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Lesson Plan

That's Not Fair! Examining Civil Liberties With the U.S. Supreme Court

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That's Not Fair! Examining Civil Liberties With the U.S. Supreme Court

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Seven or eight 45-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Lauretta D. Doyle

Hollandale, Wisconsin


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1

Sessions 2-4

Sessions 5-6

Session 7-8


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Learn research skills by assuming various roles (researcher, writer, technician) while working in heterogeneous groups

  • Develop inquiry skills by using the Internet to select and research a court case dealing with civil liberties

  • Work collaboratively to take notes and develop a thorough discussion of the court case

  • Evaluate the cases they research by discussing the legal implications of the court's decision and forming their own opinions about the cause and outcome of the case

  • Analyze their research findings by summarizing the main details of the selected case

  • Synthesize and present their findings in a collaboratively created PowerPoint presentation that they share orally with an audience

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Session 1

1. Introduce the project by giving an overview of the role and function of the U.S. Supreme Court and by talking about the term civil rights and what it means.

2. Explain that students will work collaboratively over the next few days to research a specific court case of their choosing, and present their findings to the class at the end of the unit. The court case should be recent (since 1991) and it should deal with an issue of civil rights.

3. Review with students the note-taking, summarizing, and reading techniques that you have prepared (see Preparation, Step 4).

4. Have students get into the groups you have assigned, and explain that they will rotate through three group roles, as defined below. Ask each student to choose a role to begin.

  • Researcher: finds information for the presentation

  • Writer: takes notes and writes text for the presentation

  • Technician: keeps others on task by watching the clock; also acts as a problem solver for any technical difficulties arising from the computer or printer
Decisions are made by consensus.

5. Introduce the following websites to the class:

  • American Civil Liberties Union
    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides in-depth information on any number of court cases heard by state and federal courts. Individual ACLU state websites may be helpful as well. Students can use this website to select and research a current civil rights case.

  • Legal Dictionary at FindLaw.com
    Court decisions are often written in "legalese," so students will find this dictionary useful when summarizing their court case. The search feature on FindLaw.com can also aid students in their research.

  • Dictionary.com
    In case the definitions from the Legal Dictionary are still incomprehensible, Dictionary.com will provide students with clear terminology for their presentations.
6. Distribute the U.S. Civil Liberties Project Rubric and review it with students. Tell them they should be sure to save all of their work, including their notes, because you will be evaluating it at the end of the project.

7. After a thorough explanation of requirements, allow students to begin looking for a case to research by clicking on the Issues link on the right of the ACLU homepage and choosing one of the topics from the dropdown menu. There are a wide range of topics to choose from; encourage students to pick one they know little about or that is particularly relevant to current events (e.g., racial justice, immigrants' rights, or free speech).

You want to make sure that each group chooses an appropriate court case for the project. Explain that while they may choose any state or federal court case pertaining to civil liberties, they are more likely to find resources related to cases heard by a federal district court, a state supreme court, or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Your students may be interested in hearing about the following examples of some recent court cases:

  • Cheema v. Chandless (2005)
    A Sikh Indian man imprisoned in San Francisco while seeking asylum in the United States sought the right to wear a religious head covering.

  • Flaherty v. Keystone Oaks School District (2002)
    A Pennsylvania high school was ordered to pay $60,000 to a student who was punished for a private message sent on the Internet.

  • Jones v. City of Los Angeles (2006)
    The ruling in this California case prohibits criminalization of the homeless.
8. If there is any time left over, groups may begin taking notes on their selected cases.

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Sessions 2-4

1. Distribute The Essential Questions Worksheet to each group. Provide time for groups to use the Internet to find information on their chosen court cases and answer the questions on the sheet.

2. Have students work on summarizing the court's opinions and comparing them to their own thoughts on the court case. Do they agree or disagree? Do they support the court's decision? Why or why not? Tell the groups that they will be trying to convince an audience that what they feel would be the best outcome for their court case.

3. During each session, visit with each group to make sure that students are taking turns with each role (i.e., writer, researcher, and technician). By the end of the fourth session, each student should have produced at least one page of good notes. Make yourself available also for the many questions that will arise as students research their court cases.

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Sessions 5-6

1. With the research completed, it is time for each group to summarize their findings into a presentation for the class. Remind students of the summarizing techniques you reviewed during Session 1.

2. Have students in each group work together to create an informational PowerPoint presentation on their case by gleaning the most important information from each student's notes. Groups can use their creativity to design the presentation, but remind students that they must include the following information:

  • Cover page (students' and teacher's names, class, section, and date)

  • Title page (court case title)

  • Facts of the case (who, what, when, where, why, and how)

  • Students' and court opinions, including any dissention

  • Bibliography
3. Again, visit with each group and make yourself available for questions. Help students differentiate between interesting but extraneous details, and those key informational details that belong on the PowerPoint slides. You should also explain, however, that the extraneous details might make interesting side notes in the oral presentation. Encourage students to keep notes of these types of things to bring up.

Note: Make sure students save their work in an appropriate place. They will need access to the files to present during Sessions 7 and 8.

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Session 7-8

1. Have the groups present their PowerPoint presentations. Each student should play an active role in his or her group's presentation. Take notes for assessment purposes during each presentation.

2. Following each presentation, help the group lead a class discussion on their case. What do other students think of the case and its final verdict? How does this case relate to other groups' cases? How has the outcome of the case directly affected any of their lives? How do they think the outcomes might affect them in the future?

3. Have students print out their presentations and complete the Group Process Assessment Worksheet to reflect on their group's work.

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Students can write an essay in which they compare several of the cases that were discussed in class or further explain the significance of the decision they presented. They can use the Essay Map tool to plan their writing.

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Use the U.S. Civil Liberties Project Rubric to evaluate group projects. You will need the following for each student:


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