Revolutionary War Mock Trial Project Based Learning Activity



Are you looking for a must-do project for your social studies students this year?  If you teach the Revolutionary War time period, or anything to do with government and the judicial system - than you NEED this now!!!

Bring your history classroom alive


Bringing history alive is so important and so much fun!  In our classroom, we bring the American Revolution to the present day by putting the Sons of Liberty and the British Red Coats on trial during our classroom 'Mock Trials.'

I cannot take credit for this idea, it was passed on to me through my mentor teacher and even though she's now retired, I keep it going strong because it's just so amazing to see my students living out the history they've learned from their text books.

Now I want to pass the torch to you because this memorable project is the perfect way to bring excitement and authenticity to your history classroom.  Plus, mock trials are an ideal way to hit those Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core.

Implementing mock trials though, or any project based learning curriculum can be TONS of work when you have to create everything yourself, as I have over the past 10 years.  So to make your life easier, I've compiled EVERYTHING right HERE that you will ever need to ensure successful classroom mock trials!


Bring your social studies classroom alive

Bring your history classroom alive with Mock Trials



So how does it work?  I'll run you through some of the important basics of putting on classroom mock trials. MUCH more in depth information, photos, and resources can be found right HERE.

Here we go!


Week 1 - Mock Trial Introductions and Auditions

  The first thing I do is talk with my students about the Judicial Branch of government and its purpose. I show them a couple (previewed) Judge Judy (or similar) clips from You Tube and we talk about why we need a judicial system and how jury duty works in our country.  

Next, I connect this discussion to two events we've learned about in social studies - The Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre (you could use any historical events that you wish). I explain to the students that we are going to bring the judicial system to life in our classroom by putting these two events on trial. Most of week one is full of discussion, creating anchor charts that detail each mock trial position, and hosting auditions.  

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials positions anchor chart example


Road to the Revolution Mock Trials audition script for attorneys and witnesses
One of my sweet students hard at work on a script to prepare for try-outs! 



Week 2 - Researching the Facts

After listening to tryouts, I determine who will receive each part and then pass out attorney case files. During week two, attorneys begin the research phase. They need to learn as much as they can about their particular case so they can prep the witnesses and create a winning strategy.

I check out lots of books on the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre from our school and local libraries so students can begin this phase and build their case.  My students work on this during daily independent reading and computer lab times so very little actual curriculum time is used.

Researching facts for Road to the Revolution Mock Trials
Using her text book and a library book to research the facts of the Boston Tea Party. 

Week 3 - Lines of Questioning

Attorneys begin to build their cases. They meet with witnesses to brainstorm strategies for defending or prosecuting the defendants.  They also use the facts they've gathered to write out the questions they will ask each witness during the trial. Plus, they start their opening statements. Attorneys and witnesses practice their lines of questioning and at the end of the week we hold our first rehearsal.

If you're wondering how in the world do they accomplish ALL of this in one week - everything is explained clearly HERE with pictures and every resource needed to make your life so much easier!!! You can implement this project without any experience with legal system jargon - I promise!!!  I've done all the work for you. :)

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials rehearsal number one
The judge's table and witness stand in preparation for rehearsal #1. 



Week 4 - Practice Makes Perfect

Now that the students have had a chance to practice what they've accomplished, week 4 is all about revising lines of questioning, beginning to formulate cross-examination questions/answers, finalizing opening statements, beginning closing statements and a second rehearsal.

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials attorneys rehearsing for trial
Attorneys and witnesses working on their lines of questioning. 

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials line of questioning rehearsal
Cross-examination rehearsal!
Road to the Revolution Mock Trials bailiff swearing in witness during rehearsal
The bailiff practicing swearing in a witness.


Week 5 - The Judge and the Jury

With two rehearsals down, most of the fifth week will be about preparing for the "real" judge and jury and a dress rehearsal.  I play the judge during all rehearsals but I invite someone in to serve as the official judge on trial day.  Don't worry, everything the judge will need and say is included HERE so your visitor can be anyone.  I do try to secure a graduation gown and gavel for the judge - but those are optional items.

The jury is the remaining students in your classroom after you've selected the 22 speaking parts (the number of speaking parts can be altered to fit your classroom needs).  For dress rehearsal I do ask my students to dress up.  They look so cute and serious in their dress clothes.

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials jury set up for rehearsal
The jury may seem like a small part to students but mine learn quickly that it's
actually the most powerful position!! 


Bring your history classroom alive with American Revolution Mock Trials
Dress rehearsal to get out the nerves!!! Look at those adorable suits and ties.


Week 6 - Court is in Session

It's the last week (you can complete this project in less or more weeks - depending on how much class time you want to use). I use very little class time, the students do most of their preparation during independent reading, writing and computer lab time and at home.

During this crucial week students finalize all parts of their case and I remind them how amazing they are!  I usually schedule the trials on a Friday so parents/visitors can take time off work and attend. Each trial takes between 45-60 min.

On the big day, I just sit back, relax and watch my students bring history alive.  Parents are shocked when they find out how little I've done during this project and how much their students are able to accomplish on their own!  Mock trial presentation day is my favorite school day every single year!

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials court docket


Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre Classroom Mock Trials




7 comments

  1. Hi Melissa,
    This looks like an amazing learning experience for your class. Our 4th grade does something very similar as they learn about the Rev War. They are placed onto sides as they learn and then they do a debate. It looks like this is something you do early in the year, but am wondering if you would ever consider having your class participate in a virtual debate with one or two of our 4th grade classes. They are just learning about this now (end of January). Might be interesting to try to collaborate in some way. Thoughts?

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    1. Hi!! We actually do this project at the end of the year in April and May. We would love to collaborate if you're able to at that time. My email is wildaboutfifth@gmail.com.

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  2. Hi Melissa,

    I love this mock trial package! We did auditions last week, and will be beginning week two tomorrow. Question: What do you have the jury members do over the next couple of weeks before rehearsals? I have ideas of stuff to keep them busy, but was curious if you included those students in the preparation of the trials. Thanks!

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    1. Hi there, I'm so excited that you're trying out mock trials. :-) For the first few weeks after auditions, I have the attorneys and witnesses research and write their scripts during independent reading time so the jury members can read. Once we start rehearsals, the jury members participate and practice actively listening to the case but they do not make a final judgment until the actual trial date. I hope this answers your question. 😊

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  3. Hi Melissa! My defense team for the boston tea party are having trouble coming up with witnesses/ a strategy for how to argue that the Son of Liberty aren't at fault. How do you guide them with this? Our textbook summarizes the event in one paragraph so I feel like I'm drawing a blank here.

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  4. Sarah, we are also working on performing the mock trials as well. We decided that since it is fact that they boarded the ships and destroyed the tea, that we would have The Plaintiff be a Captain of one of the ships accuse the Sons of damaging the ships as well as destroying other goods. The Defendant (Samuel Cooper of the Sons of Liberty) will claim that it was a very peaceful quiet event, and that they only went there to destroy the tea. Hope this helps!

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  5. Thanks so much, Jim! That is really helpful :)

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