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April 23, 2012

Leaders, warlords and dictators: What’s the difference? – Lesson Plan

By Imani M. Cheers, Ph.D.


Social Studies, History, World History

Estimated Time

Two-Three 45 minute periods

Grade Level

9 – 12


Students will:

  • Learn the differences between a leader, warlord and dictator using historic and contemporary examples.
  • Understand the role of the International Criminal Court
  • Conduct a mock trial


In this lesson, students will explore the difference characteristics between a leader, warlord and dictator using contemporary examples. Students will then be divided into teams and using one of the 10 examples (or other more relevant examples for your classroom) prepare and conduct a Mock trial.


Throughout history countries around the world have experienced strife, turmoil, peace and prosperity. During periods of unrest and transitions of leadership different types of rulers have risen to power through military force, democratic election and succession.


  • Take a poll amongst your students and ask them:
  • What is the difference between a leaderwarlord and dictator? Survey the responses, recording various answers.
  • Using a map of the world ask students to name various examples for each of the previous titles. Survey the responses, recording various answers.
  • Inquire who can identify the following leaders, warlords and dictators. Survey the responses, recording various answers.
    • Idi Amin
    • Adolf Hitler
    • Saddam Hussein
    • Kim Jong-il
    • Omar Al-Bashir
    • Robert Mugabe
    • Bashar al-Assad
    • Hosni Mubarak
    • Charles Taylor
    • Mobutu Sese Seko
  • Divide students into teams allowing them to conduct research on one of the 10 aforementioned leaders, warlords and/or dictators.
  • During their research, inquire about their knowledge of the International Criminal Court. Survey their responses, recording various answers.
  • Prepare your class to conduct a Mock Trial. Explain to students that they will now delve further into the mock trial process, requiring them to mine core texts for quotes, facts, insights and perspectives.
  • Familarize students with the process, especially the players in a trial courtroom (prosecutor, defending attorney, juror, bailiff, defendant, witness) and the stages of a trial. Provide them with related resources including the American Bar Association’s guide to mock trials (PDF), the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Overview of the Legal System for students (PDF), Classroom Law Project’s Manual for Mock Trial (PDF) and FindLaw’s explanations of the stages of criminal and civil cases .

Extension Activities

Have students build a multimedia project prosecuting or defending their assigned leader, warlord or dictator. Use the links below for assistance.

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  • The Materials You Need

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    Relevant National Standards:
    • Standard 1: Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies
    • World History
    • Standard 45: Understands major global trends since World War II
    • Writing
    • Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
    • Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
    • Reading
    • Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
    • Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
    • Listening and Speaking
    • Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
    • Viewing
    • Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media Working with Others
    • Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
    • Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
    • Thinking and Reasoning
    • Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
    • Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques

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