I worked all last summer on a Teacher’s Manual, but for reasons too complicated to explain many of my ideas were not included. So my plan is to publish them so that they won’t go to waste. These sorts of ideas don’t have a long shelf life. Let me know which ideas you really use and find helpful!I asked for permission to post them here, so  Help yourself!  I only ask that you not publish any of this  anywhere else and that you give me credit when it’s appropriate to do so. Let me know what you use.

Today’s installment:   Ideas for the first day of class:   (These were based on Chapter 1 of the textbook, but government textbook all tend to have a degree of similarity…)

Idea #1  Group work using the idea of American Core Values  for the first day of class

Divide students into three groups—one that will have seven to ten minutes to study Liberty; Another to explain equality; and one to consider “self-government”.

After the seven or eight minutes  each group should be ready:  1/ to define the concept as it functions in US politics    2/To discuss a current example of a group advocating one of these core values

If your textbook does not lend itself to this, you could download a current piece illustrating each of these:

For Liberty – The Liberty Fund might be a good spot to find something useful.    For equality—something commenting on the recent health care debate, or something from proponents of gay marriage; or something international looking at equality for women.  For Self-Government something from the recent Tea Party movement or from Rand Paul, or from the Libertarian website

After each group has presented, ask students how these points of view can be reconciled.How does a functioning government balance these ideals?   How can everyone be guaranteed health care and people not be told what to do?  How can people govern themselves and there be gun control in a city where people are shooting each other?

Idea #2 :  Pairs of Students discuss Tocqueville quotations:

Quotations from Tocqueville have become  so common that the Michael Kinsley, when editor of the New Republic Magazine forbade authors to begin their pieces with them, but that needn’t stop us from using them

Provide students some background on de Tocqueville and Beaumont’s trip to the US


Then give each pair of students a quotation from Tocqueville. Let them read it and talk about it for a few minutes and then ask them to read their quotation and comment on its validity in American politics today.    Is there still some truth to it?

There are many, many sites for Tocqueville quotes:



At the end of the quotation presentations ask students why they think Tocqueville quotes are so ubiquitous?

Idea #3  Have students take the ISI quiz:       http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx

Use the quiz as a springboard toward a general discussion regarding where students get their news.  Patterson’s cites studies that show that people who watch cable news may be more poorly informed than people who don’t pay much attention to the news at all.

Ask students how they keep informed. Good chance  it’s from cable, (which it most likely, since  half of adult Americans now get most of their news from cable) probably The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.  Why do students  think cable news viewers are so ill informed? Do any of them read the newspapers? or watch network news?  Or read blogs?   Show a couple of clips of cable

You can probably find better things that are more current than these, but here are a couple clips on the health care debate that would  work: Bill O’Reilly: (http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/oreilly/transcript/we-are-getting-hosed-federal-government-and-private-health-insurance-companies    Keith Olbermann  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbWw23XwO5o

After the class has seen these two clips, you might ask students, from these clips what do we really know about healthcare as it benefits private insurance companies? Did these clips  inform us or just  keep us occupied?

If you want to end your class on a light note, this clip from the Daily show would work:  http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-march-4-2010/the-med-menace

(Note: this contains two bleeped expletives. It’s hard to find clips from this show without something offensive  by school standards. Preview it first to be sure there is nothing that might upset  some of your students.—especially the references to the rapture..)

Idea #4   Working in Pairs: Students study and explain quotations from John Stuart Mill

The author of the textbook  quotes Moral Philosopher,  John Stuart Mill at the head of the chapter and several places throughout:   In fact,  John Stuart Mill is frequently quoted, in part because he created such a huge body of work: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Fperson=21&Itemid=28

Take a few minutes to tell students something about JS Mill (Or you could assign this job to one pair of students)  a good review of a biography of Mill can be found at  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/dec/23/biography.features

You’ll find good quotations at:  http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Fperson=21&Itemid=28             or//  http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/John_Stuart_Mill/)

Then give out different  quotations of Mills  to  pairs of students .   Ask students to do three things:   Explain the quotation; give an example from current events where the quotation might be apt; assess the validity of the quotation.

Give students about five minutes to  discuss the quote and come up with their comment and then let each pair speak.

Idea # 5  Assign pairs of students one of the key terms from the first chapter.

Tell students that their job is to come up with a definition of the word or phrase  –possibly humorous , illustrated—but definitely  clear and cogent., explained in such a way  that any student in the school would understand its meaning in the context of political science.. Students must use their own words.

give each pair of students  construction paper, or posterboard or something equivalent  on which to write his or her word and definition., and post definitions on the wall for a day or two.

Some teachers continue to do this throughout the year, to get students to pay attention to new terms without getting involved in tedious vocabulary quizzes.

Idea #6    Discussion of Ideology using Political Quizzes as Prompts

A. At the beginning of class have students take one or two of these online political quizzes, to determine their political ideology:

B. Once students have determined whether they are Libertarian, Populist, Republican, or Democrat, have them discuss their ideology. Ask them:

    • Where do they think they got their ideas?
    • Do they share the same party as their parents?  the same attitudes as their parents?
    • Do they feel that their schooling has had an effect on their ideas?
    • Did they get their ideas from their church? from their peers at school? from various forms of media (television, movies, the internet)? elsewhere

Idea #7   Four-Corner Group/Discussion

A. Divide students into four randomized groups—Democrat, Republican, Libertarian/ Republican (rather like today’s Tea Party), and Libertarian/Democrat. Using their textbooks  and/or  what students find on their own, each group will have about 10 minutes of class time to explain its ideology—philosophically and constitutionally. Once each group has had its chance to promulgate its position, the teacher can begin to ask questions on specific positions and issues:

  • Where does each group stand on guaranteed health care for all?
  • How much environmental regulation should exist?
  • How much should corporations be regulated?
  • Where does your group stand on gun control?
  • How much should the U.S. be involved with foreign countries–in war and in peace?
  • How serious a problem is illegal immigration?
  • What is your group’s position on legalized abortions, gay marriage, legalizing drugs, and prostitution?
  • Does the government have the right to seize property for conservation?

If you like, you could have students revise and extend their remarks for homework

So that’s the first installment. If you see anything you like, please let me know which ones you like.  That way I’ll have more sense of what to publish and what not to publish.