When looking at the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) related to civility and civil discourse, the concept is not specifically stated in any standard. However, it is inferred in standards where civility was present in the actions of individuals or key events. Additionally, the Social Studies Skills TEKS reference the thinking processes necessary to understand and practice civility.

Research shows that when students engage with each other in learning tasks, they remember the presented material better. This also encourages students to apply their new knowledge more effectively and supports diverse learning backgrounds and styles.

As such, the following resources have been prepared to reach the following objectives:

  • •  To have students connect or apply concepts by explaining to another student or trying to convince another student.
  • •  To enable students to evaluate their understanding of the instructor’s explanation on civility.
  • •  To move students to a higher learning level that extends beyond concerns about what to memorize.
Classroom Discussion Activities

Our democracy thrives on dissent, discussion, and debate. Too often, however, our society provides poor role models for children (and adults) trying to learn the skills to be effective, active, and responsible participants in civil discourse.

The following classroom activities provide a way for basic argument literacy to be integrated into any classroom. Students of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels can explore the basic parameters for civil discourse and discussion.

Classroom Activity – Comments Section

Classroom Activity – What’s the Ground Rules?

Classroom Activity – Compare and Contrast

Or maybe you're simply looking for a guide to help your class engage in a discussion around civility. The following discussion guides are tailored to different grade levels so students of all ages can try their hands at civil discourse.

Discussion Guide - Elementary School

Discussion Guide - Middle School

Discussion Guide - High School

Looking for more ideas? We have included a list of notable attorneys below. You can have your students research these figures, or discuss their contributions to a civil society, or you can download a coloring page for each person listed below if that activity suits your classroom.

Notable Figures

When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in 2020, the frequent references to her famous friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia were reminders that even two of the most outspoken and seemingly different people on our nation’s highest court could be friends despite their different points of view.

As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “Unfortunately, civility is hard to codify or legislate. Discourtesy is notoriously subjective—you know it when you see it—and assessing blame is somewhat akin to asking a pair of fighting fourth graders ‘who started it.’… In the end, it is by deed rather than by decree that attorneys teach each other that it is possible to ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’”

The following is a list of notable attorneys who made a conscious effort to practice civility within the practice of law. Students can identify characteristics of good citizenship, including truthfulness, justice, equality, respect for oneself and others, responsibility in daily life reflected in these individuals and complete a coloring page.

1. Sarah Tilghman Hughes   ( Download Coloring Page )

Sarah Augusta Tilghman Hughes - worked closely with the United Nations as "the world's best chance for peace."

Appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in 1961 via a recess appointment by John F. Kennedy, Sarah Tilghman Hughes was confirmed the following year by the United States Senate. Her roots in public service ran deep, beginning her career as a police officer helping prostitutes and runaway girls get their lives back on track. While living in a tent by the Potomac River, Hughes attended George Washington University Law School at night. Upon graduation, Hughes entered private practice in Dallas, Texas, and also served as an elected state representative before opting to sit as a state judge from 1935-1961 on the Texas District Court. In the frenetic aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, Sarah Tilghman Hughes was called upon to administer the oath of office to Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, making her the only woman in U.S. history to swear in a United States President.

2. Amal Clooney   ( Download Coloring Page )

"We need young people with the courage to say, ‘This is our world now, and there are going to be some changes.'"

Practicing as a British-Lebanese barrister, Amal Alamuddin Clooney specializes in international law and human rights. She is known for her ability to zealously represent victims of mass atrocities, including genocide and sexual violence. Amal represented the first case in which an ISIS member was convicted of genocide. During her efforts to increase civility, Amal was recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and United Nations Correspondents Association Global Citizen of the Year.

3. David Trimble   ( Download Coloring Page )

"There is only one true moral denomination. And it wants peace."

David Trimble won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for peacefully resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland as the leader of Northern Ireland’s Protestant party. He graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1968 “with a first-class honours degree in Law.” After being called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1969, he became a lecturer in law and eventually head of the Commercial and Property Law Department.

4. Nelson Mandela   ( Download Coloring Page )

"It is in your hands, to make a better world for all who live in it."

Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa with the help of Frederik Willem de Klerk. As president of South Africa, de Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990. Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994. Mandela studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, took the qualifying exam in 1952, and became one of South Africa’s first black lawyers.

5. Thurgood Marshall   ( Download Coloring Page )

"The measure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis."

Justice Thurgood Marshall was a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to serving on the United States Supreme Court, Justice Marshall was an attorney who founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Justice Marshall successfully argued landmark cases in front of the Supreme Court, most famously Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, where the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” public education could never be truly equal and was unconstitutional. Justice Marshall saw value in positive relationships, famously befriending then director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover, allowing for collaboration between the NAACP and the FBI in civil rights.

6. Abraham Lincoln   ( Download Coloring Page )

"I don't like that man. i must get to know him better."

In his first inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln told a divided nation, “We are not enemies, but friends.” No better example of political civility can be seen than by President Lincoln’s cabinet, which was made of his recently beaten, more-likely-to-win, political rivals. His leadership continues to be a guiding light to non-reactionary, principled peacemaking.

7. Michelle Obama   ( Download Coloring Page )

"When they go low, you go high."

Attorney, author, and former First Lady Michelle Obama has long practiced civility. Throughout her career, her motto has been: “When they go low, we go high.” Ms. Obama is famously good friends with former President George W. Bush, showing all of us that just because we don’t agree on politics, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.

8. Barbara Jordan   ( Download Coloring Page )

"We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.”

Barbara Jordan was a Texas lawyer and member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate scandal. She was known for her voice of conscience and civility in defending the Constitution, especially when she delivered the opening remarks in the impeachment proceedings against President Richard M. Nixon: “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total,” Jordan said. “I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

9. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor   ( Download Coloring Page )

"We don't accomplish anything in this world alone."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is the first female associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, where she served from 1981 to 2006. Justice O'Connor's tenure on the Supreme Court was marked by her commitment to forming relationships. Justice O'Connor championed all of the Supreme Court Justices having a weekly lunch together to encourage collegiality among the Justices. "[Justice O'Connor] was the glue . . . that made this place civil" said Justice Clarence Thomas. Despite any comments in judicial opinions from other Justices belittling her work, Justice O'Connor would never respond in kind and would not allow slights to get to her. Justice O'Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

10. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg   ( Download Coloring Page )

"Children can do much to aid in the promotion of peace. We must try to train ourselves and those about us to live together with one another as good neighbors."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer her entire life, arguing precedent-setting cases on gender equality and women’s rights. She was also a trailblazer in civility: While Justice Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by a Democrat (President Bill Clinton), a Republican suggested her nomination (Senator Orrin Hatch). And though she and fellow Justice Antonin Scalia may have taken professional aim at each other in dissents, their personal friendship still serves as a standard of civility.

11. Franklin Roosevelt   ( Download Coloring Page )

"If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace."

When the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was shouldered with a monumental task: renewing America’s faith in its own economy. Roosevelt’s ability to reach common ground and connect with his political opponents led the way to his New Deal, which humanized the US workforce with the Social Security Act and other programs that provided relief for unemployed workers.