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Role Playing in Teaching Constitutional Law
Unformatted Document Text:  their respective positions. The reports are given to the other side a week in advance. While the roles the student experts are playing are obviously not genuine, the research on which they base their opinions is taken from refereed journals and government reports. During the trial, the experts may expect to be cross-examined about their understanding of their research sources. In addition to preparation for opening and closing arguments and cross examination of opposing experts, each attorney is required to hand in an annotated bibliography of the cases and research items he or she has used for this preparation. The six student jurors are picked from the class by the instructor, usually focusing on students who previously not been very participatory on class. Other than briefing the cases and reading the other relevant materials all students read, jurors have no other specific preparation. Unlike the attorneys and experts, they receive no specific grade for their participation. They also do not go through voir dire, since that would take to long and they, of course, already know all of the participants (a standard voir dire question). The climax of the trial occurs when each member of the jury announces his or her vote about conviction and the reasons for that vote to the class. Sometimes when each side has done a good job and the vote is close, there is a palpable tension in the room. Whether that occurs or not, all participants are energized by the roles they have played. During the next class we debrief the exercise, taking care to help student understand the distinctions between this mock trial and a real trial and clarifying some point about the law the advocates may have made. These constitutional law courses also require a mostly essay-based conventional mid- term and final exam and for some students a legal research paper. But the role playing exercises (courts and the mock trial) serve as distinctive devices to broaden participation and strengthen each student’s ability to analyze and engage in oral argumentation about legal issues. 5

Authors: La Noue, George.
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their respective positions. The reports are given to the other side a week in advance. While the
roles the student experts are playing are obviously not genuine, the research on which they base
their opinions is taken from refereed journals and government reports. During the trial, the
experts may expect to be cross-examined about their understanding of their research sources.
In addition to preparation for opening and closing arguments and cross examination of
opposing experts, each attorney is required to hand in an annotated bibliography of the cases
and research items he or she has used for this preparation.
The six student jurors are picked from the class by the instructor, usually focusing on
students who previously not been very participatory on class. Other than briefing the cases and
reading the other relevant materials all students read, jurors have no other specific preparation.
Unlike the attorneys and experts, they receive no specific grade for their participation. They
also do not go through voir dire, since that would take to long and they, of course, already
know all of the participants (a standard voir dire question).
The climax of the trial occurs when each member of the jury announces his or her vote
about conviction and the reasons for that vote to the class. Sometimes when each side has done
a good job and the vote is close, there is a palpable tension in the room. Whether that occurs or
not, all participants are energized by the roles they have played. During the next class we
debrief the exercise, taking care to help student understand the distinctions between this mock
trial and a real trial and clarifying some point about the law the advocates may have made.
These constitutional law courses also require a mostly essay-based conventional mid-
term and final exam and for some students a legal research paper. But the role playing exercises
(courts and the mock trial) serve as distinctive devices to broaden participation and strengthen
each student’s ability to analyze and engage in oral argumentation about legal issues.
5


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