Welcome to Mock Trial: March Lessons
Freedom of Speech
A celebrity sues a gossip magazine over its sensational headline. . . . A newspaper reporter goes to jail rather than reveal the name of a confidential source. . . . Lawmakers consider reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. . . . The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sends a questionnaire to newsrooms called the Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs.
What do all these things have in common?
They are all part of the world of freedom of the press.
Freedom of the press is one of the rights protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states, in part:
Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.
This right has a long history in America, even before the United States of America existed. . . .
Here is our outline for Mock Trial in March:
Freedom of the Press Week 1: History (week of March 3) Week 2: Libel (week of March 10) Week 3: Classified Information and Confidential Sources (week of March 17) Week 4: Mock Trial/A Brave New World: Bloggers, Tweeters, and Pinners (week of March 24)
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In this class, I will help you teach a mock trial class to a group of students or an individual student. You will be amazed at how fascinating young people find legal concepts! Through these lessons, students will learn a great deal about the U.S. legal system through different cases, information on the court system, and more. Culminating with a mock trial allows students to actively engage with the material they have learned.
The vision for this mock trial class is that students’ knowledge of God and His world will grow through study of the legal system. Their reading comprehension, logic/critical thinking, persuasive argumentation, writing, research, and public speaking skills will be strengthened. A mock trial class teaches important information about the judicial branch of our government, as well as honing these skills every person needs.
The lessons provided here are targeted toward students in the middle school grades, but also can be used by high schoolers. You can also try these lessons with gifted, or just motivated and curious, younger students! My philosophy is that interested and motivated middle school students are able to learn at an amazingly high level. In the local mock trial classes I teach, it is not unusual to have even younger students (my classes often start at fourth grade) able to understand and articulate legal concepts, such as liability, negligence, intent, and the elements of specific crimes or legal theories. I have been so pleased when students told me that they enjoyed the depth of the class—even having one fourth-grade student tell me, “I liked how you didn’t talk down to us!” Much of the material will be fresh and challenging for older students as well.
The Introduction and first month’s lesson provide the framework and foundation for the mock trial class. Students will learn basic concepts about the American legal system that will be built upon in later lessons. Teachers will be advised about how particular types of students might participate.
Here is the basic monthly layout:
Week One: Legal Concept
Week Two: Case Summary
Week Three: Related Skill
Week Four: Case Holding (Outcome and Reasoning)
The first week of each month’s lesson plans will teach about a particular legal concept (for example, negligence).
The second week will provide a fact summary related to that legal concept for students to read and begin to prepare for the mock trial in which they will participate, or to write a persuasive essay taking one side of the case (or preparing to debate that side).
Students will continue preparing during the third week and a particular skill will be emphasized. These skills include: reading a fact pattern, writing persuasively, expanding vocabulary, working as a team, interviewing witnesses, creating a “hook,” considering ethical issues, applying Scripture and Biblical standards, thinking critically, and writing creatively.
The fourth week will provide the findings if the case is real, or the legal precedents for a mock case, so that the teacher can go over the findings with the student(s) after the mock trial or with regard to the debate/paper. At any time, you may see the need to go back into previous lessons to restudy particular concepts.
How to Use These Lesson Plans
Ideally, your child will be part of a group, such as a class or a co-op. If you’re not a member of a co-op or class, go round up some family friends! If you are not able to round up a group, do not despair. Your student will still learn a great deal about our court system and be able to hone his/her skills of persuasion in a debate in your home or by writing an essay. The same material will be mastered—just using a different method.
If you are part of a group or co-op that meets weekly throughout the year, you can use these lesson plans weekly, taking advantage of the two weeks to prepare for a monthly mock trial, debate, or paper. If you do not want to have a monthly mock trial, you can take the enrichment ideas and add them to the weekly lessons. Then, you may want to choose one monthly topic/concept to focus on and do a mock trial at the end of the year or semester (depending on the length of your class). If you choose to wait for one big mock trial at the end of the class, you still have plenty of work for students—each month they can still write or debate the issues in the fact summaries.
Generally, the monthly lesson plans will alternate between trials and appeals. Appellate cases consist of two attorneys arguing before a panel of justices, while trial cases involve witnesses, evidence, and a jury. If you have a small number of students, they can still debate or write essays regarding the issues in the trial cases.
And finally, you may choose to print off the lesson plans to be read by your student, or you may take the material and teach the lesson yourself—either way will work. I have written the lesson plans so that they can be read by the student. For any worksheets provided, I have included an answer key for the teacher.
Deborah Burton is a follower of Christ, a wife, and the homeschooling mother of two fascinating, bright, and curious sons. She worked as an attorney for ten years before homeschooling, and is licensed in Pennsylvania and Maryland. In addition to her law degree, her undergraduate and graduate degrees are in Journalism. Her love of God, her children, homeschooling, writing, and the law intersect in her company, Homeschool Court, which provides Biblical materials enabling homeschool students to participate in a challenging and fun mock trial class. Everything the teacher needs to offer high quality instruction is provided in her mock trial curriculum found at http://www.homeschoolcourt.com/.
You can find helpful materials to add to what is provided each month at SchoolhouseTeachers.com. Write to her directly at email@example.com and mention Schoolhouse Teachers to receive a special offer and to sign up for updates as new cases and topics are added! Stay up-to-date on Homeschool Court on FB at https://www.facebook.com/HomeschoolCourt and on Twitter @HomeschoolCourt.
Course transcript information*
It is my estimate that the mock trial materials provided weekly should earn one-half (0.5) of high school credit.
I estimate that each weekly reading and assignment will take about one hour to complete. Once a month, if a mock trial is provided, there would be approximately six (6) additional hours of work to prepare for a mock trial, write a paper, or prepare for and engage in a debate.
This year, I am also beginning to provide a quiz at the end of the month to provide another format of evaluation of your student’s learning.
Thus, I estimate approximately ten hours per month of work, at a minimum, which provides 120 hours per year. If your student writes several long and complex papers or prepares extensively for several mock trials, there would be sufficient rigor to award one credit. Ultimately, as the parent or educator, it is your assessment of the individual student and his/her effort and understanding of the material that matters.
I will also occasionally provide additional enrichment activities that may increase the total time spent for your student. You may add books and articles about legal issues to have your student earn a full credit.
If you do not school year-round, feel free to use previous lessons provided in the archives.
— Deborah Burton
* Please be informed of your own state’s academic requirements. http://schoolhouseconnect.com/state-homeschool-laws/
For transcript help, go to http://schoolhouseteachers.com/2013/05/creating-a-transcript/