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Although the national crime rate has decreased in the past few years, the rate of hate crimes has increased. Media attention on hate crimes has reached a state of frenzy in some cases and public opinion can be scattered. Perhaps one of the most well-known recent hate crimes was the Matthew Shepard case. In this lesson, students examine hate crimes within the context of the Matthew Shepard case and debate whether or not hate crime laws should be a part of government legislation.

Using a learning model called Academic Controversy and one episode from the IN THE LIFE public television series, students will engage in a collaborative process of communication, perspective-taking, and problem-solving as they debate the use of hate crime legislation. Students will develop skills in the creation and presentation of arguments, research, collaboration, communication, conflict resolution, and consensus-building. They will be evaluated on participation, use of student organizers, and a culminating project, which will demonstrate their understanding of the content as well as mastery of the Academic Controversy process. (For more information on using Academic Controversy in the classroom, go to

Grade Level:
Grades 9-12

Time Allotment:
Longer Version: This lesson can span from one to two weeks. Ideally, two to three days of introduction to Academic Controversy, student research, and position-development should be allowed; one to two days for engaging in the Academic Controversy itself (presentation of positions, open discussion, reversal of positions); and two days for the synthesis of positions and the preparation of a joint report. If the teacher chooses to extend the lesson by assigning additional case studies to individual students or small groups of students, the lesson could last for a couple of weeks.

Compressed Version: This lesson could also be completed in two to three days. This would include one day for introduction to Academic Controversy, student research, and position-development (with one to two homework assignments to supplement class time); one day for the structured controversy; and one day for the synthesis of the positions and the preparation of a joint report.

Subject Matter:
History, Social Studies, English/Language Arts -- Hate crimes, legislation, free speech

Students will be able to:

  • Gain understanding of the legal issues behind hate crime legislation.
  • Identify important steps in the history of hate crime legislation and current applications of hate crime law.
  • Understand why the issue is divisive.
  • Explore the effects of hate crimes and consider the role of authorities in safeguarding the rights of minority groups.
  • Use various media to investigate different viewpoints.
  • Develop research, presentation, writing and conflict resolution skills that can be applied to numerous content areas.


Historical Understanding Standard 1

Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
Benchmark: Understands historical continuity and change related to a particular development or theme.

Civics Standard 18

Understands the role and importance of law in the American constitutional system and issues regarding the judicial protection of individual rights
Benchmarks: Understands the effects of Americans relying on the legal system to solve social, economic, and political problems rather than using other means, such as private negotiations, mediation, and participation in the political process; Knows historical and contemporary instances in which judicial protections have not been extended to all persons and instances in which judicial protections have been extended to those deprived of them in the past

Language Arts Standard 4

Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Benchmarks: Uses appropriate research methodology; Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics; Synthesizes information from multiple research studies to draw conclusions that go beyond those found in any of the individual studies; Writes research papers.

This lesson was prepared by: Ellen Lenihan with Academic Controversy content and ideas from Thandi Center

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