“Do you have any resources you recommend for international students trying to get their bearings in constitutional law?”

This great question was recently emailed by Prof. Eileen Pizzurro, Director of Academic Success & Bar Studies at Rutgers Law School to me and to Prof. Daniel Edelson (founder of USLawEssentials and Director of Academic Success at Seton Hall Law School.)

It gets at the challenge many law schools face in supporting international students–particularly those in JD programs as opposed to LLM programs–since those in JD programs need to take Constitutional Law with all the American JD students. And of all the 1L courses, Constitutional Law in the US has a particularly high degree of the kind of background and cultural knowledge that you absorb by growing up and going to school in the US.

And it’s frequently academic support faculty, legal writing faculty, and occasionally legal English faculty who find themselves needing to provide self-guided resources (because who has the time to teach a 1-on-1 Constitutional Law seminar?) to students thrown into the water and trying to learn to swim.

“Do you have any resources you recommend for international students trying to get their bearings in constitutional law?”

After hitting send on my email reply, I realized this should be a blog post so that other instructors out there have something they can easily refer students to when asked this question.

Below is my response. Though I’m happy to add more if others have suggestions:

1. USLawEssentials videos on the Constitution and Fundamentals of the US Legal System

Easily accessible (for free) on YouTube and created by Prof. Daniel Edelson (Director of Academic Success at Seton Hall Law and the founder of USLawEssentials), these often animated videos may be the quickest and easiest way for non-native English speaking lawyers/law students to start getting their head around the US Constitution and related topics in the US legal system.

In particular, there are playlists (i.e., multiple videos on a related topic) relate to Constitutional law on topics such as Constitution: The Federal Government and Important Freedoms (30 videos) and The Constitution: Tests for Constitutionality (18 videos). There are plenty of other helpful explainer videos Daniel has created that might be helpful. But those two playlists are good place to start and will give a learner plenty to do. Notably, Daniel has a great knack for communicating in a way that is intended specifically and very accessible for non-native English speakers.


2. USLawEssentials self-guided online pre-LLM course

Daniel Edelson and I have created an online self-guided pre-LLM course program based on curriculum we’ve developed and taught in the past. It’s currently being provided on a pro bono basis to Afghan judges and lawyers in connection with the ABA Afghan Legal Professionals Scholarship & Mentoring Pilot Program. Certain course modules focus on the Constitution and fundamentals of the US legal system. (Others focus on Case Reading & Analysis; Fundamentals of Legal Writing; the US Civil Litigation System; and a Law & Language podcast-based study module.) The course has not yet been made generally available. But if anyone has interest–either as an individual or an organization–you can contact Daniel Edleson at daniel@uslawessentials.com.


3. Georgetown Legal English Blog

The Legal English Resources page lists various books and podcasts, among other items, that may be helpful to learning about US Constitutional Law and related topics.


4. Civics101 Podcast

An extensive series of podcast episodes, created by New Hampshire Public Radio, which are great explainers on a wide range of relevant topics.


5. iCivics.org

An online gamified way to let US school students teach themselves about US government and constitution. Many (most?) schools in the US are using this to teach civics to their students. (My 10 year old daughter has been using it a lot lately.)


6. Khan Academy

Khan Academy has a large library of lessons that might be helpful. I once went through all the offerings that seemed possibly relevant (there’s a lot!) and pulled out ones that might be helpful for my students. Then I organized them into a “course” on the Khan Academy website and titled the course “OLE: US Legal System-Core Concepts & Vocabulary (supp). A fair amount of the lessons I think were intended for AP History/Government students in US high schools. I haven’t used it in a while, but it still exists. So if you don’t feel like looking for all the lessons yourself, feel free to just join my course. Here’s the link for the OLE: US Legal System-Core Concepts & Vocabulary “course.”. And the join code for my “class” is VQ6XUCKW if you need it. 


7. Street Law: Understanding Law and Legal Issues, Student Edition (Civics & Government) 

Intended for high school students as a practical guide to US law, government, and civics. But great for non-native English speaking lawyers and law students because it is rich in law-related vocabulary and US legal system concepts, it’s easier to read than a law school textbook, and it has a great glossary in the back of the book.


8. US Government Resources

Recommended by Prof. Susan Landrum, Dean of Students and Assistant Dean of Academic Administration, University of Illinois College of Law

These are some additional resources on U.S. government resources that my students have found helpful in the past:

9. Netflix series: “We the People”

Recommended by Prof. Bythia Louzoun, a legal English lecturer at the Academic College of Natanya in Israel where she teaches classes with Muslim, Jewish, and Druze students together in the same class. In addition to English language, Prof. Louzoun also teaches Hebrew and French.

Additional suggestions from Prof. Louzoun include:

The Judicial Learning Center – Great activities, short quizzes, and simple explanations.

ProCon.org – A great website for debates!

Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers: The Informer – My students love the Informer from FLETC. And their FLETC Office of the Chief Counsel podcast on Spotify (and YouTube series “FLETC Talks“) is very helpful in explaining criminal procedure under the 4th Amendment. (Warrantless searches are a big part of our syllabus!)

I use videos from iCivics -The Constitution Explained

I also use a lot of material from ICivics and Street Law and I create my own Quizlets.


Do you have ideas and suggestions for other materials that should be included here?Maybe something that has been been helpful to you or someone else you know?

Just email stephen.horowitz@georgetown.edu and let me know. I’m happy to add more to this post. Thanks!

Helping international JD students improve their background knowledge of US history, legal system, etc.

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

On the Academic Support Professionals listserv the other day, a great question popped up:

“Can anyone recommend resources for international JD students looking to improve their baseline knowledge of the US legal/political systems and/or US history? A faculty member teaching [course name] is looking for recommendations for a student who attended high school and college outside of the US. The faculty member believes this student would benefit from resources that explain the US government at a more basic level than what is covered in the course. Thanks in advance for any resources or leads!”

I really appreciated this question for a few reasons:

  • (1) International JD students (i.e., students who didn’t grow up in the US education system) are a growing segment of the law school community, yet they generally don’t get the same level of legal English support that international LLM students may receive. Plus their needs are often different from both regular JD students and international LLM students.
  • (2) Background and cultural knowledge is such a significant component of comprehension in US law school, yet it’s difficult to acquire if you didn’t grow up with it. And if you did grow up in the US, it’s hard to notice or be aware of the challenges of functioning effectively in US law school without it (or with less of it.)

I’ve been keeping my eyes open for years for resources that can help international LLM students with this, and that’s part of the reason I created the Legal English Resources page on this blog.

But until I saw the question above, I’d never organized my thoughts specifically with international JD students in mind. Yet the answers poured forth quickly and enthusiastically in my email response to the listserv. And so I figured this information might be helpful for others as well.

One of the key qualities of these resources, by the way, is that they generally don’t require much extra work on the part of the professor or student advisor. You can pretty much hand any of these off to students and let them run with it. Or, if they require a little preparation, once you’ve done it once, you don’t have to think about it again after that.

Resources to help International JD students learn important background information about US history, the US political system, and the US legal system.

1. Civics101 Podcast (produced by New Hampshire public radio) – lots of short episodes on a wide range of topics. In their own words, “What’s the difference between the House and the Senate? How do landmark Supreme Court decisions affect our lives? What does the 2nd Amendment really say? Civics 101 is the podcast about how our democracy works…or is supposed to work, anyway.”

2. Street Law: A Course in Practical Law textbook – used primarily for high school students, but great for international students too. Plus a glossary in the back! I’ve used parts of the book with LLM students in the past and also pointed a colleague to it who used several chapters to develop an entire legal English criminal law course for international LLM students.

3. iCivics – an online ed company that creates materials to teach civics to US students. I haven’t had occasion to use any of their materials yet, but an intriguing option worth checking out. Here’s a description of who they are in their own words: “iCivics champions equitable, non-partisan civic education so that the practice of democracy is learned by each new generation. We work to inspire life-long civic engagement by providing high quality and engaging civics resources to teachers and students across our nation.”

4. Newsela.com – It’s a huge extensive reading library of real news and other articles written at 5 different levels of difficulty (or ease.) And it’s accessible for free with registration. While most of it is news articles, there’s also a whole section on civics/US history and a number of articles that might be helpful. For example, I remember they have the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, Brown v Board & Plessy v Ferguson all written and re-written at 5 different levels of difficulty. Also profiles of famous Americans including some presidents, Supreme Court justices, civil rights leaders, etc. But you have to sift through to find some of this stuff. Also, they may have put a paywall up on some of the materials other than the news articles since I last used it.

5. Khan Academy has a slew of video lessons on history and civics. The key is narrowing it down. During the pandemic, I created a Khan Academy “course” for Georgetown LLM students to use by just adding the units and lessons that seemed relevant and told students to register and use it if they want to learn more beyond my actual class with them. In total, I found about 35 different lessons/items that felt relevant and appropriate to include in my “class.” There’s a screenshot below to give you a sense of some of the topics. But feel free to contact me directly if you want to know which ones they are so you can create your own class. Happy to share.

6. The Scrambled States of America (the game)

This game is based on a clever children’s book of the same name. My kids (5, 7 and 11 at the time) got into it during the pandemic, and in addition to being super fun and super easy, within a few weeks they had all absorbed every state, state capital, and state nickname in addition to having a sense of where the states are located. I’ve learned over the years that my international students often have little sense of US geography outside of New York and Los Angeles. US geography is important background knowledge to have in US law school as it often provides vital context. Yet US geography is rarely ever taught to international law students. And when it is, it’s hard to do as effectively as this game does. Let international JD students spend a couple hours playing this and they’ll be all set with their geography. And you’ll have a great time if you play with them!

7. Legal English Resources page on the Georgetown Legal English Blog: In addition to all the items listed above, there are many more on the Legal English Resources page. So I encourage you to take a look. Maybe you’ll find something else there that fits the needs of your students. (Or maybe you’ll have a suggestion for a helpful resource that I didn’t know about!)