Lesson 1: Introduction to Civil Law


Grade Level 8-10
Duration 2-3 periods

Lesson Plan (PDF)


Civil cases involve private disputes between individuals. They are different from criminal cases in that they do not involve or affect other members of society. This lesson will introduce students to civil law, with a special focus on the law of negligence. Students will also compare civil law to criminal law and look at different methods of dispute resolution other than court. Though litigation is a traditional process for settling disagreements, there are a number of other options including negotiation, mediation, collaborative law and arbitration.


Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  • Understand that civil laws deal with unresolved conflicts between two individuals or groups
  • Understand that civil cases often involve torts such as negligence, as well as contracts
  • Know what some of the types of civil cases are
  • Be able to compare and contrast civil law and criminal law
  • Know that sometimes the same case can have both criminal and civil counterparts
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the pre-court process with lawyers
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the different methods for dealing with disagreements
  • Evaluate the appropriateness of different dispute resolution processes in a variety of situations
  • Gain an appreciation for impact that Donoghue vs. Stevenson negligence case has had on Commonwealth common law

Focus Questions

  1. What are civil cases and what are the principles behind them?
  2. What are some types of civil cases?
  3. How can civil law be distinguished from criminal law?
  4. What is dispute resolution?
  5. What are some dispute resolution processes?
  6. What are some pre-court dispute resolution processes?
  7. Why do we have dispute resolution processes other than going to court?
  8. What might some advantages and disadvantages be of some of the more commonly used dispute resolution processes?
  9. What does negligence mean? How can negligence be proved?

Teaching Summary

Topic 1: Introduction to Civil Law

Students will read Handout 1: Introduction to the Civil Law and use the information to answer nine questions. Afterwards, students will apply what they have learned to answer three questions about a fictional civil case.

Topic 2: Comparing Criminal and Civil Law

Students will compare civil and criminal law and use this information to answer the questions on Handout 5: Civil or Criminal? You Decide? and Handout 6: Civil and Criminal: Review.

Topic 3: Introduction to Alternatives to Civil Court

Students will learn about the topics of negotiation, mediation, settlement conferences, collaborative law, arbitration, mediation programs and arbitration. The first activity is a reading comprehension exercise. In the second activity they will work in groups with a scenario to develop the best resolution to the dispute and present this work to the class.

Topic 4: Civil Case Study – The Paisley Snail Optional

Students will watch a video called The Paisley Snail (approximately 42 minutes) about a negligence case that occurred in the 1920s in Scotland to learn about the law of negligence. Students will work on vocabulary, comprehension questions and participate in a discussion. The principles laid out in Donoghue vs. Stevenson will be highlighted. Some of the exercises and handouts for this activity are advanced, making them more appropriate for grades 11-12.The video itself is suitable for all grades.