Author Archives: Dan Fouts

About Dan Fouts

Since 1993 I've taught AP government, philosophy and US history in the Chicagoland area. I have an undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy from Bradley University and a M.S. in education and social policy from Northwestern University. I also work for Teach Different, an educational company dedicated to helping teachers and parents have great conversations every day. I served as a member of the committee on pre-collegiate instruction in philosophy through the American Philosophical Association from 2012-201. Additionally, I work with NCSS to create and instruct online courses designed to help middle/high school teachers integrate Big Questions into their classrooms.

Pre-writing activity for AP gov Argument Essay FRQ: Executive Orders

Here’s an idea for how to combine a good classroom conversation with the writing of an argumentative essay FRQ on executive orders.

(The conversation method and example shown here come from Teach Different.)

Procedure:

  1. Tell students to submit answers to this Google form 2-3 days before the conversation. On the form students analyze a quote from John Adams: Power can never be trusted without a check. They write the claim Adams is making and then explore the counterclaim to the quote by referencing their personal experiences and how these experiences affirm or contradict what Adams is saying. They then answer an essential question which provokes them to take a stand: Should we trust people with power? This activity fills their heads with ideas to talk about.
  2. Review the Google spreadsheet of student responses.
  3. Have the conversation (any format works- online, hybrid, face-to-face). Students can talk about any part they want (claim, counterclaim or EQ). Your role is to guide and push the conversation along. I like to highlight interesting remarks right on the spreadsheet so I can bring them up if the conversation stalls. It could last anywhere from 15 minutes to an entire period. Totally flexible.

4. Hand out the argumentative essay FRQ on Executive Orders


By having this conversation before the writing activity, you are getting the students to think about power as it relates to their own personal experiences and you are giving them valuable skill practice making claims and counterclaims. This positions them for success when they write about power in the context of executive orders and checks and balances.

Do you use any other pre-writing activities with this FRQ?


Other posts you may like:

Sample prompts for the argument essay FRQ

AP Government Test Prep in the Age of Coronavirus

A parent listened in to my AP government Zoom session and here’s what happened…

Well, this was strange. I’m teaching my AP government class through Zoom and we’re discussing bias in the news. Near the end of the session students start asking about what news sources they should explore.

Then I get an email from a student who writes, “My mom is listening in to our session as we are talking about news bias. She sent me this image from her phone.”

This has never happened before– without even me knowing it, a parent sits in my class, listens in on the lesson and then actively participates by sending a resource over her phone to her child who then sends it to me.

So this adds quite a dimension to remote learning!

I shared the image with the rest of the class and students were very appreciative. The concept of having parents involved in class this way is pretty exciting. But, then, the very same thought produces a sense of terror. Does this mean that everything I say might be monitored by parents? What if I say something that is misinterpreted? What if a parent wants me to share something that I know is untrue or inappropriate?

At this point, I’m not sure just what to think about this. One thing is for sure– the fact that what we are teaching is being broadcast into people’s living rooms creates a fresh pile of energizing challenges for our profession.

Has anybody else had a similar experience? Reply and share what happened.


Other posts you may like…

Make meaningful conversations a ROUTINE in remote learning

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

Sample prompts for the AP government argument essay

Make meaningful SEL conversations a ROUTINE during remote learning

“Never do anything against conscience, even if the state demands it.”

I’m trying out a routine this fall called “Conversation Monday“. It’s my attempt to get students thinking and talking about things that matter in life, above and beyond the curriculum. It’s what we all need. This idea is inspired by SEL curriculum I helped develop for Teach Different.

Starting with a famous quote like this one from Einstein, students have a conversation about the claim and counterclaim to the quote by referencing their personal experiences and how these experiences affirm or contradict what Einstein is saying. They also answer an essential question which provokes them to take a stand.

That’s it. It’s the marriage of curiosity, critical thinking and the expression of social-emotional intelligence— all fueled by students’ shared personal experiences. This is true SEL learning.

Here’s the routine

  1. Have students fill out this Google form to organize their thinking before the conversation. Edit the form as you wish and email it or post it for your students. (If you aren’t logged into a Gmail account, you might have to request access to the form)
  2. Review the Google spreadsheet of student responses that is automatically created. As you’re having the conversation, use the students’ prepared remarks as prompts to draw out their personal experiences.
  3. Evaluate using this rubric. (You could also have them answer the essential question after the conversation.)

If you try this, tell me how it goes and share sample student responses!

If you want more of these conversations, email me at dmfsocrates@gmail.com and I’ll send you other ones to keep the momentum.

Good luck!


Other posts you may like:

Socrates: “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

Essential questions and the power of storytelling

Do we have to suffer to be successful?

Students might be asking themselves this very question as the pandemic has upended many of their life goals. Here’s a conversation that can give them an opportunity to express themselves.

“There is no success without hardship.” Sophocles

The Big Idea: Going through hard times is something most everybody has to do. Some people face hardship and turn away. They become discouraged and think that success is unattainable. Others see hardship as an opportunity for self-motivation, goal-setting and a fresh re-evaluation of values. Students must determine whether to see hardship as a barrier or an opportunity, and accept the consequences underlying the choices they make.

Claim: Here Greek playwright Sophocles is saying that a person must go through hard times to be successful. Success doesn’t come easy.

Counterclaim: But sometimes success comes easy. You don’t need to go through hardship. You just need to be at the right place at the right time.

Essential Question: Do we have to suffer to be successful?

COPY this assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

Integration Idea: I want to help the students find some sort of positive meaning from the Coronavirus crisis. The conversation with Sophocles on hardship would be a great tool to encourage self-reflection on the fact that sometimes a person has to go through difficult times to achieve success. I could use the essential question, “Do we have to suffer to be successful?”, as an exit slip after the conversation. We could refer back to their responses at different times to consider the role suffering plays in our quest for success.


This resource comes from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters like this.

Other posts you may like:

AP Government test prep in the Age of Coronavirus

“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” Socrates

The Big Idea: All students have run across “know-it-alls”. They might be one themselves. They walk into a room and express supreme confidence with their knowledge. Being humble is seen as a sign of weakness. Then there are those timid students who wait patiently, ask questions and only speak when they are certain of something. Confidence and humility are noble traits. The life-long challenge is striking the right balance between the two.

Claim: According to famous Greek philosopher Socrates, you should question what you think you know. It’s important to be humble and admit that you don’t have the answers.

Counterclaim: You should have confidence in what you know. Certainty is important.

Essential Question: Should we question what we are sure of?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

Integration Idea: I see this essential question and conversation as a great way to begin or end a school year. At the beginning it would establish an importance to the value of being humble with what you know and being open to questioning. It would also give you a good insight into the types of students in your class who are more inquisitive versus the ones who demand certainty. At the end of the year, it would inspire the students to reflect upon the importance of questioning and what they learned. You could ask the students to write about examples in the curriculum where there were no clear answers and where it was important to keep questioning what was being learned.


These free resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

Are you more like an alien or monster with your students?

Let’s imagine what a course organized by essential questions might look like.

“To do nothing is also a good remedy.” Hippocrates

The Big Idea: Children confront problems everyday. Some are small like how to study for an exam or get a ride to school, and some large like how to support their friends who are in unhealthy relationships. All of these problems involve the choice of whether to intervene or do nothing and let the situation play itself out. This choice is always hard because we never really know the future and must rely on our instincts in the moment.

Claim: According to famous Greek physician Hippocrates sometimes the best way to solve a problem is not to intervene. Let the problem resolve itself.

Counterclaim: But sometimes intervention is necessary to solve problems because people are unable or unwilling to do it themselves.

Essential Question: How do we know when we should intervene to solve problems?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!


This resource is from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

What is respect?

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

The Big Idea: Students make moral decisions everyday. Usually these decisions revolve around specific actions they take like helping a friend, cheating on a test or obeying curfew. But students also make moral decisions by being silent after witnessing the immoral behavior of others. In these situations, the impulse for self-protection overrides moral obligations. Learning how to choose whether or not to be silent in the midst of injustice is an important part of moral development.

Claim: According to American writer and feminist Audre Lorde, if you don’t speak up, your voice will never be heard. If you don’t stand up for yourself, then you will get taken advantage of. If you don’t stand up against injustice, it will never go away and it will be knocking at your door soon.

Counterclaim: Sometimes being quiet is the right thing to do. You need to be silent to protect yourself or a friend. Minding your own business can offer protection as well.

Essential Question: How do we know when to be silent?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!


These resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

Teaching the Articles of Confederation–with an assist from MLK.”