Teaching About the Russia-Ukraine Crisis: Using Convene the Council to Bring Foreign Policy to Life

February 28, 2022

How do you teach students about what is happening in Ukraine?

If you are like many teachers, your students are asking for help in making sense of what is in the news. One of the best things we can do for our students is to meet this moment and offer some insight into processes, demystify complicated concepts, and cultivate their civic-mindedness. But how many of us are foreign policy experts? With the right resources, you don’t have to be!

iCivics just launched the perfect tool to help! Created in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations, Convene the Council is a new game that engages players in the basics of foreign policymaking. Playing as President of the United States, students face global challenges, consult with the National Security Council, and make tough foreign policy decisions. The goals of the game, as well as the goals of U.S. foreign policy, are to skillfully balance the safety, prosperity, and values of the United States within its global context. As president, do you address a crisis with sanctions or diplomacy? Foreign aid or military engagement? These questions have very clear and present connections to the past, present and future. 

And—unlike real life—results are immediate. Players see outcomes and impacts of their choices as they make them. The game allows students to evaluate the effectiveness of their decisions, adapt as needed, and learn from the process. 

A great place to start is the Game Guide, which provides insights and tips for playing the game. It’s great for all educators, non-gamers and gamers alike. In addition to a walk-through of the game, the guide offers discussion questions and extension activities.

For a deeper and more comprehensive teaching tool, check out the game’s Extension Pack, which offers everything needed to build your perfect “game sandwich,” from introducing the topic to engaging with the game and reinforcing the learning after the game has ended. (And if you need differentiated lessons or multilingual/English language learner supports, there is a vocabulary worksheet and modifications for the game and lessons already prepared for you.)

A customizable slide deck introduces students to important foreign policy concepts, guides them to debrief their game experiences, and helps you assess what they’ve learned. The Extension Pack also comes with activities that are both printable and available in Kami so students can have guided practice through the activities and discussion. 

The learning doesn’t have to stop after the game. Here are some ideas from the Extension Pack and beyond to engage students with what’s happening in the world around them today:

  • Have students research a modern foreign policy challenge or read a short article on what is happening in Ukraine, for instance. (Also a great way to practice those news literacy skills!)
  • Create a formative assessment in which students apply their game experience to explain some of the foreign policy choices of the current administration in the United States, given the recent actions of Russia. (Think podcast, comic strip, game mock-up!) 
  • Ask students to replay the game and note which challenges they faced, then see if they can connect it to a similar situation in U.S. foreign policy history. (Spoiler alert: Each one has a real-world twin! But we will never tell. It’s Top Secret.) 

But wait, there’s more! The NSC Department Guide is a great reference for players and, like the game, is available in Spanish. We also offer an NSC-focused timeline activity that helps students see real events in our nation’s history and which foreign policy tools were put to use.

To further deepen your students’ foreign policy knowledge, you can also check out materials such as World101 and Model Diplomacy from our partners at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Engaging students in games, activities, high-level assessment, and civil discussion not only connects to state standards, but also brings students to this powerful intersection of learning and application, showing them why school matters and how what is learned will be important as an adult.

Written by Carrie Ray-Hill and Amanda Setters

Carrie Ray-Hill is the Senior Director of Digital Learning and oversees the conceptualization and development of iCivics’ educational resources, with a particular concern for teacher usability. She is responsible for maintaining a consistent focus on iCivics’ educational mission. Prior to joining the iCivics team, Carrie taught middle and high school social studies and language arts in St. Louis and Washington, DC. In addition to seeking out the finest of cheeses, Carrie spends her spare time watching British panel shows, making cookies for the office, and killing zombies.

Amanda Setters is a Curriculum Associate at iCivics. She is responsible for creating and revising curricular materials for teachers and students. Prior to joining the iCivics team, Amanda taught middle and high school social studies in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to reading and spending time with her family, Amanda enjoys learning from her favorite historians.