December 14, 2017
Lesson Launch: a weekly academic social studies teaching tips blog, which occasionally touches on other topics.
By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies
The middle grades provide a perfect opportunity for students to experience the Law Game!
Just as young adolescents reach the age where they are beginning to question rules and challenge authority—all developmentally appropriate, within reason, mind you, students often study the emergence of ancient civilizations, such as Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, etcetera.
As part of this unit, students typically learn about the Code of Hammurabi (see this link: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp), the first-known code of (282) laws, which is an important marker in the development of ancient civilizations. The principle of an “eye-for-an-eye” and the harsh punishments for both criminal and civil cases makes the Code of Hammurabi memorable given our modern sensibilities; nonetheless, students often have difficulty grasping the significance of the first known code (a written and organized set of laws).
The Law Game provides students with a tangible experience that illustrates the importance of this development. Here’s how it works:
- You will need a large container (e.g., trash can), masking tape, and a nerf mini-basketball/football.
- Place the container at the front of the classroom while placing two pieces of masking tape approximately twelve feet and fifteen feet from the container.
- Divide your class into groups (teams) of five students. When studying this unit, we do several activities so the group names/teams are already established:
- Then, simply announce to your class: “Today, we are going to play the Law Game.” Standing next to the masking tape at the twelve-foot line, say, “This is the one-point line.” Next, standing by the masking tape at the fifteen-foot line, say, “This is the three-point line,” and then toss the ball toward the container.
- Ask for one volunteer student from each team to come to the front of the classroom and toss the ball. Allow each student to decide whether they will make a one or three-point toss. After each attempt, update the team’s score.
- After completing round one, ask for new student volunteers from each team to participate and continue this until all students have participated.
- In the middle of round two and making sure to wait until after a student has innocently made the toss, void the student’s attempt by announcing a (subtle) rule violation, which nullifies the team's turn, such as:
- “I’m sorry your toe was touching the masking tape line, so you have to sit down” OR
- “You know that you can’t toss the ball overhand during round two, so that basket doesn’t count.”
- Repeat step seven for another team during round two! Politely and pleasantly, ignore or deflect (without any explanation) the mild to moderate levels of student protest that will inevitably follow.
- Continue on through rounds three through five making more and more random and nonsensical point deductions and additions, such as:
- “Congratulations! You hit the rim (or the side) of the basket in round three that is worth five points!” OR
- “Everyone knows you must close your eyes (or “stand on one foot” or “take off your right shoe” or “not wear any jewelry," etc.) during round four, so your team loses four points.”
- In the fifth and final round (assuming all students have had a turn), as students’ frustration increases and their sense of fair play is repeatedly transgressed, end the game by making sure the team that is in last place is somehow able to win through some wild addition of points that you have concocted.
- Then, most importantly, debrief this experience so students can generalize from this immediate experience to the larger point and concept by asking these questions:
- How did you like this game?
- Why did you feel frustrated, irritated, or angry?
- Why was the game unfair?
- What would have made the game fair?
- You said there were no rules, but there were rules? (I knew the rules!)
- How could we make sure everybody knew the rules of this game?
By the conclusion of the debriefing, students will, after experiencing the frustration of the ironically named Law Game, be able to comprehend the benefits of a code of laws and the important distinction between a society where there is a “rule by men” versus a “rule by law.”