Writing to Read Democracy: Document-Based Essay in Miniature

in Writing to Read Democracy in New York State & The United States
Activity 4

Created by Prof. Seth Halvorson & Dr. Erica Kaufman
Bard College Institute for Writing & Thinking

NYS Common Core Grades 7 & 8:
History of the United States and New York State I & II

This document-based sequence of activities invites students to chart the dialog between the New York State Courts, the Federal Courts, and other State Courts regarding the scope of individual rights. Generally speaking, New York State Courts are more protective of individual rights than Federal Courts and more so than other State Courts as well. The central question is: How have the New York State Courts understood the scope of individual rights? 

Given that the “document-based question” (DBQ) appears frequently in high school history curricula, this activity and assignment aims to help students to understand the process of writing a DBQ, from understanding the assignment and documents to writing the essay itself. Most DBQ’s involve at least five primary documents, so this activity asks students to draw on any of the documents they’ve worked with thus far, as well as an additional three documents focused on “Stop and Frisk” (nine documents total).

This unit plan meets the following guidelines of New York State’s Common Core Social Studies Framework (2016):

  • The Constitution in Practice: 7.5a
  • Domestic Politics and Reform: 8.9b, 8.9e

Lesson Overview PDF

IWT’s Core Writing (& Reading) Practices PDF

Document Packet PDF

High School Document-Based Activity Packet PDF

Middle School Document-Based Activity Packet PDF

Case 1: Shield Law Documents PDF

Case 2: “Stop and Frisk” Documents PDF

The Historical Society’s website contains a wealth of related resources related to this unit.

Hon. Victoria A. Graffeo
Court of Appeals Judge
Wrote the majority opinion of Holmes v. Winter

Hon. Jonathan Lippman
Court of Appeals Chief Judge
Concurred with majority opinion

Hon. Sheila Abdus-Salaam
Court of Appeals Judge
Concurred with majority opinion

Hon. Jenny Rivera
Court of Appeals Judge
Concurred with majority opinion

Hon. Robert S. Smith
Court of Appeals Judge
Dissented and affirmed in separate opinion

Hon. Eugene F. Pigott, Jr. 
Court of Appeals Judge
Dissented and concurred with Judge Smith’s opinion

Hon. Susan Phillips Read
Court of Appeals Judge
Dissented and affirmed for the reasons described in the Appellate Division’s opinion (110 AD3d 134)

Image Citation: The New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Gay History Papers and Photographs.

Writing to Read Democracy: Case Law Jigsaw
Lesson 3
Rights and the Courts: Classroom Debates about Freedom of Religion
Lesson 5
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