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Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions

This activity gives participants experience with civil discourse skills and evidence-based decision making.

Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions is a national initiative of the federal courts that brings high school and college students into federal courthouses for legal proceedings that stem from situations in which law-abiding young people can find themselves. These court hearings (not mock trials) are realistic simulations that showcase jury deliberations in which all students and learning styles participate in civil discourse. 

About These Resources

Get started by downloading the agenda and complete activity package. This activity can be used with any case in the Educational Resources section. In this program, Elonis v. U.S. is the landmark case. Other cases that can be used in this format include Texas v. Johnson, and U.S. v. Alvarez.

Roles and Resources

This activity includes a tailored description and detailed guidance for each role:

  • Facilitator: The facilitator manages the courtroom program and gives everyone an opportunity to speak during the jury deliberations. 
  • Judge: Presides over the simulation and talks with the students in the courtroom after the event. 
  • Volunteer Attorney Coaches
  • Students
    • Attorneys: These students present arguments before the judge.
    • Jurors: These students deliberate and work toward an evidence-based decision.

What’s Different About This Activity?
  • Civil Discourse Skills
  • Evidence-Based Decision-Making Methods
  • Differences Between Media and Real-Life Court
  • Realistic Court Simulation
  • Centerpiece is Jury Deliberations for All Learning Styles

Time Commitment

Teachers' time committement: No classroom preparation for students.

Courtroom Program: Approximately three hours – from orientation to adjournment.

Note to Teachers: There is no reading or pre-court preparation on the part of students or their teachers. All preparation is incorporated into the courtroom event.

Learning Objectives

  • Students leave these three-hour programs before lunchtime with sharpened tools for civil discourse and decision making.
  • They have a heightened awareness of situations they may not realize can end with an appearance in federal court.
  • They experience the differences between media portrayals of the court system and what happens in real life.
  • They interact with the human face of the justice system – judges, attorneys, and other professionals – and they gain exposure to careers in the courts.
  • Their courtroom experience motivates them to serve willingly on juries when called.

What Happens in the Courtroom Program?

  1. Reality Check Quiz and Discussion Starter
    Students start by taking an attention-getting Reality Check Quiz that tests their knowledge of situations that can put them in legal jeopardy.

  2. Civil Discourse Skill Building
    This activity has two parts:

    1. Guiding students in establishing ground rules and group norms for civil discussion.

    2. Brainstorming and listing examples of language that they can use to create and maintain an environment that fosters civility and respect.

  3. Courtroom Simulation
    Student jurors are featured in the program as they decide a contemporary Supreme Court case that is modified with a scenario that applies to their lives. The abbreviated hearing gives them a realistic experience of what happens in court.

  4. Reality Check Discussion
    The program concludes with a candid conversation with the host judge about the real-life scenarios in the Reality Check Quiz that can have legal and long-term consequences.