Structured Academic Controversy Lesson Plan
Context: This lesson plan is designed for an AP US Government class for a 90 minute block. The
students will be given a controversial issue in this case the legalization of marijuana. The students will be
provided with background information a couple of articles to back up their assigned point of view. The
idea of this lesson plan is to help them synthesize information into an argument, even if it’s one that they
don’t personally agree with. This also gives students an opportunity to practice and engage in civil
discourse. The issue of legalization of marijuana has become a hot topic in American Politics and one that
gives the students an opportunity to discuss an issue that will affect them in their lifetime. In the 2012 two
states passed legislation that legalized the use of recreational marijuana. This issue will only begin to be
pushed further into the fore-front of American Politics until it is completely dealt with.
Instructional Model: The instructor will provide some research on both sides of the topic and organize
the class into pairs. The instructor will then assign a side of the issue to each group and pair each pair of
students with another pair who they will be arguing against. The pairs will first have to learn their position
by reviewing the research the instructor has provided them. They will then present their side of the issue
to their opposing pair and then the opposing pair with present their findings. Following, both pairs will
have to restate the counter argument to their point of view, using the notes that they have taken while the
other pair presented. The students will then be free to separate themselves from their assigned
point of view and will have to work with another pair to come to a consensus on a position that is
supported by the facts. This is a great model to use because it requires that students to synthesize the
information that they gather from their research and present it in a logical way. It requires the students to
have an argument that is civilly conducted where both parties are still respected. It pushes the students to
engage in higher level thinking by fully enveloping themselves in the issue, understanding every nuance.
The legalization of marijuana is a good topic for the SAC model because it a current issue in America. It
is also an issue that they can formulate an opinion quickly and might already come in with background
VA GOVT.1g - select and defend positions in writing, discussion, and debate
Students will be able to synthesize information given to them and present it in an argument
Students will be able to identify key arguments in each side of the controversial issue
Students will be able to critique their opponent’s position on a controversial issue
Students will be able to restate their opponent’s position
Students will be able to devise a compromise between the sides using facts to support their
Assessment: If run correctly using the SAC model the learning should take care of itself. It will be
obvious whether or not students are really getting it or really trying to get it. If the students take notes and
plan out their presentations and then take notes on their opponent’s opposition when they reverse
positions it will be obvious whether or not they were paying attention and whether or not they “got it.”
Simple informal assessments can be made in class about how well they present the material or how they
represent the other side’s argument. In a lesson like this formalized assessments take away from the
message of the lesson which is just to learn and become informed about a controversial issue and practice
civil discourse. The one assessment that will be collected will happen right before the debrief portion of
the lesson plan.. Students will hand in slip of paper that has their group’s final position on the issue with
the facts supporting it.
Content and Instructional Strategies:
(Pairs will be formed with the students sitting next to each other. If there are problems with this the
instructor can assign the class into pairs.)
Hook (10 minutes): The hook will be the YouTube clip below. It is a clip with two former police officers
debating about the legalization of marijuana. This is a great hook because it gets the students immediately
engaged in the issue and they get a little background information in the process.
Model of SAC (5 minutes) - The instructor will model and explain how SAC is conducted. He/She will
introduce the topic and outline how to go about present their ideas to the class in a civil way. The
instructor will warn against any type of arguments other than that pertaining to the material. He/She will
present one side of the argument and then demonstrate how to properly take notes when the opposite pair
is speaking and how to restate their argument.
Structured Academic Controversy (75 minutes)Conducting the Controversy (15 minutes) - Students will assigned into pairs at this point and
either be given the handout for or against the legalization of marijuana. They will read the handouts then
work together to craft a position on the issue using the handout that they are given. They will then come
up with an effective way to present their side of the issue to the opposing pair.
Presenting Position (15 minutes) - Now, each pair will present their position with as much
persuasion as possible. Each pair will listen to the other group as they present taking notes so that they
can ask clarifying questions at the end of their presentation, looking for holes in their position. Each group
will have 5 minutes to present
Discussing the Issue (10 minutes) - After both sides have effectively presented their side, students
should be asking questions about the facts that support their view point. They should try to understand the
other side of the argument as much as possible, the more detail and facts the better. Each pair will then
present counter arguments.
Reversing Perspectives (10 minutes) - Now, each pair will switch roles, taking the opposing view
to the originally assigned one. Students must make a sincere and thoughtful effort to defend this position
as well. The students will elaborate on this position if they can by adding other outside knowledge.
Reaching a Decision (15 minutes) - Students should now feel no allegiance to either side of the
issue and both pairs should work together to create the best argument for both sides of the controversy.
They will then attempt to come to a compromise on the issue that is supported by the facts and handouts
they had been given. They will present their findings to the class. They write what their compromise was
down on paper and turn it in at the end of class. If the class is running short on time just have the students
write down their final position and the facts supporting it, and don’t worry about them presenting their
positions to the class.
Debrief (10 minutes) - The instructor will ask the class about how everything went, the process,
and the role of the instructor in the SAC. Ask questions as to ensure that they understood the point of the
exercise and that they understand strengths and weaknesses of each argument. This should be a class-wide
discussion where all questions are answered.
Resources: The resources necessary for this lesson are the handouts that follow this lesson plan and a
class full of students ready to learn. For the hook it will be necessary to have internet access with a laptop
and projector to play the video on. Everything else is student driven activity with the assistance of the
Differentiation: The framework of this specific lesson makes it difficult to accommodate the multiple
types of learners that are in the classroom because it is structured in a way that is very specific without
much wiggle room. However, the hook should entice and engage their interest and get them focused in on
the topic. As always, the students should be in pairs that will work well together, not socially, but
academically. If someone has a low reading level I would pair them with someone who might be at a
higher reading level so they can help each other. The more quiet students would need to be in a pair with a
more extroverted partner as well so that they balance each other out well. Having two extroverts in a
group has the potential to be a distraction from the task at hand.
Adaptations: Students with IEPs and 504 plans should not have any problems with this type of lesson.
They should be able to still interact with their classmates in a positive way without getting in the way of
their learning. As stated above, if IEPs or 504 plans show that they might need extra help in reading
comprehension they will be paired with someone who can help them so they can participate fully.
Reflection: It is very important that the instructor be aware of what’s going on in the classroom while the
students are working in pairs and groups. There is always potential for arguments and fights when dealing
with adolescents, but especially when they are dealing with controversial issues. It is imperative that the
instructor understand what’s going on and use their presence effectively. Classroom management will be
crucial during this lesson plan because when students work with their peers without much instructor
guidance things can get out of hand quickly. It will be important that the students stay on task for the
entire block because SAC takes a long time to complete. Technology shouldn’t be a huge issue in this
lesson plan because it’s only used for the hook. If technology is not working that day it would be perfectly
acceptable to introduce the topic and just dive right into the SAC. Background knowledge should not
influence this activity because students are given a handout that they will use to get the key points of the
arguments. Background knowledge may benefit some students, but not to the point where it would make
or break their arguments. The SAC model is great for a social studies classroom and for teaching
controversial issues to students while still practicing civil discourse.
Name: _______________
Date: _______________
Structured Academic Controversy: Legalization of Marijuana
Overview of the Issue: The issue of the legalization of marijuana is slowly coming to the forefront of
society. In the past month two states have passed bills allowing for the legalization of the recreational use
of marijuana. Some believe this is a great way to reduce crime and generate tax revenue for the
government if it is properly regulated. However, some believe that marijuana is a gateway drug and users
will find their way to harder, more dangerous drugs. In this handout, you will review the main arguments
of the legalization of marijuana and shortly present these views to another pair.
Arguments for the legalization of Marijuana:
1) Limiting the use of drugs intrudes on personal freedom – If a substance is shown to be harmful,
why not let the individual decide what is “harmful” to them? Marijuana is thought of as a
victimless crime where the only one being harmed is the user.
2) Medical benefits- Many studies have been conducted proving the medical benefits of the use of
marijuana. Many cancer patients are prescribed medical marijuana because it helps them during
their chemotherapy. It has also been used to treat depression.
3) FDA would ensure its safety and provide a new source of taxation- If marijuana was brought into
the legitimate business world the FDA could regulate the quality and safety of the drug. Many
drug users die every year because of unsafe drugs. If the FDA were to regulate marijuana this
would not happen. The government puts enormous taxes on other harmful products such as
alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana should be treated in the same way. This would create another
stream of tax revenue and potentially a huge source of income for the government
4) Crime would significantly drop- If marijuana became a legitimate product then drug dealers are
likely to go completely out of business. Drug Dealers are huge opponents to the legalization of
marijuana because they currently hold a monopoly in an unregulated market. If marijuana was
legalized they would no longer be a factor. Crime would also drop because in the world of illegal
drugs there are no police if you have a problem. Individuals have to deal with these issues
themselves which usually just leads to retaliatory violence. Drug cartels would subside and crime
rates would drop.
5) Police and court resource would be freed up to work on more serious crimes. – Many consider the
war on drugs to be an expensive failure. If marijuana was legalized then police officer and court
officials would be spending their time on harder crimes like, rape, murder, terrorism, and harder
Name: _______________
Date: _______________
Structured Academic Controversy: Legalization of Marijuana
Overview of the Issue: The issue of the legalization of marijuana is slowly coming to the forefront of
society. In the past month two states have passed bills allowing for the legalization of the recreational use
of marijuana. Some believe this is a great way to reduce crime and generate tax revenue for the
government if it is properly regulated. However, some believe that marijuana is a gateway drug and users
will find their way to harder, more dangerous drugs. In this handout, you will review the main arguments
of the legalization of marijuana and shortly present these views to another pair.
Arguments against the legalization of Marijuana:
1) Using Drugs are morally wrong- Many religions and personal philosophies believe the use of any
intoxicating substance is immoral and wrong.
2) Driving risks and other dangers would be increased- Marijuana is often referred to as a “victimless
crime” because it only affects the user. However, if marijuana was legalized then instances of high
driving would increase. This causes a huge problem for law enforcement because high driving is
much harder to detect than drunk driving because high driving usually lacks the pungent odor that
alcohol has. With drug use there is always the chance that a lapse in judgment can occur leading
the user to commit more serious crimes than if he wasn’t high on drugs.
3) Higher Chance of Marijuana falling into the hands of children- Research supports the claim that
children are not fully developed until they are 21 years of age. Marijuana use could potentially
deal severe damage to a developing brain or body. Children get their hands on alcohol and
cigarettes already. Do we really need to add marijuana to that list?
4) Physical Damage that would result from drug abuse- Although there are conflicting reports the use
of marijuana has been linked to brain damage, cancer, lung damage, depression, amotivational
syndrome, and even death. Brain damage affects memory loss and problem solving abilities.
5) Legalization of marijuana could lead to the legalization of all drugs altogether- With the
legalization of marijuana society takes a step in a “anything goes” type of world. Society would
not legalize all drugs overnight however, slowly but surely other drugs will be brought up for
legalization, eventually leading to the legalization of all drugs. This reason sees the legalization of
marijuana as a stepping stone to a much darker future where all drugs are legalized.

Structured Academic Controversy Lesson Plan