One of my favorite projects to teach and one of my students’ favorite projects to perform is a mock trial. They are competitive, can involve fun costumes, and have a real world connection. Students use a variety of skills to perform a mock trial, including public speaking, making an argument, and using evidence.
Mock Trials are also an easy way to differentiate for learner needs because everyone has different roles. Some students have attorney roles and some are characters or witnesses. Depending on the students, I have also assigned parts for legal assistants, bailiffs, and court reporters. Attorneys must construct arguments, listen to the opposing claims, object according to court room protocols, dress professionally, and make speeches. Characters or witnesses have to act, wear costumes, remember their lines, research their character, and use voices and gestures.
I usually take around three class days to work on and then perform the mock trial. You can have the students make up the charges and details of the case, or you can decide the case for them. The students should, however, be required to use some sort of text or research to perform their mock trial from.
I have a standard mock trial assignment template sheet that I made, which includes the format for a trial and the types of objections allowed. You can add or detract types of objections based on the level of students you teach. I take less than ten minutes the day before introducing the mock trial assignment to modify the assignment sheet and post it to Google Classroom (or you can make copies). The next day I take ten minutes to find judges and juries. That is all the prep time I need. Everything else is done during class. I have other teachers and classes serve as judge and juries.
During class I take turns meeting with the prosecution / plaintiffs attorneys, the defense attorneys, and the characters. I have the characters sit in small groups and ask each other all kinds of questions about their part in order to practice. On the second day, the characters spend the time creating their props and costumes. Attorneys work on questions, opening remarks, closing remarks, and strategy. They can also depose the characters or witnesses.
I facilitated three mock trial cases this week. I gave both of my tenth graders the same case — The State of Rome V. Brutus and Cassius with the charges of first degree murder, conspiracy, and treason. We had just finished reading Shakespeare’s play _The Tragedy of Julius Caesar_. My eleventh graders chose their own cases in relation to Arthur Miller’s play _The Crucible_. One class prosecuted Abigail Williams, Mary Warren, Mercy Lewis, and Betty Parris for 2nd degree murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy. The other class prosecuted Governor Danforth and Judge Hathorne for capital murder, 20 counts of 1st degree murder, and false imprisonment. Because one of my American Literature classes is so small, I played the role of the defense attorney in one of the cases, which was so much fun for me, and even more fun for the prosecution attorneys when they beat me. You can view an exemplar mock trial from one of my sophomore classes at https://youtu.be/ngeNtxydOOo.
Mock trials are not just for English class. They can easily be used after an extended text or reading in an ELA class, but they can also be incorporated into social studies, health, and science. U.S. History classes could perform a case on The British Empire V. The Colony of Massachusetts. Environmental Science classes could perform a case on The United States V. The Auto Industry. Health classes could perform a case on The United States V. An E-Cigarettes Company. Cases should involve an opportunity to research, argue, and use evidence regardless the subject matter. This will be one activity your students will LOVE. It’s also a much better assessment than a boring old test.
Guilty as charged,