1/AP US Government and Poltics ~ First day of Class

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


5 thoughts on “1/AP US Government and Poltics ~ First day of Class”

  1. Thank you SOOOO much for all of your AP ideas. They are wonderful. I can’t wait to try the first week and I wrote down so many ideas in your other units. They are so useful. I am also passing them off to an AP Gov friend. Thanks so much. You should write that book. There is nothing like this out there. Interesting ways to teach AP Gov.

    Here is my technology resource blog: http://notanotherhistoryteacher.edublogs.org/
    Melissa Seideman

  2. victor lulo said:

    Great ideas, I will be using one of them the first day

  3. Suzan Phenicie said:

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. They are worth gold. I hope you have a fantastic year.

    Suzan Phenicie
    Houston Christian High School

  4. Thank you…this is my first year teaching this course and your ideas will be so helpful!

    • sikenberry said:

      Glad to help! That’s why I worked on the manual in the first place. Start with the elections and really grab their interest! The more abstract stuff can come later.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s