In the Trial/Courtroom, a character is on trial and the students generate and collect evidence to decide the outcome of the case. Students can explore several different roles in—from witnesses, to members of the jury, to the accused, to lawyers who prosecute or defend the accused. The dilemma focuses on how we explore right/wrong and guilt/innocence through the familiar structure of a courtroom trial.
Content and character preparation:
To prepare to explore this dramatic dilemma, engage students in background research about the story/issue/character focus for the inquiry. Key characters related to the story can be generated and/or developed, along with their perspectives on the issue, before beginning the drama work. Once students generate a list of potential characters and roles within the trail, assign/or let students choose a specific character or role to explore. To prepare, students may need to review related academic vocabulary and/or explore the structure and format of a trial. Choose a role to play that supports what students’ need (e.g., a large role, like the judge at the trial or a small role, like the court stenographer).
After students have been assigned roles and have prepared their parts, introduce the trial. Follow an agreed-upon format for a trial with each side sharing their case, witnesses offering testimony, and cross-examination if desired. The dramatic dilemma ends with a final vote, or a pause in the drama so that each student can reflect and offer his or her own determination of the outcome. This can be documented through a Writing in Role activity where students write a news headline and article about the trial outcome, a journal entry for their character, or complete some other writing activity that synthesizes a potential ending and their understanding of the content.
- What happened in our trial today?
- What were some of the key arguments that were presented?
- What types of final outcome predictions did we make at the end of our work together? Were our predictions realistic? Why or why not?
- For this particular strategy, side-coaching often occurs “in role” – meaning the teacher might ask questions or prompt further inquiry as they are in role as a character. For example:
- Does the defense/prosecution have anything to say in response to this statement?
- Are there any additional pieces of evidence you would like to present?
- Reading/Writing or Social Studies: Have students research an actual trial or a fictional trial (as presented in a novel or other text) to stage and explore. The teacher might choose to put someone or something on trail even if the event doesn’t appear in the book or in history. For example, primary students put the wolf on trial from Little Red Riding Hood.
- Science or Social Studies: When studying scientists/inventions throughout history, have students put specific scientists on trial and explore the various ethical debates surrounding different scientific ideas at different points in time.
- Math: Have students explore and practice mathematical language, logic and proofs by putting an equation or geometric shape on trial.