Guilty! Or was he? That has been the big question in my classroom for the past three weeks. As the last unit of the year, I like to hold a court trial in my 8th grade classroom that incorporates all of the LA standards of reading, writing, listening and speaking. It is such a fun way to end the year before sending them to high school.
The trial has to do with a boy being hazed in order to be part of a “gang.” As part of his initiation, he has to jump off an abandoned bridge into the water that is 60 feet below. Unfortunately, one of the boys doesn’t make it, and now the leader of the gang is on trial for manslaughter and hazing.
To start the unit, I tell the students about each of the parts; the beauty of this unit is that there is a part for everyone. You can be a lawyer, the judge, a witness, a reporter, a videographer, a newscaster, etc. They write down their top choices, and I put them in a part based on what I have observed all year. Then they receive their confidentiality sheet with some information on it, but for the most part, they have to make up most of their own story. The lawyers have the toughest job; they have to question all of the witnesses on their own before the trial. During this time, the witnesses are writing trial journals each day to help them think through their characters and storyline. I also teach them about hazing in real life; I want them to be prepared about how to handle a hazing situation if it ever happens to them. (Did you know that the third most popular time that hazing occurs is at church youth groups?)
Two weeks later, the trial starts! Parents and staff members come in for three days to be the jury members. Each period, the entire trial is run by the students, and they amaze me each and every time. There are students that I would seriously think about hiring as my lawyer right now. They write their own opening and closing statements, and wow, you should hear them object and argue! It’s also fun to see our students “dress up” for court for three days.
One of my colleagues, Ms. T, wrote an email to the rest of the staff after being a jury member; her email meant so much to me: