Students in Simulated (and Real) Democratic
Processes and Procedures:
Do Teachers Use Simulations in Civic Education?
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
• 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
How Can This Module Help?
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.
reflectionson 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
invite teachers to submit their own lessons for possible inclusion
on the page.
module was developed by Laurel Singleton, CELD Associate,
with the support of the Center
for Civic Education. We welcome your feedback; send comments