Overview: This was, without a doubt, the best activity our class did this past year, and it was probably one of the best I've ever done with middle school students. It is set up like a congressional hearing. Three or four students are the joint chairpersons of the hearing, and they basically run class for the next week. I have the kids dress up for extra credit. This adds a great touch and really gets them into the role playing aspect of the activity.
Pairs of students are assigned a specific character role. During the two days of preparation, I provide each witness group with a packet of about 30 articles. These articles are reproduced from SIRS Researcher, a CD-ROM magazine database. I try to collect a good cross section of opinions on this issue. (I am not able to post the set of articles here, but I would be happy to e-mail them to you. Just drop me a note and be sure to tell me if you want them in a Mac or PC readable archive.) Guide the witnesses in researching not only their character's point of view but also possible criticisms by other groups. This gets them to really think the issue through and provides for lively debate during the hearing.
As the witnesses are preparing their testimony, the chairpersons are charged with creating an agenda for each day of the hearing, deciding in what order the groups will testify, and developing rules of order for the proceedings. I act as "baliff" and help enforce the chairpersons rules of order.