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Pros: The argument mechanics are fun: Students can choose what cases and sides to argue, and must think critically to do well.
Cons: Play could be deeper and more challenging, and the support doesn't cover legal nuances well.
Bottom Line: Social studies and civics teachers will find this game valuable for introducing major court cases -- and their influences -- and it includes plenty of extension activities for larger lessons or units.
Consider pairing or grouping students in threes while they play so that they can chat, ask questions, and tap one another as research partners. Have them rotate through roles as they play the game. One plays, and the others record confusing concepts or new vocabulary for later research. Students could also research new Supreme Court cases and create a version of the game offline that can be played by the whole class, giving each a chance to play the roles of plaintiff, defense, and justice.
The iCivics website includes plenty of teaching material that will provide a solid foundation to the game, including a complete teacher's guide with ELL supports, pre- and post-game activities, a mini lesson, and an assessment; a game guide for how to play the game and ways to prepare ahead of time and wrap up after playing; and a resource describing how cases land in U.S. Supreme Court. ELL supports include a Spanish translation, and several of the cases have a voice-over option that will read text to students. Students can also click on highlighted words to learn their definitions in the built-in glossary.
Don't miss the opportunity to browse the iCivics Impact Competition, where players can apply points earned during several iCivics games to support social impact projects from youth around the world. Longer term, consider having students create and submit a project of their own!
Argument Wars is an iCIvics game for the web, iOS, and Android. It uses a card game motif to give students a basic introduction to the constitutional arguments behind some important historical U.S. Supreme Court cases. Students choose one of the sides in each case and argue that position using some of the same arguments that were actually made, using their critical thinking skills to choose wisely. The side that makes the best case wins the game.
The cases include:
- Bond v. United States
- Brown v. Board of Education
- Gideon v. Wainwright
- Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
- In Re Gault
- Miranda v. Arizona
- New Jersey v. T.L.O.
- Snyder v. Phelps
- Texas v. Johnson
Students choose the game difficulty and the appearance of their lawyer, and then select one of the nine cases to argue and which side they'll argue. The chief justice asks which amendment or part of the U.S. Constitution underpins the case, and students choose from a few options described in plain English. A correct choice scores points. Students can only read through the opening statements from both lawyers (there are no choices there), but then players have four rounds to convince the justices of their side. They support their arguments by playing the strongest cards (and scoring more points than their opponent).
Players get dealt or choose cards that support or hurt their case. If they end up with no cards that will help their case, they can reset their hand once per round. On their turn, players have the option to play a red action card that gives special abilities, such as swapping out bad cards, choosing a card from the top three support cards, or explaining their argument further for extra points. Players who hold an objection action card can play that on their opponent's turn; objecting effectively earns points, while objecting incorrectly brings a penalty. After the possible action card play, students play a blue support card to help support their argument. Some of these cards support their case, some hurt it, and some are irrelevant to the current case. Students must choose wisely. If they aren't sure whether a card is helpful to their side, clicking the magnifying glass walks students through a series of analysis questions that help them figure it out. Once cards are played, justices give feedback about how well it supports the player's case. In the end, the player with the most points is declared the winner. The game then describes what actually happened in that historic case, and students can see a certificate that summarizes their gameplay.
Full Disclosure: iCivics and Common Sense Education have previously shared a funder; however, that relation has no impact on this review or learning rating.
By playing through real Supreme Court cases, students get a glimpse into many different eras of the distant and recent past. By taking sides on these cases -- including trying to defend sides contrary to their own -- they'll deepen their understanding of the politics behind these cases and practice perspective-taking. Along the way, students learn how parts of the U.S. Constitution are used in landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, and how precedent affects cases. They'll also learn to assess the strength of arguments.
The big drawback, however, is in how easy the game can be. While there's a lot of opportunity for critical thinking throughout, the choices are quite limited when presented, so it's fairly trivial to choose correctly. Students would learn more if there were more rounds and an increasing number of choices as they go.