Lesson Plans for Mock Trials

Mock trials grant students the opportunity to learn about the court system in an interactive manner, further deepening their understanding of the legal process from start to finish. Students can benefit from this activity at both the elementary and secondary school levels, but mock trials at the elementary level must remain shorter and simpler than those at the secondary level.

  1. General Guidelines

    • Give your students materials pertaining to the mock trial before the exercise begins. These materials should include handouts about the facts of the case, any basic laws involved, the necessary roles for the trial and the trial's structure. Thoroughly discuss this information with your class until your students have a firm understanding. Select students to play each role and make sure every student has a chance to participate. Allow students to prepare for their role in advance, letting the members of the defense, plaintiff and jury groups meet beforehand to discuss their strategy and responsibilities.

    Simple Mock Trials

    • Students new to the mock trial exercise, especially those at the elementary level, benefit most from simple scenarios that last for only one short class session. Elementary students are more likely to respond to obvious crimes, like bank robberies, while secondary students can tackle trickier scenarios, such as whether or not the host of a party bears responsibility for the intoxication and subsequent traffic accident of a guest. Give your students the facts of the case beforehand and tell them which facts must be proven to be able to convict the defendant. Allow your class free reign in how they prove or avoid these facts as long as they follow standard courtroom procedure.

    Literary Mock Trials

    • Literary mock trials put a character on trial for a crime allegedly committed in a story, thereby teaching students about the court system while developing their ability to analyze literature. Use a common fairy tale, like "The Three Little Pigs" or "Jack and the Beanstalk," for younger elementary students. For older elementary and secondary students, perform a mock trial after the class finishes reading a novel. Students must read the entire text before the exercise, but otherwise, do not provide any handouts listing information about the facts of the case. The class must draw out and analyze these facts directly from the literary work to build their cases.

    Historical Mock Trials

    • Demonstrate the connection between law and history by reenacting a famous historical trial, like the O. J. Simpson or John Scopes trials. Providing specific, real-life examples shows students how the law comes into play in the real world. Either provide students with scripts, instructing them to perform a literal reenactment of a portion of the trial, or let them ask their own questions and call their own witnesses to draw their own conclusions. Afterward, discuss how history may have changed if the outcome of the trial had differed in reality.

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