Argument Wars

This game can be given to high school students to help them understand how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution to make decisions.  In Argument Wars, players try out their persuasive abilities by arguing a real Supreme Court case. The other player/lawyer is the competition —and the strongest arguments win the case. The game aims to help students identify constitutional issues and learn more about how controversies are resolved.   

The cases that can be argued are:
    •  Brown v. Board of Education
    •  New Jersey v. T.L.O.
    •  Texas v. Johnson
    •  Miranda v. Arizona
    •  Snyder v. Phelps produced in cooperation with the Harlan Institute.  

How do you use it?

The lesson booklet is geared to teachers, but could be adapted for judges or other presenters.  

Simulations and do-it-yourself activities are increasingly understood to be effective ways for students to thoroughly learn a concept. Argument Wars captures the learning objectives of learning more about the courts, in a creative and engaging way. The game is attractive and something that older students will enjoy because they are pitted against an opponent. 

The game, which allows users to act as lawyers and argue a case with a judge, is “road ready,” accessible by a simple web link.  It’s jam-packed with information and makes users think through a situation and make logical choices. Argument Wars is a creative way to help students build debating skills and give them an overview of some of the country's most historically important cases.  

This is a ready-to-go program; it doesn't require any teaching if all the judge/teacher is going to rely on the program.  However, the presenting judge should watch at least one round of the game to determine how he or she would like to teach to the game.  

For example, if the case of New Jersey v. TLO is used, the judge could ask the students whether they were aware of any search and seizure cases.  The judge could ask students whether they have been in situations that may be related to such issues (e.g. a parent investigating a bedroom, backpack or email account).  The judge could discuss with students what is a reasonable expectation of privacy and ask the students to articulate when they believe that expectation might not be reasonable.  By having students apply the arguments of each court case to their real-life situations, this iCivics game can give students the opportunity to understand how the Constitution can have an impact on their everyday lives.

This game would also be effective used as an introduction to a judge's talk about a recent case of his or her own; students would be able to ask more informed questions about how judges make decisions. 

The idea of arguing a case may initially seem intimidating to students, but the game presents words and ideas in easy-to-understand ways (appropriately for the high school audience).  

If the game is played in a classroom (as opposed to assigned as homework), a judge may decide to eliminate the music; it can be distracting.

Who is the audience?

This resource is tailored toward the interests and educational background of high-school students.  

What other resources will complement this?

  1. Amazing Amendments  Document from (P, M) 
  2. Constitution Day Rap  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P) 
  3. Courts in the Classroom  Videos from the Judicial Council of California and the Administrative Office (P, M, H)
  4. Matching Game with the Constitution  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P)
  5. The Constitution: The Country's Rules  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P)
  6. U.S. Constitution Fact Sheet  Document from (M)  
  7. What Basic Ideas Are In the Preamble to the Constitution?  Lesson Plan from the Center for Civic Education (P)

Additional Recommended Resources Off-Site Links
  1. A Constitutional Timeline
    • Multi-aged audience timeline that highlights key dates in history of Constitution, with links to text, audio and video clips. From National Constitution Center's Constitution Day site. 
  2. Interactive Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that enables users to search Constitution by keyword or topic, with access to explanatory materials throughout. From National Constitution Center.   
  3. The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that lists the text of each section of every article in the Constitution, and provides explanation of what the text means in plain language.  From the Leonore Annenberg Institute of Civics. 
  4. Understanding the Federal Courts
    • Multi-aged online textbook-type document that includes sections on Article III, the Federal Court system and the geographical boundaries of the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts, the code of conduct for judges, juror qualifications, exemptions and terms of service, as well as categories of bankruptcy cases.  From the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.