Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part I
Earlier this year, our tenth-grade students presented Cornerstone’s second (ever!) mock trial, in which Sir Lancelot was accused of treason against England. The trial preparations were intense and exhausting—for me and also for my students—but the rewards were great.
Here are five (out of ten) reasons mock trials benefit our students:
1. Evidence is weighed carefully. In preparation for trials, students must both understand the facts of a story and draw inferences based upon those facts. For our trial of Lancelot, students had to know not only what the characters did, but what their motives might have been. This ability to read beneath the surface is beneficial not only in English class, but during these students’ future perusals of books, newspapers, and even blogs.
2. Students imitate—and maintain—characters. I make my students analyze characters at great length on paper, but having them imitate the characters about whom they have read (and answer difficult questions while in character) is more fun and also more challenging. One of the highlights of our Lancelot trial was the steadfast determination with which one of my students stuck persistently to his story in the face of a very forceful cross-examination. This will benefit him later! As Christians, we must be able to keep our stories straight even when we are questioned by skeptics and critics, and students who have had to defend their characters—and their teams’ claims—on paper are well equipped to do this.
3. My students share stories. Story is at the heart of literature, and at the heart of human nature. As humans, we love to share stories, and, in a mock trial, many stories are told and re-told from differing perspectives—and with differing inclusions and exclusions. Although Lancelot may not want to discuss (or even mention) the death of Sir Gawain’s brother, that moment in the story is at the heart of Sir Gawain’s entire testimony, showing the importance of priorities and of details in life and story.
4. Students practice teamwork. In the real world, working well with others is a common and essential skill. On more than one occasion, my lawyers (essentially team leaders) grew frustrated because their teammates were not staying focused. Sometimes the lawyers had to decide whether to do work another student had not done, or to let it slide even if the team suffered. This dilemma will be familiar to anyone who has participated in a group project for school or work, and I hope that this experience will inform the ways in which my students approach future groups and group projects.
5. Students practice leadership. A mock trial cannot be won by one student, nor can it be won without clear direction. My tenth grade class is filled with leaders, and I was pleased and proud to watch them in action in the weeks leading up to Lancelot’s trial. They drilled one another on their witness statements, they critiqued one another on presentation skills, and my four lawyers emphasized and explained (repeatedly) the crucial facts their teams would need in order to win the verdict.
Mock trials are not easy, but they are a wonderful pedagogical tool, and—much as they are sometimes exhausting and frustrating—they benefit students in ways that extend beyond the reach of some of our more traditional assignments. My next blog will look at five additional—and less traditional—benefits of mock trials.