Discipline: Social Studies

Grade Level: 7

Course: Ancient World History

©Literacy Design Collaborative. September 2011

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Julius Caesar: Hero or tyrant?
  • Student Work Samples
    • Within the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) framework, student work samples answer the critical question, "What Results?" The inclusion of student work within the module design provides teachers insight into how to improve the quality of the teaching task and the feedback they give on student strengths and challenges.

  • Classroom Assessment Task
    • Optional: May be used as a pre-test or post-test

      Background to share with students (optional):

      Classroom assessment task:


      Were Tiberius Gracchus's land reforms positive or negative for Rome? After reading brief primary and secondary sources about Tiberius Gracchus, write a paragraph that addresses the question and support your position with evidence from the texts. Be sure to acknowledge competing views.


      Which factor was most significant in contributing to the decline of the Roman Empire? After reading primary and secondary sources about the decline of the Roman Empire, write a paragraph that addresses the question and support your position with evidence from the texts. Be sure to acknowledge competing views.

      Reading texts:

      See Materials. 

  • Argumentation Assessment Rubric
    • Meets Expectations


      Addresses the prompt and stays on task; provides a generally convincing response.


      Demonstrates generally effective use of reading material to develop an argument.

      Controlling Idea

      Establishes a credible claim, and supports an argument that is logical and generally convincing.

      (L2) Acknowledges competing arguments while defending the claim.


      Develops reasoning to support claim; provides evidence from text in the form of examples or explanations relevant to the argument.

      (L3) Makes a relevant connection(s) that supports argument.


      Applies an appropriate text structure to address specific requirements of the prompt.


      Demonstrates a command of standard English conventions and cohesion; employs language and tone appropriate to audience and purpose.

      Not Yet


      Attempts to address prompt but lacks focus or is off- task.


      Demonstrates weak use of reading material to develop argument.

      Controlling Idea

      Establishes a claim and attempts to support an argument but is not convincing.

      (L2) Attempts to acknowledge competing arguments.


      Reasoning is not clear; examples or explanations are weak or irrelevant.

      (L3) Connection is weak or not relevant.


      Provides an ineffective structure; composition does not address requirements of the prompt.


      Demonstrates a weak command of standard English conventions; lacks cohesion; language and tone are not appropriate to audience and purpose.

  • Teacher Work Section
    • Here are added thoughts about teaching this module:

      Assumed Prior Knowledge:

      This module is intended to be used toward the end of a unit on Ancient Rome. It assumes that students have already learned the formation and structure of the Roman Republican government, the evolution of Rome into an empire after the Punic Wars, the broad outlines of the life and accomplishments of Julius Caesar, and a basic understanding of the actions (positive and negative) of the emperors of the first two centuries CE.

      Assumed Prior Skills:

      Because the unit on Ancient Rome falls at the end of the school year, the module also assumes that students have already learned about academic integrity, including why, how, and when to cite sources appropriately. It also assumes students have some prior experience with active reading and annotating, although some of those skills are built into the module. Teachers should feel free to expand or contract the number of days spent on developing those skills during the teaching of the module.

      Teacher Notes After Teaching the Module:

      The debate format worked really well to engage students at the end of the year, when they often lose focus. In order to have a debate, they had to do the same reading and constructing an argument supported by evidence that the typical essay assignment would require, but students were more excited to work on it because they knew they were going to have an actual debate.

      I had taught reading and writing skills extensively throughout the year, so I really compressed the module and did not spend class time on note-taking strategies or academic integrity, although I included them in the module. Teachers should absolutely feel free to condense or expand those skills sections based on the teaching they have already done by this time in the year. Also, because this was at the very end of the year, I had less time than I wanted, so I created very short excerpts of the sources and cut down on the number of days we spent on reading the sources. Teachers can use the shorter versions I created or can make longer versions using the links to reading materials in the teacher section.

      In order to assess Julius Caesar's impact on Rome in depth, I thought it was important for students to have a clear understanding of the political structure of the Roman Republic, the social/economic problems Rome was facing when Caesar came to power, and the long-term effects of Rome's transformation into an empire. As a result, we did not actually begin the module until a few days after we had discussed Caesar in class. However, to increase students' understanding of the content and enthusiasm for the task, I introduced it the day we discussed Caesar, quite a few days ahead of when we actually worked on it. That day, I asked students to do a quick-write as an exit ticket: "Was Caesar good or bad for Rome? Give two pieces of evidence." As they finished, I told them we would be debating a more sophisticated version of the question, but that they needed more information about what happened after Caesar before they could make any final conclusions. As a result, they were thinking about Caesar's effect on Rome before they even began the task, which helped them engage from the beginning.

      In terms of conducting the debate, I divided students into two teams—affirmative and negative. I gave each side two minutes to make an opening statement. After opening statements finished, we had a two- to three-minute conference period, when each team could confer and decide what they needed to add to their planned rebuttal based on the opposing team's opening. Judges conferred on which side they thought had a better opening and awarded points. Next, each team had two minutes for rebuttal, then was a six-minute period in which judges asked questions of both sides. After questions, we paused again for another two- to three-minute conference for each team to confer and decide what they needed to add to their planned closings based on the debate so far. Judges conferred on what each side had done and awarded points. Then each team made a two-minute closing, after which judges decided on the winning team.

      Assigning roles depends on how many students you have in a class. I assigned each student a role, so I could pair up weaker and stronger students. I divided students into two teams, affirmative and negative. On each team, two students worked together to craft the opening statement, two students worked on the rebuttal, two students worked on answering questions, and two students worked on the closing statement. The rest of the students were judges. Students planned together during class time to read the sources together and plan the arguments and evidence they were going to use, but each student had to write his or her own writing task. The roles I assigned work well for classes of 19–21 students and assume that judges will ask the questions of each side during the question-and-answer period. If you have a smaller class, you can leave the answering questions roles unassigned and just let any student answer judges' questions. If you have a larger class, you can add an extra role of asking questions. In that case, each team will have two students who ask the questions to the other team, and the judges will basically be observers the entire time. I found that worked well also; I just made sure to spend the conference times meeting with the judges and to hear their thoughts, so that they felt engaged even without having speaking parts.

      Overall, the module was very successful, but there are a few things I would change. I planned the module around the question of whether Caesar was a hero or a tyrant, but debates are usually based on a resolution that one side agrees with and one side disagrees with, so when I assigned the task, I wrote the resolution as "Julius Caesar was a tyrant who destroyed the Roman Republic." This worked really well, except that the "affirmative" side was essentially arguing that Caesar was bad for Rome while the "negative" side was arguing that he was good for Rome, which confused many students. I like the focus on "destroying the Roman Republic," so I'm not sure how I'm going to revise it. Also, I felt that students did not cite their sources well enough, because they didn't want to make their speeches awkward. Next year, I need to really stress that they need to cite all their sources in their written pieces, although they do not necessarily need to state their parenthetical citations when they speak during the debate.

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