Overview: Social studies classes discuss the purpose, participants, and procedures of a trial before conducting their own mock trial to solve a classroom crime.
Subject: Social Studies: Government; ELA: Speaking & Listening, Argument Writing
Grades: 4th, 5th, 6th
Duration: 2 hours
Related Concepts: Mock Trial, Law, Legal Procedures, Courtrooms, Debate
Students will be able to:
- Define trial-specific vocabulary and apply it to their knowledge of legal proceedings.
- Demonstrate their knowledge of jury trials by participating in a mock trial.
- Construct and/or analyze an argument regarding a fictional trial case, depending on one's role in the mock trial.
Essential Questions: What purpose does a jury trial serve in the American legal system?
Vocabulary: trial-specific vocabulary (e.g. trial, jury trial, charge, complaint, conviction, evidence, circumstantial evidence, counsel, cross examine, issue, jury, juror, defendant, plaintiff, judge, judgement, objection, plea, testify, testimony, verdict, witness, etc.)
Common Core Standards Addressed:
- ELA: Speaking & Listening
- SL.4.1, 3, 4
- SL.5.1, 3, 4
- SL.6.1, 3, 4
- ELA: Argument Writing
- Trial costumes (optional)
- Gavel (optional)
- Judge's podium (optional)
- Projection system
Assign a writing or discussion prompt: "What do you know about jury trials? What shows or movies have you seen that show jury trials?"
Engage the students in a discussion of popular trial shows on television. Have students describe what happens in those shows and possibly name a specific case that was tried by the judge. Explain that they will participate in a mock trial today to learn why they are important.
Tell students that in the United States, those accused of a crime are entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers. Project or write the following terms on the board:
Have learners work individually or as partners to define the words they know. Discuss definitions as a class as students write down the definitions.
Assign parts for the Mock Trial, adapting a situation from That's My Pencil from a civil court case to a jury trial case.
Plaintiff: The person from whom the pencil was stolen.
Plaintiff's Counsel/Legal Team: A group of 5-6 students, with one student acting as the attorney during the trial and the others acting as the Plantiff's legal team for planning purposes.
Defendant: The person accused of stealing the pencil.
Defendant's Counsel/Legal Team: A group of 5-6 students, with one student acting as the attorney during the trial and the others acting as the Defendant's legal team for planning purposes.
Witnesses: 1-2 students per side who can either verify that the defendant stole the pencil based on his/her own experience, or people who can verify that the defendant did not steal the pencil. (You can provide a fictional scenario to each witness if desired, or they can make up their own.)
Jury: The remainder of the class who will listen to each argument and return with a verdict.
Judge: The teacher will act as the judge.
Read the situation from That's MY Pencil situation; hand out printed copies to each group EXCEPT the Jury. Tell groups to discuss their strategy for the mock trial (i.e. who will present the case, how each side will be presented, will evidence be introduced, etc). The Jury can review what they should listen for and what circumstantial evidence may be.Mock Trial:
- Let the Plaintiff's counsel tell their side of the story (opening statement).
- Let the Defendant's counsel tell their side of the story (opening statement).
- Allow each side's counsel to question the witnesses about the stolen pencil, including the plaintiff and the defendant.
- Closing statements for both sides.
- The Jury convenes to come up with a verdict, complete with evidence from the trial.
Discuss what was learned in the lesson and activity. Assign a reflection summary for classroom or homework in which students summarize the trial and decide whether they agree or disagree with the verdict from the jury. Encourage proper use of the key vocabulary.
- Observe student participation during the vocabulary discussion and trial preparation.
- Assess understanding of trial procedures and vocabulary in mock trial performances.
- Use a writing rubric to assess the written summaries.
Scaffold the assignment for lower-level learners by breaking the trial preparation and project up over several days, providing support as needed.
Allow advanced students to take more control over the trial and use more sophisticated trial techniques (e.g. objections, surprise witnesses, etc).
Continue a discussion of the American legal system with a social studies lesson about famous criminal trials or groundbreaking Supreme Court decisions in United States history.
For independent activity/center time, students can write their own trial.
They can complete parts of the 4-H Citizenship Activity Page to review purpose of local/state government.