In Brief

Students will be introduced to the issues concerning capital punishment in a web/classroom/group-work environment. They will learn the arguments from both sides of the issue in order to reflect on their own position on the matter and make informed arguments for their positions. In addition, using the informed arguments and resources drawn from the Web site, the students will read and deliberate on the issues of ethics and justice using an actual case study in order to humanize the debate.

As early as the founding of the United States, the validity of capital punishment has been a contentious public issue. Recognizing the controversial nature of this subject, it is necessary for informed citizens/students to examine the issue from different perspectives. As a result, citizens and students alike will be able to investigate this topic and make informed, persuasive arguments concerning their position.


The purpose of this unit is to engage students in an examination of the arguments concerning capital punishment, culminating in debates using an actual case study. In doing so they will learn about the history of the death penalty, the stages in a capital case, arguments for and against capital punishment, and insights drawn from expert testimony. In addition to learning about the complex issues associated with capital punishment, students will become more familiar with identifying and making sound arguments, engaging in critical evaluation of both sides of the issue, and marshaling evidence to support positions for both sides. Finally they will debate about capital punishment using an actual case study and reflect on their own opinion of the death penalty.


Students will be able to identify the central issues concerning the death penalty from the past to the present (early uses of the death penalty, deterrence, public sentiment and the death penalty, stages in a capital case, and—most importantly—the issues of fairness, equality, and justice). They will be able to identify the states that have and donât have the death penalty, in order to investigate issues of fairness and justice. Students will be able to explain the different positions on the capital punishment issue, using evidence from the site. The simulation will provide an opportunity for students to engage in substantive conversations regarding the issue. Students will also participate in a persuasive debate on the subject, using information provided by the web site as well as core democratic values for support.


Fairness and equality under law; justice; purposes of punishment; identifying and constructing sound arguments.


2 weeks +

Materials needed:

  1. Computer lab with Internet capabilities
  2. PowerPoint software or poster board and related display materials (for group presentations)
  3. Death Penalty Main Site primarily:
    1. History of the death penalty (to provide historical context, thematic illustration of past and present public opinion, and to serve as evidence for reports)
    2. Arguments and expert testimony for and against the death penalty (to explore the various positions and use of evidence)
    3. Stages in a capital case (to show the process, from commission of the crime through trial, sentencing, and appeals)
    4. Four Death Penalty Case Studies (to serve as real life examples for students’ deliberation, reports and discussion)
  4. Death Penalty Main Site secondarily:
    1. State-by-State Data (to use in investigating issues of fairness and justice - especially regarding differences between states and ethnicity


Quick writes; learning journal entries (See Appendix for descriptions); group work consisting of site research and argument/rebuttal posters and presentations; one final essay; performance-based assessment of group work (in other words, how students work together, how effectively they share responsibility for the work, and how they engage the content covered).