Civic Engagement in the Classroom: Lesson Plans, Teaching Tips and Activities





Gathered by the UC AAUP Political Action Committee, Fall 2016



Profs. Fred Krome, Cassandra Fetters, Frank Davis,

and Phoebe Reeves

We hope these materials from our classrooms will be helpful to you in thinking about and designing activities that engage your students in critical thinking about politics and current events. Please feel free to use them in whatever form you wish.

Examining the Tactics of Denialism: Holocaust, Tobacco, and Climate Change.

Frederic Krome, University of Cincinnati Clermont College

One of the goals of the Introduction to Liberal Arts class is to help students develop the skills to think critically, and utilizing current controversies is one possible method of engaging them. For this fall I chose to build incrementally to this goal by juxtaposing the concept of the expert with the phenomena of Historical denial. The lesson plan unfolds over several weeks in this class, but it can be condensed to a shorter span.

Part One: The class examines the Baby Boom generation in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and particularly the controversy over comics books and their perceived threat to American society, which culminated in the 1954 Wertheim Report, Seduction of the Innocent. We discuss how this era was one of the first in which the “expert,” whether he be a scientist of psychotherapist, would provide professional testimony. The class then considered how as critical thinkers they could disassemble such expert testimony, to find the flaws in the argument so to speak.

Part Two: The class considers Holocaust Denial. We first define the term and address two questions: Why do some deny the Holocaust happen? What are their methods for challenging historical truth? We look at the political ideology of such figures as David Irving, who is both one of the most prominent of the deniers and his mythology. The source for this is a chapter in Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, and a short encyclopedia article I wrote for a book on Propaganda (PDF copies available on request). In particular the class considers how Deniers try to appear logical when they challenge the historical veracity of the Holocaust, but actually are engaging in obfuscation. In the past I have also discussed the negative impact of post-modernism, with its assertion that ALL facts are constructs. Since the intellectual movement is fading it is less relevant than when I first did this exercise.

Part Three: The class then looks at the attempts to deny the linkage between cigarette smoking and cancer. Student are given the following assignment: “Using google, or Yahoo, find at least two examples of public figures in western countries who deny that tobacco causes cancer.”  After examining Tobacco denial they do the same exercise for those who deny climate change is real. Students then write a short essay to “Identify the major arguments in each and then compare them to Holocaust denial to see if they employ common tactics.

Dr. Cassandra Fetters

English 1001


We will use rhetorical analysis to examine how presidential candidates and political commentators attempt to achieve their purposes in speeches, websites, and articles.  In your essay, you will identify strategies and analyze how the speaker uses them to represent his or her position. You will consider how the speaker constructs his or her ethos as credible to the audience. You will also need to assess how the speaker appeals to the audience’s emotions, values, or experiences. Finally, as you consider how the speaker attempts to achieve his or her purpose on this occasion with this audience, you will want to examine the evidence and claims that are made about the topic. The persona of the author, the attitudes of the audience, and evidence about the topic provide three types of appeals:


  1. Ethos (How does the writer establish expertise and moral authority?)
  2. Pathos (What appeals are made to the read­ers’ emotions?)
  3. Logos (What arguments and evidence are used?)

To get started, think about and provide brainstormed answers to the following:

  • Author:  Who is the author/speaker?
  • Purpose:  What is the author/speaker trying to accomplish?  Why did the author/speaker feel the need to give this speech?
  • Audience/Relationship to the Reader:  To whom is the speech addressed?
  • Context:  What are the influencing factors surrounding the event of the speech?
  • Where/When:  where and when was the speech given?
  • Voice:  What is the overall tone of the speech?  Does it change?  Why?
  • Strategies:  How did the author/speaker write the text?  What choices does he make?
  • Effectiveness:  Is the author/speaker rhetorically effective?  Does the speech ‘move’ you?  Does the speech convincingly get you to think critically/differently about the topic/subject matter?

Your rhetorical analysis should demonstrate how the author/speaker utilizes, either successfully or not, the three elements of rhetorical appeals.

Audience:  Your audience for this essay will be your classmates and your professor, and others who have not read or heard the speech.


  • Consider The Rhetorical Situation:  Read/listen the speech several times, paying special attention to not only what he/she is saying, but rather how he/she presents his/her ideas. A good way to begin is to write out on a separate piece of paper what you think the speech’s purpose is, including: the thesis, the audience, the context in which the speech was written.
  • Consider The Rhetorical Appeals: Focus on the three elements of rhetorical appeals (Ethos, Logos, and Pathos). How does (or does not) the author utilize one (or all) of these three approaches? Note: texts/speeches rarely utilize only one of the appeals, but rather typically utilize elements of all three.
  • Develop A Clear Thesis Statement: This is perhaps the most critical step in the writing process. You must ask yourself, “What is my purpose for writing this essay?” Based upon your answer, you should be able to come up with a strong (unique) thesis statement.  A thesis statement should reflect your opinion on the effectiveness of the author’s choices.

Do not simply restate his/her original thesis (remember the elements of the rhetorical situation; your purpose is different than the original author’s). In addition to stating your stance, your thesis should provide the reader with a clear direction of where you’re heading.



The introduction should begin with an opening paragraph of several sentences that do the following:

      • Place the speech in a broader context (perhaps, the issue, the history of the campaign, or the candidate’s career).
      • Introduce the speech by characterizing the speaker and the occasion.
      • Identify the audience and situation for which the speech is intended.
      • Describe the writer’s purpose. To do this, you might answer the fol­lowing questions for yourself before you write: What does the writer want to achieve with this community upon this occasion? What does she or he want these particular people to think and/or do?
      • Identify the rhetorical strategies that you have decided to discuss and indicate, in general terms, how they function to promote the author’s purpose in relation to the intended audience. This is your thesis – and you should end the Intro with it.


The body will include paragraphs that will have their own topic sentences developed with specifics from the speech. You may want to focus each paragraph on one rhetorical strategy, or you may focus on different parts of one strategy.  In either case, be careful of being too predictable, for example by simply repeating key terms. Useful strategies for developing paragraphs include:

      • Defining the rhetorical strategy.
      • Quoting or paraphrasing examples to illustrate the writer’s use of the strategy (two or three examples generally suffice). Using examples to support your claims will help your reader understand why you are making the claim you are making. For example, if you find a place in the text where the author is using pathos to appeal to the readers emotions, you should quote the place in the text where this appeal takes place
      • Explaining how the example illustrates the strategy and how the strategy contributes to the writer’s purpose.
      • Support Your Thesis Statement: The body of your essay should be devoted to supporting evidence for your thesis statement. This will mean using direct quotation, paraphrasing, and your own assessment.


The conclusion serves the purpose of briefly summarizing the main points of the analysis and explaining the significance of your analysis. The significance of your analysis may be suggested by asking questions such as these:

      • How do the rhetorical strategies that you discussed explain the effects the speaker achieved with his or her audience?
      • Why were the strategies effective or not effective with the speaker’s core constituency and with other audiences?
      • What do the rhetorical strategies suggest about the political agendas and varied constituencies of the campaign?


Essay Requirements:

      • The Essay must be at least three-four pages in length.
      • The Essay must contain a clear thesis statement, explicitly stated in the introduction.
      • Throughout the argument, each claim and assertion must be supported with reasons and specific support/evidence from the texts.
      • You must develop a title (preferably a creative one) and the title should be centered at the top of the first page.


From Frank Davis:

My classroom activities regarding active and engaged citizenship, including GOTV, are the following:


  • *Use of student activists in class, giving them an opportunity to speak to their classmates
  • *Use of guest speakers working for GOTV
  • *Use of figures such as Thoreau, Tolstoy, Schweitzer, Gorbachev, Akino, Mario Savio, Mandela, King, Juan Carlos, aspects of the 1960s, Pauling, Oppenheimer, Curie, Franklin, the Federalist Papers re the Articles of Confederation and the current U.S. constitution, the notion of balanced citizenship versus that of the idiot’s imbalanced citizenship in classical Greece
  • *this skit focusing on due process


Frank Davis’ Skit for Adjunct Justice Day

In advance, two students from each class are approached in private, advised of the skit and its purpose, and asked to participate.

On the agreed-upon day, these two students are ejected from class summarily and with some vocality by the teacher. As these two students gather their items and leave the classroom, they are told by the teacher that they will receive an F for the course and that a letter will be sent to the office of judicial affairs. When one of these students begins to protest, the teacher responds: “There is no argument.”

The remaining students are quite surprised and sit in silence, wondering what has happened.

The two ejected students, who have been waiting in the hall, out of sight, are asked by the teacher to re-enter. They do so, with smiles on their faces and the teacher then explains to the class about the skit, the purpose of which is to dramatize the need for due process.

The students are told that they, by virtue of being UC students, are entitled to due process, and the different steps of due process are then outlined for the “ejected students,” including all levels of informal appeal, as well as the Omsbuds, and the formal grievance process. The students are assured that should they encounter any sort of “justice” or “fair-ness” problem, they are guaranteed due process.

The due process of the U.S. constitution is then interjected and explained. Due process is an “American” ideal, a “democratic” ideal.

Then, I explain that I, too, have due process at UC because I am a tenured professor. Here, I have a chance to explain the following (at this point, I circulate my tenure dossier):

  • the job search process (national, several interviews, presentations, demonstrations, etc.)
  • probation (two years at a time, for which a dossier is submitted)
  • multi-layered review each time the dossier is submitted
  • tenure defined as having a continuing contract and due process

HERE, I can broach the real purpose of the skit and this discussion: many UC students are taught by adjuncts, who do NOT have due process (not even the due process the UC students enjoy), that these adjuncts can be terminated without recourse, and that they are paid less than a living wage. Moreover, many have to go from campus to campus, semester by semester, to patch together some kind of work.


Student responses can include the following:

  • Don’t all professors start as adjuncts?
  • Why can’t the adjuncts have tenure?
  • Why don’t the adjuncts form a union?
  • Isn’t it against the law for adjuncts to be paid less than a living wage?


Phoebe Reeves

Researching a Local Ballot Issue or Race: English 1000

For some time now, if I’m teaching English 1000 in a semester during which an important election will be happening, I will assign this essay. It is not without its pitfalls—for example, this fall in Clermont County, there are many positions like County Commissioner or Sheriff on the ballot, but in every case, a Republican candidate is running unopposed, with the real competition likely to have occurred during the primary. Still, I have found this to be an illuminating exercise for students who are just beginning to learn the tenets of academic research and critical thinking. In the last five years or so, school levies have proven particularly fruitful topics of student research and class discussion.

You will notice I limit my students to state or local issues. This is to avoid the issues about which they are likely to have pre-formed opinions, often very strong ones, and instead look at the importance of local government, which most of them know very little about.


Essay Three: In Class Essay (100 Points)

This essay is a research essay, but it is not an opinion essay. For this essay, you will choose a local ballot issue to research: a local school levy, a town council position, an elected Sherriff position, etc. With prior approval, you may also choose a state-wide issue that will be on the ballot in November. Your job for this essay will be to accurately summarize what is at stake, who supports each/every side or candidate, and why. You may also consider what the impact of different outcomes would be on your local community. For example, if a school levy vote passes or fails, what will be the impact on people with a fixed income who pay property taxes, or on students who attend the school?

Sources for this assignment will include local papers, interviews with local officials, and larger resources such as the League of Women Voters website.

You will be able to prepare—take notes, make an outline, etc. It will be a timed essay, but it will be open book and you will be allowed to work from your prepared outline, if you wish.

Goals: Ability to conduct self-directed research on a focused topic. Clear presentation of researched material to an appropriate audience. Beginning use of citations. Holistic organization in the service of that presentation. Correct grammar and accurate proofreading.

The essay will be done during class on Wednesday, 11/2. If you miss class that day, you will also miss the essay, unless you are absent for a documented illness.