.

Procedures

Careful advance planning is the key to a successful field trip. Each school or school system has its own rules about how far in advance teachers must request field trips, which forms must be completed, what transportation may be used, how many chaperones are required, what time students can leave the building, and when they must return. Be sure to build in enough lead time to understand and comply with those requirements. The following general steps will help you plan and maximize the success of your field trip.

  1. Decide where to go. Among the common locations visited by law or government classes are court buildings, correctional facilities, police departments, crime labs, and government agencies. You may also consider your state capitol or local government building. There are, however, countless other places that could be visited, and more than one visit could be made to the same location. For example, students could visit a civil trial, a criminal trial, and a small claims court—all in the same building. If you live near a federal court, contact the federal court’s educational outreach program.
  2. Plan the visit. Students should be prepared for the visit, and every effort should be made to involve the personnel of the agency or facility you are visiting. For example, if students are going to court, contact the clerk of the court to find out the best time of day and most interesting proceeding to attend. Consider asking a judge or attorney to speak to the students to better contextualize the visit. Prepare an observation sheet for students to record what they see and learn on the visit. The questions will vary based on the unit of study. For example, if you are in the middle of teaching a unit about constitutional rights at trial, you might ask students to take notes about the specific steps attorneys, judges, and jurors took to guarantee those rights. If you are teaching about careers in public service, government, or law, ask students to take notes about the people they meet, the work they do, and the education or training that is required for that position.
  3. Conduct the visit. As with any class, students should be prepared to ask questions, to watch for specific things, and to record their reactions on an observation sheet.
  4. Debrief and discuss the visit when you return to school. You might ask students:
    • What did you see?
    • How did you feel about what you saw?
    • What did you learn from the visit?
    • How did what you learned relate to what we are studying or your prior knowledge?
    • What else would you now like to know?