Pit Primary and Secondary Sources Against Each Other with Evidence Throwdowns

March 6, 2019
Caleb Sanders

I love doing mock trials in class, but I don’t always want to take the time to get ready for them. So a few years ago, I created an activity where I take the witness testimonies out of the trial, and just do what I call an “Evidence Throwdown.”

What is an “Evidence Throwdown?” It is a cross between a mock trial and a debate. We take a person from history, and use physical evidence to evaluate their life for better or worse. We can also ask a debate question, and prove our points with physical evidence instead of just oral arguments.

This activity is awesome because kids actually have to prove their points with physical evidence, and it really helps them understand what good sources of information are. Sometimes I will ask for primary sources, and other times I will ask for secondary sources. The students scramble to find something that proves their point, and then they submit their evidence. I can use another class to act as judges, or I can judge the throwdown myself.

I like the pacing of this activity because it goes back and forth between both sides. This is how it got the “throwdown” part of the name. Students are literally throwing down evidence, and quickly looking for new evidence for a possible follow-up round. The students love doing this!

This is how a basic Evidence Throwdown unfolds. I divide students into two groups, and ask one group to find evidence that (for example) Abraham Lincoln was not effective as president. I will ask the other group to find evidence that he was effective. I may give both groups only 20 minutes to do this, and then tell them they can only submit primary sources. They can submit anywhere from three to six pieces of evidence. Most of the time, I will limit their submissions to around 150 words. I don’t want them to submit a long article that I have to wade through as a judge. Sometimes I will require students to make their evidence look authentic by putting it in telegram form, letter form, or something like that.

After 20 minutes, I will ask for one piece of evidence to be submitted with an explanation of how it proves their point. We will go back and forth between both groups in this manner until all of their initial evidence has been submitted. I could then declare a winner or give them another 15 minutes to collect more evidence for submission.

The students usually want to see the other side’s evidence and evaluate it. I also give them a chance to point out flaws that they find with the evidence. All submitted evidence should have a source written on the back so that the other group can locate it and evaluate it.

Students always request a chance to share their thoughts, and I usually let them go back and forth even after all the evidence is submitted. I put a timer on their thoughts so we can keep things moving, and so I can fairly listen to each side.

To get most people in a large class involved, I will break the initial two groups into multiple groups that can’t communicate with each other. I ask all groups to provide evidence that can help their side. This is a great way to help students in a class of 20 or larger get involved.

This is a great activity! The preparation for it is simple, and the students love it. I think it is better than just having them evaluate sources. Now they are actually motivated to dig into sources so they can use them for their side—and win!

Posted By Caleb Sanders | High School Teacher

Recognized as a 2015 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award recipient in Wyoming, and as Teacher of the Year by his district, Caleb is also the author of multiple books for Teacher’s Discovery®. He uses mock trials, debates, simulations, and other activities to engage students in lively learning.

Check out Caleb’s best selling book Creating Easy Mock Trials for Your Social Studies Classroom Book for more great activities like this one.

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