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Mock Fairy Tale Trials – A Collaborative Writing Project

Mock Fairy Tale Trials Collaborative Digital Writing Project

Practicing Collaborative Digital Writing with Mock Fairy Tale Trials Lesson

I had the pleasure of working with an amazing group of 4th graders over the past couple of weeks in a collaborative writing project that culminated in a mock trial or Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame and Gretel of Hansel and Gretel.  For teachers looking for a highly engaging common core-aligned project that incorporates speaking and listening skills, technology and persuasive writing, read on for details!  You can substitute with your own fairy tales, but I’m attaching a detailed lesson plan and all the necessary affidavits for teachers that want to implement this with minimal time investment.

Overview of Mock Fairy Tale Project

The class is divided into two groups and assigned one fairy tale per group.  The fairy tale groups are then subdivided into “prosecution” and “defense” teams.  Teams work together to develop opening statements using the affidavits provided by the two major witnesses in each tale.  Questions for the witnesses are crafted by the students (which is a challenge!)  and they learn about the court system by participating in a video call with a lawyer.  We were lucky enough to host the head of our high school’s Mock Trial team, who is also a lawyer and teacher along with a high school student co-captain of the mock trial team.  They fielded questions from students to help them prepare for their trial and explained the concept of “burden of proof” to the kids.  Video calls are a great way to bring special visitors to your classroom!  Google Docs served as the perfect platform for the teams to work collaboratively on their writing of opening statements.  Students were selected to act as witnesses during the mock trial.  We began with the Jack & the Beanstalk trial.  During the actual mock trial, which was presided over by our Superintendent, the jury was comprised of the students who were assigned the Hansel & Gretel trial, so everyone participated fully in each trial.  The trials only lasted about 20 minutes each with a 5 minute deliberation, but the students will remember this experience for much longer!

Mock Fairy Tale Trial Lesson Plan Pacing Guide

Day 1 – Introduce activity & Read Jack & the Beanstalk

  1. Introduce students to the activity and identify the two fairy tales that will be used.
  2. Review elements of a fairy tale, focusing on “good vs evil” and ask students to consider what “crimes” were committed and by whom as you read each fairy tale.
  3. After the each story is read, poll students to come up with a list of crimes and possible witnesses.
  4. Teacher should record results of class brainstorming session in Google Doc for reference.

Day 2 – Read Hansel & Gretel

  1. As with day 1, remind students to consider possible crimes and witnesses as they listen to the story of Hansel & Gretel.
  2. Record the class consensus of the crimes and witnesses.
  3. Ask students to decide who they think should be prosecuted in each of the stories.   There is likely to be some discussion since many characters could be viewed as committing crimes.  Guide students to focus on 1 defendant for each story and 2 major / most critical witnesses (1 being the defendant and a second witness).
  4. (Optional) Prior to day 3, teacher can craft an arrest warrant for each of the defendants.

Day 3 – Opening Statements – Planning / Persuasion Map

  1. Divide students into defense or prosecution teams for each fairy tale (4 teams total).  Half of the class will work on Jack & the Beanstalk while the other half of the class is assigned Hansel & Gretel.
  2. Explain to the students that they will be preparing “Opening Statements”.  Take time to explain how opening statements are a type of persuasive writing.
  3. Distribute affidavits.  Both the prosecution and defense teams should be given the affidavits for the trial (see links below).  Teacher explains what an affidavit is and how the teams should use this information to complete their persuasion map graphic organizer.
  4. Rotate around to the groups to provide guidance as students complete their graphic organizer.

Google Hangout Video Call with Lawyer to prepare for mock trial

Day 4 – Court system overview – Video call with attorney

  1. Conduct a short (20 min) video call with a lawyer to introduce students to the role of the defense and prosecution teams.  Explain the concept of “burden of proof” and allow time for students to ask questions.

Day 5 & 6 – Collaborate in Google Doc to write opening statement

  1. Using the persuasion map graphic organizer as a reference, each student should be assigned a part of the opening statement:  opening paragraph/introduction, main idea #1, main idea #2, main idea #3 or conclusion.
  2. After creating a draft of their part of the opening statement on paper, students will add their contribution to the shared Google Doc.
  3. Teacher will create and share (editing privileges) a Google Doc for student teams to collaborate to write their opening statements.  Click HERE to view actual grade 4 student examples.
  4. Teacher will use “comment” feature to provide feedback to students during the writing process and show students how to use (appropriately) the “chat” feature to have in-document discussions in Google Docs with their collaborators.

Day 7 – Develop questions for witnesses

Students will develop questions for the two witnesses in their trial; prosecution and defense witnesses. Teacher will provide guidance on appropriate questions and tips for questions.  Explain difference between direct and cross examination.  Help students understand the prosecution will have a primary witness and the defense will have a primary witness.  Teams will develop questions for both direct and cross examination.

Day 8 – Refine questions, practice direct examination of witnesses & assignment of roles

Continue to support students on the development of questions.  Prompt students to sequence questions in preparation for the trial.  Assign the following roles:  court clerk, lead prosecutor (spokesperson for prosecution team), lead defense attorney (spokesperson for defense team), witnesses (Jack, Giant, Witch, Gretel).  Allow students to begin practicing their responses to direct questions.

Mock Fairy Tale Trial Cross Examination

Day 9 – Trial

Set up tables for the Prosecution and Defense teams.  Instructions for the Court Clerk and Judge help guide the trial.  We have a fun superintendent who was more than happy to serve as the Judge for our trials.  The trials took approximately 20 minutes each and were followed by a 5 minute deliberation of the jury.

 Author’s note:  The idea for this lesson and many of the materials used were adapted from original work from my mom, Kathleen Murphy, a highly committed middle school ELA teacher and overall amazing woman who passed away in December 2014.  During one of our last conversations, she recollected, with enthusiasm, this lesson and detailed how she used to implement it, so it was my pleasure to see it come to life in my own school district and share it with a new generation of teachers!

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