American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Projects, Required Documents, Teaching Tips, Writing for AP Gov

Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government

Besides teaching AP Government, I also teach 8th grade. In one of my classes, I have 31 students and the other has 10. Every time we do class discussions, I have to really figure out how to vary the instruction to allow all students to talk and learn. This also allows me to try new techniques!

I’ve also been reviewing the year and my AP Government students just could not fully grasps really using evidence and reasoning. I loved this with my 8th graders and will incorporate it with AP next year, especially after reflecting on my practice as my students are currently sitting in their test.

The set up: We just finished our economics unit and I needed a transition to our final exam, which is a Moot Court on a current case (the students haven’t yet decided which one and yes, I do Moot Court with my 8th graders) Our DBQ is from Voices of History from the Bill of Rights Institute (requires a log in but is free and an amazing resource, including eight of the required cases). We chose to do Kelo v. New London. Let me tell you something, it’s a beast! It also lends PERFECTLY into an argumentation essay.

Day 1: read and annotate the background essay and have a small class discussion to ensure understanding

Days 2-3 (depending on time and length of documents) I split the handouts into sections for groups of 4-5 (depending on class size). In those groups, the students become ‘experts’ in those documents. They answer the questions and think about how to use that evidence to answer the question provided, in this case “Evaluate the Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London”

Day 4- Four minute Socratic seminars:

  • Students within their groups will have a Socratic discussion regarding their assigned documents and the overall prompt. There are leading questions within the DBQ.
  • I give 4 minutes for the discussion within the group. The rest of the students are taking notes. In my classroom, I have 6 groups, but this can be adjusted for any number of students.
    • For my class of 10, I will have each of them become an expert on a set of documents and talk us through them as I record the evidence on the board.
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I took notes during their Socratic seminars

It’s very simple and can be adjusted to accommodate any classroom. I was able to sit with some groups and help them with some of the meatier pieces. After this round of Socratic discussions, students should be well equipped to write an argumentative essay. My kids killed it because we read AND discussed before they wrote.

If you are doing this with your first DBQ, it’s a great time to introduce the argumentative essay rubric and discuss what is expected of them. At this point, students will write their argumentative essays. (Oh, and the famous Brutus 1) After the first one, you can lessen the time in class needed as the process has been established. For me, the Socratic discussion is the most important part to do in class.

Here’s the clincher- Students either get all the points OR a Z. I learned about this from a college professor. Earning a Z means you aren’t quite done yet. You have the rubric and have seen what you’ve earned, but you also see what you haven’t earned and you have an opportunity to go back and adjust your writing to earn those point. The purpose for this is to get them to a point where they know they have an opportunity for feedback and revision. The end goal is to ensure they know how to write an argumentative essay and how to understand the rubric to get all of the points. Depending on your schedule, you can give up to two weeks (or for me, the end of the unit) to submit their revisions. I realize this will be a lot of front loading, so I may do it as groups to start with. Luckily, I start school in July so I will be able to test it out before many of you are in school.

Continue reading “Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government”

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Writing for AP Gov

For Whom The Bell Tolls- John McCain

John McCain has been the Arizona senator since I have lived in the great state of Arizona. Senator McCain is one of my favorite people, not only because he has had a cameo on Parks and Recreation, or that he’s a hero in my eyes, but because he is one of the people in Congress that I truly admire. His ability to have and maintain friendships across the aisle, his humility and ability to say he’s imperfect, and his dedication to his county is second to none.

I encourage you to watch For Whom The Bell Tolls on HBO. It shows an age of politics that is slowly becoming extinct. This is evident in his speech to the Senate on July 25. John McCain gave his life for the service of this country. In my eyes, he is a true American hero.

My AP class is wrapping up Congress and as an Arizona citizen and teacher, I felt that closing it with the speech is the best tribute to our Senator. The prompt I wrote is also a good lead into the Presidency.

This speech is incredible, and it fits in with so many of our standards and a FRQ practice fits in nicely.

1. Argumentative Essay Prompt:

Senator John McCain addressed a full Senate in July of 2017. Some have compared this speech to Washington’s Farewell address. Defend or refute the statement that John McCain’s speech to the Senate was the modern day Farewell Address. (John McCain read Washington’s Farewell Address to the Senate on February 16, 1987 in a tradition that is carried out each year by a different Senator)

Use the following documents:

  • Washington’s Farewell Address
  • Federalist 10
  • US Constitution
  • Article 1, Section 8

** I am giving my students Washington’s Farewell Address and McCain’s Speech.

2. Writing prompt: Using Senator McCain’s speech, find examples of the following:

  • Checks and Balances
  • Separation of Powers (Federalist 51)
  • Roles of the Senate (Constitution)

Thank you, Senator McCain for your dedication to our state and our country.

Foundations of American Democracy

Federalist 10

Factions.

What are they?

Why do we care? (ohmygoddoyouliveunderarock)

Well, you should care. Even George Washington cared. I mean, not all factions are political parties, but all political parties are factions. And let’s be honest. Factions are a huge source of discontent in our nation today.

Faction: a small, organized, dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics.

{Can we swoon over G’s writing for a second?}

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Let’s all take a second with that. George knew his stuff (or whomever wrote it for him since he was SUPER insecure about his “smarts”. He was military, most of the people he knew were University) September 19, 1796 was far from November 23, 1787 but he saw the discontent in his cabinet. Famously between Hamilton and Jefferson. (SHEG has a great lesson on this, check it out)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the Federalist 10 argument.

This is a highly quoted piece of the 85 essays. Most notably, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires,” {God, I love James Madison… so much}.

Usually, when I teach this, there is a short video to go through the basics of the piece. It helps students to know what they are going into. It’s helpful to have them try to digest it outside of class. Giving the students an introduction to the whole of the Federalist Papers sets the scene. I give them my annotated Federalist 10. I did this when I was the Bill of Rights Institute Founders Fellowship on the Federalist and AntiFederalist Debate. I like doing this to show them that I’ve already looked at the document myself. We start with a first look, usually just a quick scan of the document, noticing the annotations or quotations that sound familiar. We write down questions and really become friends with the document. Depending on the class, you can send the document home for further annotation. The next day, a small group setting can help students share what they saw, the questions they had, and the summary of what Madison was trying to get to in this specific paper with their peers.

I don’t think going into long lessons is necessary with this document. What is necessary is an understanding that students can refer to throughout the course. What is necessary is helping students break down Madison’s argument. This can be done via jigsaw, in small groups with excerpts, or as a whole class depending on what YOU think is best for YOUR class. (You can jigsaw with Brutus 1)

The end goal is an understanding of the document so that students can move forward in the curriculum using that as a base, as well as a reference.

This can naturally spiral into debates over current divisive political issues that are current to students. At this point, it’s up to you where you let it go. I generally don’t let it go anywhere because that’s not the point of the lesson. However, this could easily transition to…

Lesson Ideas!

Writing Prompt OR Discussion-  Describe how Madison’s Federalist 10 can be explained using a modern day issue. (past 5 years)

Compare and contrast Federalist 10 with Brutus I (I like this version because it’s annotated and has guiding questions to help focus).

Documents of Freedom- Political Parties Activity: Factions and Virtue (sign in required, free resource)

**It also of note to go back around to Washington’s Farewell Address and One Last Time.. But, that’s another post entirely.

Resources:

Fact/Myth- This is a treasure trove

Documents in Detail- Teaching American History