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Lesson Review

Author:Nathan Bowen
ETP Title:Taking Action! Public Policy Organizations and our Society: a role-play based unit
Organization:Silicon Valley Leadership Group
ETP Type:Enhance Existing Curriculum
Grade Level(s):12
Subject Area(s):Social Science

Lesson Abstract:

Taking Action! Public Policy Organizations and our Society: a role-play based unit

Taking Action! Is a hands-on, student-driven project designed for a government class. Through this project the class will take on the role of a public policy organization and will gain an understanding of how public policy organizations work with elected officials, businesses and non-profit organizations to influence legislative and fiscal outcomes. Working in pairs, students will be assigned a general policy category of interest to California (e.g. transportation, education, water) and will research and design a policy portfolio that covers a specific area of concern. As part of their project, students will be assigned a local, state or federal official and a local or state-level public policy organization with whom they will be required to make contact in regards to their specific policy issues. As a major element of their portfolio, students will be required to prepare a white paper based on their research that proposes policies and actions that can be taken to confront their policy issue. As a cumulative activity, students will share their findings with the “public policy organization” (the class) using a Power Point presentation. Students will be assessed on their policy portfolio and presentation using a rubric.   

California Standards

12.7 Students analyze and compare the powers and procedures of the national, state, tribal, and local governments.

12.7.5 Explain how public policy is formed, including the setting of the public agenda and implementation of it through regulations and executive orders.

Measurable Objectives:

  • Students will be able to describe the various levels and powers of government that affect the Bay Area, including city, county, state and federal entities.
  • Students will be able to explain how a public policy group interacts with the public and private sector to coordinate, craft, and influence policy-making decisions.
  • Students will be able to understand the complex, major public challenges facing the Bay Area and California and will be able to recommend and possibly take part in actions to remedy those issues.
  • Students will be able to effectively use the internet and other media resources to research and prepare accurate and technically proficient written reports.


This project will be graded using a rubric.

The rubric is out of an even 100 points.

Please see attachments.

The connection between the ETP and Fellowship. :

My ETP is closely modeled on my experiences and observations as a fellow of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. My goal for my students is to replicate as closely as possible for them the structure and procedures of a public policy organization such as the Leadership Group. For example, within the Leadership Group the organization is separated into different policy areas that specialize in their particular area. Moreover, each staff member is assigned an elected official and "sister organization" that they maintain contact with. The organization researches and prepares white papers and takes positions on legislative proposals. In short, my fellowship will provide me with an understanding of how a successful public policy outfit operates. Through this understanding I can better guide and instruct my students through a realistic and meaningful role-play.

Instructional Plan:

Taking Action! Public Policy Organizations and our Society: a role-play based unit


Overall Unit

The class will engage in a “public policy role play.” Working in pairs students will research and prepare a public policy portfolio that they will then present at the end of the unit to the entire class. Each pair of students will be responsible for a different area of public policy concern (i.e. energy, water, immigration, transportation). Students will be required to make contact with elected officials and real public policy groups. Students will prepare a "white paper" that recommends specific policy actions.


ETP includes:

  • Public Policy Portfolio Assignment sheet to be handed out to students
  • Scoring Rubric for Policy Portfolio and Presentation
  • Policy area assignment slips with public policy group contact information
  • Elected Official contact information slips
  • Agenda and website guide for researching policy issues




This assignment introduces students to the structure and function of a public policy organization while simultaneously raising awareness about the issues facing the Bay Area and California and how those issues might be addressed through legislative action and fiscal policies.



Outline (For a 1:15 minute class period – introducing the assignment)


Introductory activity to the concept of public policy (35 minutes):


  1. Introduce the assignment with a class discussion. Have students sit with a partner and discuss the following question for the next five minutes. Instruct students to write down the question and their answers in a class notebook or on a piece of paper: PROBLEMS: What are the major challenges facing San Jose right now? (5 min)


  1. When the five minutes are up ask each pair to pick one person to come up and write two issues on the board. If they see one of their issues has already been listed they can put a check mark next to it. (5 min)


  1. When the students have finished putting their issues on the board review the list and engage the groups in dialog: asking pairs questions such as “why did you pick this issue? and “Has this issue affected you personally or someone you know?” (10 min)


  1.  Following the discussion, conduct a brief poll of the class, asking: what is the most important issue listed here? When the class has made its top choice, direct the pairs to once again write down the following question in their notebook/paper, discuss and write down an answer in five minutes: SOLUTIONS: What can government and citizens do to deal with this issue? (10min)


  1. When the five minutes are complete ask for students to share their solutions. Close the activity by explaining that what the class has just done was to work on public policy. Provide a brief definition of public policy on the board or via a power point slide. Students will write the definition in their notebook/paper.(5 min)


Assigning the public policy portfolio (40 minutes – to the end of the class period)


  1. Pass out the assignment packet and project rubric to each student.(see attachments for a copy of the assignment packet and rubric) Instruct students to remain seated next to the partner that they chose for the introductory activity. They will be told that they will have the option of working with this person to create and present a project: a public policy portfolio.


  1. Review the assignment packet with the class through a pop-corn read. Choose one student to begin reading the packet and when that student feels like he or she has read enough they get to choose someone in the class to read. If the person they have chosen has not been paying attention, the chooser will receive extra credit.


  1. As the class is reading the assignment, occasionally interject context and explanations of key vocabulary and concepts. Having the website of a public policy organization such as svlg.org (Silicon Valley Leadership Group) or ppic.org (Public Policy Institute of California) projected in front of the class is recommended for helping students comprehend terminology such as “public policy issue.”


  1. Once the class has completed its reading of the assignment allow students a minute to choose and confirm their partners for the activity.


  1. Randomly assign the public policy issue assignment slips (see attachments for a copy of the assignment slips) and instruct students to copy the information from the assignment slips to the related section in their assignment packet.


  1. For the remainder of class pairs should go to a computer and begin web research of their policy areas.



Teacher Notes:


  • This unit would be most effective following a unit on the basic structure and powers of government, including a discussion of federalism and local governments.


  • Other important concepts that should be reviewed with students prior to implementing this unit include identifying political ideologies and understanding the role of special interests in directing government actions.


  • Make sure you are familiar with the web-sites of the various public policy organizations and public officials before assigning them to your students. As one can imagine there exists a wide variety of formats and layouts that make it initially difficult to find information.



Mini-Unit Guide


The following is a pacing calendar for this assignment. My goal is to guide the students as much as possible through this process. Therefore, most of the work will be completed in class. I have included recommended tutorials for various facets of the project.



Class 1: introduce and assign project (See attached assignment sheet)


Class 2: Research public policy issue – familiarize and take notes (See attached website recommendations for class 2)

Tutorial: How to efficiently take notes from web resources

Due at end of class: One to two pages of neatly typed notes


Class 3: Write letter of contact to elected official

Tutorial: How to write a formal letter to an elected official

Due at end of class: typed and signed letter (two copies)


Class 4: Write letter or email to actual public policy organization

Tutorial: How to write a formal email

Due at end of class: printed copy of email to public policy organization (two copies)


Class 5: Find current news reports on public policy issue – read and type summaries

Tutorial: How to summarize a news report

Due at the end of class: Notes for summaries and printed copies of a news articles.

Homework: Completed news summaries (typed), outline for white paper.


Class 6: Work Day – write drafts of one page white paper*: challenges with the policy issue/recommended actions and solutions.

Tutorial: examples of white papers and white paper template

Due at the end of class: One page typed draft of white paper.

* A white paper is a report that gives information and/or proposals on an issue.


Class 7: Work Day – Make changes/corrections to draft of white paper. Clean-up newspaper summaries and create table of contents and cover for the portfolio. Collect and include any correspondence from elected officials and/or public policy organizations.

Due at the end of class: Final draft of white paper, cover of portfolio.

Homework: Finish putting portfolio together, complete accurate table of contents.


Class 8: Work Day – prepare and practice presentation.

Tutorial: introduction to power point – focus on images.

Due at the end of class: visual for presentation complete.

Homework: practice presentation.


Class 9: Presentation!

Due at the beginning of class: Final copy of policy portfolio.


Bibliographic or other resources you used in creating this curriculum:

The needs this ETP will fulfill in the classroom, teaching or school:

In my school, which serves at-risk youth who have had difficulty with academics, there is a great need to possess curriculum that is engaging and relevant. My students need to be engaged in a manner that creatively connects them directly with the content, otherwise they quickly lose interest and have difficulty retaining the learning objectives. This ETP will bring engagement and relevancy to my curriculum in several important ways. For one, through the immersive process of the role-play, students will be able to describe and explain the structure and function of the various levels of government in California. Secondly, the project will raise awareness in my students about the current policy issues facing California and the steps being taken to deal with them by elected officials and policy organizations. Finally, this ETP when implemented will introduce and reinforce to students the notion that they are not passive bystanders in their community's future, thereby providing them with a sense of ownership.