Involving Students in Simulated (and Real)
Democratic Processes and Procedures:
Why Do Teachers Use Simulations in Civic Education?
Testifying before Congress, arguing a case before the Supreme Court, participating in a town meeting, negotiating a treaty regarding fair trade—these are experiences that few students will have the opportunity to do in their lifetimes, much less while they are in school. Simulations allow students to experience and learn from these experiences vicariously, and research suggests that simulations have positive benefits.

According to the highly regarded The Civic Mission of Schools report (Carnegie Corporation and Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2003), simulations are effective in developing students’ civic and political knowledge, civic and political skills, and civic attitudes.

Teachers who employ simulations also report a variety of rationales for their use:

• In simulations, students must apply what they have learned in a low-risk but real-life situation, which allows teachers to assess whether students have internalized information so that they can actually use it in their role as citizens.

• Students are engaged by simulations—and they learn more because they are so involved.

• Simulations require students to use higher order thinking skills.

• The culminating activity of a simulation often involves an audience, which motivates students to work hard and excel.

Barbara Miller and Laurel Singleton, Preparing Citizens, Boulder, CO: Social Science Education Consortium, 1997.

A wide array of simulations can be used in civic/law-related education, from moot courts and mock trials, to simulated legislative hearings, town meetings, and elections. Of course, teachers can also involve students in some real-life applications of their civic skills; for example, students can research issues and present their findings to policy-makers. As teachers consider using simulations, the option of real-life civic experiences should be kept in mind. In fact, it may be useful to think about activities that engage students in democratic processes and procedures as being on a continuum from very distant from reality to simulated but very like reality to authentic real-life experiences.

How Can This Module Help?
For teachers who have not previously used simulations, they can appear to be complex and intimidating. This module is designed to remove some of the intimidation factor by providing tips for using simulations, as well as information about different types of simulations, ranging from simple to complex. The module includes the following sections:

Tips for using simulations; these tips apply across types of simulations and particularly emphasize the important instructional step of debriefing.

• Discussion of the many types of simulations, which we have organized into four categories: legislative, executive, judicial, and citizen action. For each category, we provide ideas and examples, as well as links to online lessons.

• Tools and ideas about assessing student learning from simulations.

Teacher reflections on how and why they have used simulations or real-life experiences in their classrooms.

• A data base of simulation-based lesson plans, as well as links to Colorado organizations that engage students in simulations or real-life civic experiences.

We invite teachers to submit their own lessons for possible inclusion on the page.

This module was developed by Laurel Singleton, CELD Associate, with the support of the Center for Civic Education. We welcome your feedback; send comments to: CELD.