Engaged Learning in Albany Law's Classrooms: Examples of Innovative Teaching Exercises

Examples of Innovative Teaching Exercises


Student "Law Firms" - Small group work in Professional Responsibility, by Associate Dean Connie Mayer.  (Syllabus, Example Assignment)

  • See also, Harnessing the Extraordinary Power of Learning Teams, in Team Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2004) (eds. Larry Michaelsen, Arletta Knight, and Dee Fink).

D.C. v. Heller - Second Amendment Oral Arguments with Post-argument Analysis in Constitutional Law, by Professor Timothy Lytton

  • Professor Lytton provides opportunities to practice oral argument skills, constitutional interpretation, and critical analysis to all the students in his class during a cleverly devised, politically charged mock hearing on a case (then) pending before the Supreme Court.  Students are asked to take on not just the roles of attorneys and judges, but also of NPR talk show hosts and their guest callers.  (Assignment instructions)

"Wiki Course Outlines" - Collective course outlining using the wiki functions of TWEN, by Professor Pamela Armstrong

  • Professor Pamela Armstrong teaches Lawyering, and Labor Law. Each course culminates in a semi-open book final exam.  The only material that students may use during the exam is an outline which the class collectively developed during the semester using TWEN's wiki functions. 

    For each class meeting an assigned student is asked to outline the daily reading assignment, and post her work to a class wiki on TWEN for all to see. As each student submits her work to the wiki the course outline grows.  Although the outline does not factor into grading, Professor Armstrong has seen a significant increase in understanding and achievement on her final exams.  Additionally, the readily accessible and easy to use technology allows students to complete this exercise on their own without having to use precious class time.

    This activity provides Professor Armstrong with frequent assessment opportunities, and her students with opportunities for reflection.  Professor Armstrong is able to match her teaching to her class's progress. Students are able to compare their study skills, legal analysis and writing styles with those of their peers.  

"Standard Setting" - Formative Assessment, small group work, and counseling in Administrative Law, by Professor Timothy Lytton

  • Professor Lytton asks students to complete questions which assess student understanding of recent assignments, and then tests students' ability to apply legal principles to an in-class activity.  Students assume the role of in-house counsel to trade associations, private corporations, and the FDA for a meeting to negotiate food labeling and identity standards. (Assignment instructions)

"Classroom Zoning" - A challenge in Land Use, by Professor Keith H. Hirokawa

  • Professor Hirokawa gives his instruction context by dividing his classroom "land" into multiple zoning districts. Practical skills and doctrinal principles are discussed and demonstrated through this elaborate mock ordinance.  (Classroom Zoning Ordinance)

Amicus Team - Filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in  Criminal Procedure,
by Professor Ray Brescia


  • Professor Ray Brescia and students researched and wrote an amicus brief to pursuade the Supreme Court of the United States on issues of search and seizure under the 4th Amendment in public schools. Read about their results.
  • Read the Amicus Team's brief.
  • Read the Supreme Courts decision in Safford v. Redding.

Non-Fiction Legal Thrillers - Bringing cases in Federal Civil Procedure and Legal Professions to life using non-fiction, by Professor Ray Brescia

  • Professor Brescia utilizes non-fiction legal thrillers to bring cases to life for his students.  The stories the books recount help students understand the ethical and tactical decisions lawyers face while litigating them and expose students to the roles lawyers, clients and the courts play in pursuing justice. Students in both courses are asked to place themselves in the role of the lawyers in the cases described in the books and consider the decisions that those lawyers made at every stage in the litigation.
  • In his Legal Profession course, in addition to a traditional case book, students also read Jonathan Harr's "A Civil Action", about a toxic tort case in Massachusetts.  Students engage in an extensive series of roleplays derived from situations in the case, from meeting with clients, negotiating to reach a settlement and handling perjured testimony. 
  • In his Introduction to Federal Civil Procedure course taught to first years, students read "Storming the Court: How a Band of Yale Law Students Sued the President -- and Won," by Brandt Goldstein, which recounts the case of HCC v. Sale, a lawsuit challenging the detention of Haitian refugees on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the early 1990s.  (Professor Brescia was one of the students who litigated the case while he was in law school.)  Professor Brescia also utilizes a documentary companion to "Storming the Court" which allows studetns to review the complaint, answer, deposition transcriptions, and actual motions filed in the underlying case. Students in both courses are asked to place themselves in the role of the lawyers in the cases described in the books and consider the decisions that those lawyers made at every stage in the litigation.

"Supreme Court Role-Play" - Role-playing activity in U.S. Supreme Court Watch, by Professor Stephen Gottlieb.

  • Professor Gottlieb assigns each student in his U.S. Supreme Court Watch class to play the role of his or her justice at a simulated Supreme Court post-argument case conferences. The course focuses on cases not yet argued so that the students are required to analyze each justice's recent work and address a forthcoming issue using their assigned justice's jurisprudence. The project culminates in the presentation of a final paper on the student's assigned justice.


Professor Gottlieb (third from left) is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law and author of the book Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America (New York University Press, 2000). ​