Justice served in Schoo Middle School English class

Early one October morning, a classroom in the eighth-grade B side of Schoo Middle School transforms into a courtroom.

“All rise. The Schoo court is now in session. The honorable Judge Peterson presiding.”

Three different mock trial situations are how Schoo English 8D teachers are wrapping up an important unit about rites of passage. The class has just finished their literature circles on one of two novels of their choice: “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.”

“This is the first year that our students haven't read the same novel as we did literature circles,” said Chris Peterson, Schoo English teacher. “So with two different novels going on we needed an activity that could bring everyone back together and this worked.”

Both novels have legal action, either implied or unfolding within the story, and Peterson said this is the age when children hit a milestone. They realize that some situations look different as children grow up.

“They learn the world isn't always kind to everybody. Justice isn't always served. So we wanted them to at least have an option to serve some justice,” added Peterson.

Students had two days to work on the project and were split into groups and assigned parts as either prosecution or defense in one of three cases. They were given the basics of their court case and students needed to write a script with arguments, questions and possible ways to answer questions from the other side. The three cases were: a girl who was fired from her job at a burger place for whistleblowing; a student who was injured in a school science experiment gone awry; or a soccer player who had a concussion, but continued to play and was seriously injured.

The rest of the class acted as jury when they were not presenting their case. The jury listened to the arguments, deliberated and then decided which side presented the best case. The jury foreman then announced either a guilty or innocent verdict.

Peterson said, “At this age students get really into what's right, what's wrong and justice. It's a great time to tap into that with them.”

Peterson added that they try to teach life lessons in addition to literature - instilling a sense of civic responsibility.

“I would like them to know that while things aren't always fair, there are things they can do. What can you do about it when you’re little? Maybe not much. But as you get older you can make more of a difference. All of us can.”

What are literature circles in eighth-grade English?

“Students choose from two novels that they would like to read. Students read independently, but then they come together with the same group of students each day and discuss their thoughts about what they read. There are some guiding questions and vocabulary words that might be unfamiliar to students to help lead the discussion. Ultimately, students have a chance to bounce ideas off of each other and make sure they're all understanding everything that needs to be understood in the book. I think it's been really good. Everyone likes a choice. The students really like talking to each other and they like teaching each other. It’s a lot more entertaining, interesting and engaging than listening to a teacher tell them things.”

-Chris Peterson, Schoo English Teacher

Published: October 30, 2018, Updated: October 31, 2018