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Lessons

Scopes Trial: 3 Day Lesson

Overview:

In these lessons, students participate in a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) as they investigate the question: Did Americans Support the Butler Act? In pairs, students read primary documents and assemble evidence to answer this question either affirmatively or negatively. Students then present their arguments to each other and try to reach consensus regarding the question, or to at least clarify their differences.

Learning Goals:

  • Students will identify multiple perspectives on the Butler Act.
  • Students will read primary documents and use evidence to develop historical arguments.
  • Students will begin to read documents historically, using strategies of careful reading and corroboration.
  • Students will develop presentation and collaboration skills.

Plan of Instruction:

DAY ONE (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 15 minutes: Show movie, introduce SAC and split class into groups

Show movie and review Butler Act.

Tell students that in 1925, a teacher was arrested for teaching evolution in Tennessee.

Write the following on the board:

Butler Act:

It shall be unlawful for any teacher . . . to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Explain to students that over the next three days, they will try to determine whether Americans supported the Butler Act.

    Write SAC question on the board:
  • Did Americans support the Butler Act?

Using overhead description, explain to students that they will spend the next three periods participating in a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC).

Split students into groups of four and assign arguments to pairs. Partners will defend one of the following two assertions:

  • YES, Americans supported the Butler Act.
  • NO, Americans did not support the Butler Act.
Step 2: 35 minutes: Read and analyze documents

Hand out document sets and graphic organizer.

Explain that students will now work with historical documents that shed light on the question being investigated. For each document students will record evidence on the graphic organizer that supports their answer to the SAC question.

In pairs, students read documents and record evidence. Point out that if students find more than four pieces of evidence, they can use the back of the graphic organizer.

Homework

Students finish reading and analyzing document set.

DAY TWO (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 5 minutes: Review Homework

Ask students to review the documents with their partner and finalize the evidence selected to support their answer to the SAC question.

Step 2: 10 minutes: Pair one presents

Students in pair one present their argument for why they believe Americans supported the Butler Act. Students in pair two listen and take notes on their graphic organizer.

Step 3: 10 minutes: Pair two restates

Students in pair two restate pair one's argument. Students in pair one listen to make sure the restatement is complete and accurate.

Step 4: 10 minutes: Pair two presents

Students in pair two present their argument for why they believe Americans did NOT support the Butler Act. Students in pair one listen and take notes on their graphic organizer.

Step 5: 10 minutes: Pair one restates

Students in pair one restate pair two's argument. Students in pair two listen to make sure the restatement is complete.

DAY THREE (approximately 50 minutes)
Step 1: 5 minutes: Review activity

Review steps of SAC so far. Explain to students that pairs will now work together and attempt to achieve consensus on the SAC question.

Step 2: 20 minutes: Consensus

In groups, students work to formulate a consensus statement in response to the question: Did Americans support the Butler Act?

If unable to reach consensus, students clarify their differences. Each student in the group records the consensus response on their graphic organizer.

Step 3: 15 minutes: Discuss (whole class)

Groups share consensus responses with the class.

    Ask students to share their thoughts and feelings on this activity:
  • What did you find challenging?
  • What was helpful?
  • How did this activity help you learn about the Scopes Trial?
  • How reliable are these sources for revealing who supported or opposed the Butler Act?
  • What other types of evidence would you need in order to determine if Americans supported the Butler Act?

(Note: Consider showing "historian think aloud" on the "Teachers" document in order to stress that students should beware of over-generalizing from these documents.)

Step 4: 10 minutes: Explain and begin homework

Write a 1-paragraph response to each of the following questions. Use evidence from the documents in this activity to support your arguments.

    According to these documents:
  • Who supported the Butler Act? Why did they support it?
  • Who opposed the Butler Act? Why did they oppose it?
  • Can you make these statements with certainty? If not, what types of evidence would you need in order to be more certain about whether or not Americans supported the Butler Act?