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Introduction to the issue and the site


Days
 1&2

Introduce and assign first quick write (see Appendix for quick writes description):

Questions (choose one):

What do you know about the death penalty?

What would you like to know about the death penalty?

Discuss what students wrote, keeping in mind that some students may have strong opinions about the issue. Consider using this time to explain the rationale for the unit and its emphasis on critically examining the arguments for both sides and the responsibility of citizens in making informed decisions on the issue.

Explain what will take place during the course of the unit, including the central themes you choose to cover (see Themes and Rationale above for direction).

In addition explain the following:

  • Learning journal
  • Quick writes (as part of the learning journal)
  • Quiz
  • Group work research (See Days 6-8 for Criteria for group work presentations)
  • Argument/Rebuttal posters and presentations
  • Final essay

Using the teacher overviews, briefly go over the entire site as a class. Either go over it directly (if you are in the computer lab) or create printed handouts of the overview site to review with the class (if you are in your classroom).

Give the students time to explore the site on their own.

As a class, turn to the history section of the site. Have the students work in pairs. Each pair should be assigned one of the pages under History of the Death Penalty . They should compile the important dates from their page. Draw a time line on the board (or on poster board), beginning with The Code of Hammurabi in the18th century BC and ending with the present. Have the pairs, in numeric order, come to the board, describe and place their significant times/dates on the time line. This will take more than one class period.

Plan on about 40 minutes to complete this activity. (If your lab doesn’t have a board, or if you are not sure it will still be there the next day, use poster board, chart paper or some other media you can find.)  This will give students a sense of historical scope and highlight the past and present public concerns about the death penalty.  As a class, identify the themes that appear to be similar across time. (For example, the moral and ethical dimensions of the death penalty, or whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment? Issues of fairness and equality under law.  Who lives?  Who Dies? And for what reasons/crimes?)


Time line completion and initial position statement


Day 2

Complete the time line as a class. Have students copy it in their learning journal for future reference (or post the poster boards around the class).

Learning journal assignment in class and/or as homework:

What are your impressions of the death penalty as represented by the web site?

Where do you stand on the issue and what reasons can you give to support your position?

Has the definition of Cruel and Unusual punishment changed over time? If so how? If not why?


State by State Differences


Day 3

Provide each group with a blank map of the United States and have them turn to the state by state data in order to identify the states with and without the death penalty, and the methods of execution employed in the states with the death penalty. Encourage students to investigate the statistics on race, gender, etc. Be sure to have them visit the state by state summary to see the history with regard to your own state. (Keep in mind that some states have not had the death penalty in recent times, so there may not be as much information about the death penalty in those states.

Review the map and discuss the following with the class.

What does the state by state data tell us about how the death penalty is used?

What might this data tell us about issues of equality and how justice is exercised?

What are the methods of execution in your own state, if any?

Learning Journal assignment:

Is Justice equal for people across all 50 states? Why or why not?

Example: Students may write that it is equal because states have the right to choose for themselves what punishments are justified for particular crimes, or that it is not equal because of the disparity between both level of punishment (death or not) or method of execution. Either way, it is important for students to start coming to their own conclusions -- this is a good first step for the final section of the unit.

Stages in a Capital Case


Day 4

Assign a quick write with reference to the map completed the previous day: Is the death penalty fair? Why or why not?

Take time to discuss their responses to the quick write.

Have students visit the Stages in a Capital Case section of the site in groups of 2 or 3. Have them read the information, take notes, and construct a graphic representation, flow chart or drawing of the stages. (These can later be posted around the room.)

Learning Journal assignment:

What aspects of the stages in a capital case are designed to protect the rights of the accused? Do you believe that this system is sufficient to guarantee that only the guilty are convicted?

Review for quiz:

Central themes; purposes of the death penalty through history; challenges and questions concerning the death penalty; state by state data and issues of justice; and stages in a capital case.


Quiz, Review, and Introduction to Arguments and Persuasive Debate

Day 5

Review for quiz. Design a short quiz based on the themes you have selected or topics that have come up as a result of class discussions, or state by state info including one short essay, addressing at least one theme equality, for example. (A sample quiz is provided in the Appendix.)

Review the quiz and recap the salient issues to date. It will be instructive for you to review the daily lesson plans at the end of the unit to guide your instruction.

Review Stages in a Capital Case in light of civic standards such as the purposes of government, ideals of government, and democratic action drawn from the MEAP and NCSS standards, in light of the themes you have chosen to emphasize (e.g., fairness, equality, and justice).

Critical Thinking objectives:

Introduce and model a method for persuasive arguments, for example, establishing claims, evidence, and recognition of opposing points of view. (An example of persuasive arguments is provided in the Appendix.) You may choose to build on the writing process from English or any other persuasive writing curriculum your school or district employs. Explain that understanding an opposing point of view not only helps you understand that position but also helps you better understand and support your own opinion.

Learning journal assignment (select one):

What do you now know about the death penalty that you did not know before?

What new questions do you have in light of what we have covered?

Where do you stand on the issue and why?

What evidence have you discovered that has either changed your mind or supported your position?

(Emphasize the purposes of revisiting these questions as strategies for building a persuasive argument.)


Divide class into groups; explain group work responsibilities; Visit argument, rebuttal, and testimony section of the site and present information to class


Days 6-8

(print an argument, rebuttal, and testimony packet for each group)

Divide class into four groups. (The average group will be composed of approximately six students.) Each group will be responsible for researching and reporting on one of the four principal questions drawn from the site; however, all groups will be responsible for familiarizing themselves with all of the arguments, rebuttals, and expert testimony for the final debate and assignment. Each group will post their work around the room.

Group #1 Deterrence Proposition: The death penalty prevents future murders.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the rebuttal.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the rebuttal.
Group #2 Retribution Proposition: A just society requires the death penalty for the taking of a life.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the rebuttal.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the rebuttal.
Group #3 Innocence Proposition: The risk of executing the innocent precludes the use of the death penalty.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the rebuttal.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the rebuttal.
Group #4 Arbitrariness & Discrimination Proposition: The death penalty is applied unfairly and should not be used.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the argument.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the rebuttal.
  • At least 1 group member researches and takes notes on the expert testimony of the rebuttal.

Criteria for group work presentations:

For the argument and rebuttal sections, each group is responsible for identifying three arguments and reasons pertaining to their particular proposition and then posting and briefly presenting them to the class.

One example of the three required:

Proposition: The death penalty prevents future murders.

Argument (Claim):

Society has always used punishment to discourage would-be criminals from unlawful action.

Reason (Evidence):

In 1973 Isaac Ehrlich employed a new kind of analysis which produced results showing that for every inmate who was executed, 7 lives were spared because others were deterred from committing murder. Or, as Ernest van den Haag stated, whatever people fear most is likely to deter most.

Rebuttal (Claim):

The overwhelming conclusion from years of deterrence studies is that the death penalty is, at best, no more of a deterrent than a sentence of life in prison.

Reason (Evidence):

Even most supporters of the death penalty now place little or no weight on deterrence as a serious justification for its continued use. Some criminologists, such as William Bowers of Northeastern University, maintain that the death penalty has the opposite effect: that is, society is brutalized by the use of the death penalty, and this increases the likelihood of more murder.

For the expert testimony sections each group is responsible for providing examples drawn from the expert testimony and working with the appropriate argument/rebuttal group member to begin the construction of an argument for their poster.

Students should create posters with argument and main points pro and con. These should be posted on the walls of the classroom.

The posters will serve as models and a living Web site for students to interact with the arguments as they deliberate on the worth of the death penalty as public policy.


Role play presentations and legislative decision (this may take two days).


Day 7

Group work on arguments, rebuttals, and expert testimony--unlimited access to the site in order to construct posters and presentations.



Day 8

Group presentations of arguments and expert testimony pertaining to propositions. Remind the students that these arguments, rebuttals, and expert testimony will serve as models for their discussion of a case and their final writing assignment.


Final Assessment Essay

Day 9

Have students write an essay on the following question:

As a voter and a citizen, do you support the death penalty? If so, under what conditions? If not, why not? You will be graded on the following criteria:

  1. Clearly state position
  2. Support with data
  3. Support with basic democratic principles
  4. Support with information from current events or history
  5. Present and refute the opposing argument

Case Study Discussion


Day 10

Pass out a case study. Have the class read the case situation. Discuss with them the efficacy of the death penalty. You may find that the discussion changes when a real person is involved. Be sure to touch on the following questions:

  • What if the defendant was someone you knew?
  • How much of a chance is there that this person is innocent?
  • Can you enact legislation to ensure that in the future the death penalty is a fair and effective part of the judicial process?
  • Is the death penalty good public policy, in light of all available evidence?

It will be a challenge for you, as a teacher, to ensure that all students can be heard and that their arguments are based in fact, not emotion.

Remember: This is an issue that extends beyond the walls of the classroom and has implications for their participation in a democratic society.

 

 

 
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