Enjoying Teaching the Mock Trial

download (3)By Nick McDaniels — This year I have enjoyed teaching the law in high school.

I have been afforded so many opportunities to engage with students around real-time relevant issues, but there are no more fun topics to teach than the mock trial. My students are preparing now for their spring mock trial competition (we fell just a few points short of a victory in the winter competition), and they are preparing to win. We started our preparation a week earlier than we did in the winter, and our structures for talking about the trial are more familiar, more put together. I’ve created teaching materials, templates for opening statements, structures for practices, and it is helping, but I’m still struggling with a few things.

When only a few students will be actually participating the mock trial, how do you keep thirty others engaged to be working on it in class? Does running a mock-mock trial in class solve this problem? If not, how do I generate buy-in? How do I maintain order in my courtroom as a judge when we practice, while also grading and providing feedback to participants at the same time?

The answers to all of these questions are important and will appear with time, as I teach more and more mock trials, as I become more comfortable with the parts that engage students and the parts that do not. I do know, having taught three different mock trials, that I am starting to notice some structures and processes that are effective for students and their preparation.

These are the steps I follow and I have tried to create templates, organizers, worksheets to accompany each step:

1) Teachers and students should together review the entirety of the stipulated facts, witness statements, evidence, and relevant statutory and case law.

2) Then students should parse information from each of those sources to find which is helpful for the defense, and which is helpful for the plaintiff/prosecution.

3) From this, they can begin building a theory of the case for both sides.

4) Students should then construct opening statements for both sides of the case, being sure to include a theme, a clear call for a verdict, and a walk through of what the jury will hear at trial.

5) Students should then be assigned (or allowed to choose) roles, everyone being either an attorney or a witness (no jurors, bailiffs, or deceased victims as will be requested roles by students).

6) Students assigned as witnesses should begin writing direct and cross-examination questions for themselves as would be asked by attorneys as the attorneys polish their opening statements.

7) Students should then be placed in to teams so that attorneys can practice questioning the witnesses.

8) Practice, Practice, Practice the mock trial in its entirety. And grade students based on a variety of measures including written, oral, and collaboration measures.

While I know that mock trial uniquely fits into my curriculum and program and is not a possibility for all teachers, I highly encourage teachers to try a mock trial unit or sponsor a club that does mock trials (a number of great mock trials are available online). I have seen such dedication from students for trial prep work that I am inspired and encouraged in all other aspects of my teaching.

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