Are you an English teacher looking for a new and engaging way to teach argumentative and research skills to your high school students?
Then mock trials are your new best friend.
What are mock trials?
Mock trials are simulated court cases that involve students acting as lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals. They provide a hands-on, interactive way for students to learn about the legal system and the role of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals.
In mock trials for students, kids are typically given a case to consider, which may involve a criminal or civil dispute. They may be asked to research the legal issues involved in the case, gather evidence and testimony from witnesses, and present their arguments in a simulated courtroom setting.
Mock trials can be a valuable and engaging way for high school English students to develop critical thinking, research, and communication skills. They can also be a fun and exciting learning experience for students, as they get to play the roles of different legal professionals and participate in a simulated court case.
Benefits of Mock Trials in ELA
Not only are mock trials fun and exciting for students, they also provide a number of benefits for English teachers. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider using mock trials in your classroom:
- Develop critical thinking skills: Mock trials require students to analyze and interpret laws and legal principles, which requires them to think critically about complex issues and arguments. This can help students develop their critical thinking skills and learn to analyze and evaluate information in a more sophisticated way.
- Promote research skills: Mock trials require students to research and gather information about the law and the case they are considering. This can involve reading and interpreting legal texts, such as statutes and court cases, and gathering evidence and testimony from witnesses. This research process can help students develop their research skills, including their ability to locate and evaluate sources, organize and synthesize information, and use evidence to support their arguments.
- Enhance communication skills: Mock trials require students to communicate their arguments and defend their positions in front of their peers. This can involve presenting legal arguments, questioning witnesses, and engaging in debate and discussion. This can help students develop their communication skills, including their ability to express their ideas clearly and persuasively, listen actively to others, and respond to counterarguments.
What are some topics I can use for mock trials?
I love using mock trials at the end of a unit where students might be conflicted about who is responsible for something.
In my serial killer true crime unit, I have students determine if Billy Gohl really was responsible for killing 40-200 people in the Pacific Northwest.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This classic novel tells the story of a young girl named Scout who witnesses the racial prejudice and injustice that her father, a lawyer, faces while defending a black man accused of a crime.
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller: This play is set in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. It explores themes of mass hysteria, injustice, and the dangers of intolerance.
- The Trial by Franz Kafka: This novel tells the story of a man named Josef K. who is arrested and put on trial, but is never told what crime he has been accused of. The book raises questions about the fairness and transparency of the legal system.
- The Stranger by Albert Camus: This novel tells the story of a man named Meursault who is put on trial for murder. It explores themes of individual responsibility and the meaning of justice.
- Macbeth by Shakespeare: This play deals with themes of guilt, responsibility, and justice. It presents a variety of legal issues that could be explored in a mock trial setting, such as the nature of crime, the role of motive, and the concept of legal insanity.
- Antigone by Sophocles: This play presents a conflict between the laws of the state and the laws of the gods. It also raises questions about the nature of justice, the role of the individual in society, and the limits of obedience to authority. These themes could be explored in a mock trial setting through the examination of the actions and motivations of the characters in the play.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: This novel deals with issues of colonialism, cultural conflict, and the impact of Western legal systems on traditional societies. It also presents a variety of legal issues that could be explored in a mock trial setting, such as the nature of crime, the role of motive, and the concept of justice in different cultural contexts.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Students could consider whether Dorian Gray should be held legally responsible for his actions, and if so, on what grounds. They could also examine the role of his motives and the extent to which he may have been legally insane in committing his crimes.
Mock trials can be a valuable and engaging way for English teachers to teach argumentative and research skills to their high school students. So why not give them a try in your classroom? Your students will thank you!