Organizing a Team | Guided Research and Writing | Guided Practice | Grading
Organizing a Team
There are several possible ways to organize your class into six We The People teams. Pay close attention to the rules of team organization as listed in the We The People handbook (pdf). Listed below are three commonly used methods that other teachers have used to organize their class into groups. You may use one of these, a combination of these suggestions, or create your own unique system.
Students Choose: By letting the students determine their own groups they are excited about whom they will work with and have a sense of ownership in the project. There may also be less personality conflicts if students choose who they want to work with. A drawback is that the groups are sometimes lopsided as far as talents and skills are concerned. If you choose this method, it is helpful to give the class guidelines ahead of time in relation to the rules for competition.
Teacher Chooses: When the teacher independently determines groups it is easier to see that the groups are balanced and equivalent. This method also ensures that a student will not feel awkward if they are unable to find friends to organize into a group. If the teacher chooses, the students might feel forced into a group setting and reluctant to work well. This is also more work for the teacher and it is difficult to determine exactly which students are always going to do well and in what area. There will be surprises.
Teacher and Students Choose: After getting some input or requests from the students the teacher finalizes the group organization. What input each student gives is entirely up to what you, as the teacher, request from them. This system allows for everyone in the class to play a role in team organization. But, the teacher should be prepared that not every request can typically be granted. Be clear as to who will have the final say in group organization.
Unit Assignments for Groups
In addition to organizing working groups, each group must receive an assignment concerning what unit of the We The People text they will be researching. You may take this into consideration as you determine groups or after groups have been chosen. Below are some characteristics of students who might work well on each of the six units. Remember, these are only suggestions. Students will benefit from whatever unit they study.
Unit 1: What Are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System?
- AP European History Students
- The abstract thinker does better with the philosophies
Unit 2: How Did the Framers Create the Constitution?
- AP U.S. History students
- The student that feels more confident with historical events rather than current policies or court cases.
- Students who are interested in or excited about studying the "Founding Fathers."
Unit 3: How Did the Values and Principles Embodied in the Constitution Shape American Institutions and Practices?
- AP U.S. History students
- Those who have done well when studying the three branches of government in your class.
Unit 4: How Have the Protections of the Bill of Rights Been Developed and Expanded?
- Look for the student who is passionate about minority or civil rights.
- A Civil War history buff
- Can understand precedent and court cases
Unit 5: What Does the Bill of Rights Protect?
- "Bleeding Hearts"
- Maybe a future lawyer.
- Loves to study case law and read court cases.
Unit 6: What Are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?
- Volunteers and service-oriented students.
- Very patriotic
- Student leaders or students with outside civic service experience.
Guided Research and Writing
In the We The People program there is no way that a teacher can possibly teach the students all they will need to know. There are six different units, three different questions for each unit, and countless issues for each group to master. This is the beauty of the program. But it requires some creativity and organization on the part of the teacher to see that each group and each student is working as they should and benefiting from the program.
Below are three suggestions concerning research and writing of speeches that might be helpful.
- Schedule some library days for research immediately after organizing your groups. Students can dive right in and go to work. If possible, schedule a day with your school's media specialist to give the class some helpful suggestions about your libraries resources and web site information.
- Each group will find that they need a great depth and width of information relating to their topic. Early on, some students only scratch the surface and answer their question in a general sense. They may seem uncertain about how to dig deeper into their research. Here is a sample handout that describes eight areas of possible research that any We The People group should understand. You may use these or develop your own.
- Students should spend a majority of their time doing research and study. The speech is important, but it should be something that the group finishes early on and then revises a little as they continue to research and prepare for the follow-up portion of their presentation. Here is a sample handout that outlines possible steps in research, speech-writing, and continued research. Once again, this is only one example of how it could be done.
Since the assessment portion of the We The People program is a verbal presentation it is important that students don't spend all of their time researching and writing. It will be very beneficial to the groups to practice presenting early in their preparation and each student should be talking about what they learn as much as possible.
Here are a few strategies or techniques to help students practice for the presentation:
- Have each student and/or group create index cards with questions concerning each of their speech topics. They may use questions from the We The People textbook. Students can try to imagine what questions they would ask if they were a judge.
- Presentations in front of the whole class is beneficial for the group presenting and those who are listening. It is amazing how the groups begin to see that their topics overlap. They might hear something from another group that benefits their own research. To make this experience more beneficial the teacher might have students who are observing act as judges by filling out ballots and asking questions.
- Students could have their English teacher or a parent read their speech and give them some feedback.
- Take a day to watch a video of other schools participating in We The People competitions. Critique the presentation as a class and try to incorporate some of the feedback into your group’s efforts.
- Try to do some group pairing. The teacher might choose two groups to work together for a day. Typically, some groups will have very similar questions or topics. They may do research or present to the other group in order to get additional insight and information.
- Dress rehearsals are a lot of fun and very helpful. Invite guest judges from the community or faculty at your school to participate. Other classes may also be invited to observe. You will be surprised how much everyone enjoys the presentations and will ask to participate in the future.
- Take some time to discuss presentation skills. Practice speech etiquette and the formalities of a We The People event. Let each group take a turn introducing themselves to the judges and introducing their teacher.
- Film each group presenting one of their speeches. During the next class time let them watch themselves and write a critique of what they could do better.
The We The People mock congressional hearing can be a great final assessment of student knowledge, but like all group projects, it is sometimes difficult to reward individual effort and still keep students working as a cohesive group. Here are a few suggestions about grading individually and as a group. Use any combination of the two areas, add your own, or use what has worked for you in the past.
- Each student is responsible to show his/her contribution to the research
- Create index cards for question practice drills
- Students might pass of index cards to the teacher
- During a presentation, grade each student individually as a group
- Grade only the section of the speech that a student wrote
- Grade the speech overall, finished product and everyone gets that score
- Grade the collective research
- Score a presentation for the whole group
- Reward or require students to meet as a group outside of class time
- Extra credit or required credit to meet as a group with the teacher after school.
An example of how individual and group grading might be combined is to use the We The People scoring rubric to grade a group's presentation. Afterwards, each student will get an individual score for his/her effort. Then the teacher will take the overall group score and weight it more heavily as a separate score. The student receives two scores for the same presentation.