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Civil Discourse and the Constitution: Candid Conversations

Have candid conversations with students on the Constitution using civil discourse skills in honor of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on September 17 and throughout the year. To support teachers, some federal judges are available to schools to bring attention to the nation's founding fundamentals.

Federal judges and volunteer attorneys, invited by teachers, can bring Civil Discourse and the Constitution: Candid Conversations to in-person or virtual high school classrooms to acquaint students with the faces of the justice system and the importance of civility when discussing Constitutional principles.   

This program is relevant throughout the academic year and even more so in September as the nation marks Constitution Day and Citizenship Day September 17. Teams of a judge and volunteer attorneys can assist teachers in meeting the 2004 Congressional mandate that schools receiving federal funding provide education about the Constitution on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

About These Resources

Get started with the Activity Download (docx) that includes the agenda and guidance for the different roles in the program.

Teachers invite a judge from their nearest federal courthouse to make a virtual or in-person visit to their classroom. The judge involves volunteer attorneys to guide students through the interactive exploration of the rule of law as expressed in the Constitution using civil discourse skills. For assistance, contact aogrp_outreach@ao.uscourts.gov.

Roles and Resources

The Activity Download (docx) includes a tailored description and detailed guidance for each role:

  • Teacher: In advance, the teacher prepares the students during one class period by showing the video Court Shorts: Rule of Law in Your Life (5 minutes). The teacher uses The Question Formulation Technique to help students develop meaningful questions about the video and about their areas of interest and concern. At the event, the teacher calls on the students during the conversations.
  • Facilitators: At the event, two volunteer attorneys manage the program and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak.
  • Judge: At the event, the judge opens and closes the program. The judge also sets the stage and takes the lead in the candid conversation.   
  • Attorneys: At the event, the volunteers introduce themselves by mentioning why they chose the law. They ask students questions about the Civility Self-Reflection Quiz and draw out their perspectives on the importance of civility. The attorneys also handle student questions and comments that the judge directs to them during the candid conversation and the discussion of the Reality Check Quiz.
  • Students: In advance, students prepare for the program by developing questions in the preparatory class. They use the Question Formulation Technique in small groups. At the event, they raise these questions when called on by the teacher. Students also ask spontaneous questions and state their opinions throughout.

What’s Different About This Activity?

The centerpiece is a candid conversation with a federal judge and volunteer attorneys about Constitutional issues raised by young people. The preparatory classroom activity sets the stage for meaningful discussion by helping students identify and articulate Constitutional questions that matter to them.

  • The Candid Conversation is an opportunity to interact with a judge and attorneys.
  • Students learn and use critical thinking and inquiry skills.
  • Students learn and practice civil discourse skills.
  • Students become aware of situations and decisions that can have legal and long-term consequences.
  • Students become acquainted with the many faces of the justice system.
  • Students gain exposure to careers in the legal field.

Time Commitment  

Preparation: One 50-minute class period; 10 minutes of teacher prep; 30 minutes of student homework.

Program: A 50-minute class visit by judges and attorneys – virtually or in person.

The only classroom preparation is one class period for developing questions using The Question Formulation Technique. Refer to the teachers’ tip sheet (docx) for step-by-step guidance.

During the preparatory class period, students watch the videos Civility in the Law and in Life (4 minutes) and Court Shorts: Rule of Law in Your Life (5 minutes). Afterward, students get into small groups for the question formulation activity (40 minutes). Students develop a list of questions about the rule of law and other topics they want to raise with the judge and attorneys.

Prior to the event, the teacher selects and sequences/numbers the student-generated questions and assigns them to individuals who will raise them with the judge and attorneys (10 minutes). At the event, the teacher calls on students, following the numbered sequence of questions. The teacher also calls on students and takes volunteers for spontaneous questions and comments throughout. 

Students fill out the Civility Self-Reflection Quiz and the Reality Check Quiz in advance with an adult in their life and discuss the issues raised (30 minutes). Students bring the completed quizzes with them to the event for discussion.

Learning Objectives

During the program, students:

  • Interact with the faces of the federal courts’ legal community
  • Have a candid conversation with justice system leaders about issues of concern
  • Learn and practice civility and decision-making skills
  • Become aware of situations and decisions that can have long-term consequences
  • Understand the impact of the rule of law on their rights and their daily lives
  • Gain exposure to careers in the courts.

What Happens During the Program

  1. Introduction to the job of judges
    Video: The Judges’ Oath (1 minute)
    Introductions: Judge and attorneys give heart reasons for choosing the law.
  2. Civility Discussion Starter
    Attorneys use the Civility Self-Reflection Quiz to draw out students.
  3. Optional Video Discussion Starter
    Court Shorts: The Rule of Law in Your Life (5 minutes). If this has not been shown in the preparatory class, it should be shown now. Program participants can discuss the video.
  4. Candid conversation and Q/A session with the judge and attorneys
    Conversation with the judge and attorneys using questions generated in the previous class. The teacher calls on students. The conversation is facilitated by the attorneys about selected scenarios from the Reality Check Quiz.