Order in the Court!

For the resources we use, click HERE to grab them.
Throughout the year, I'll dress up as a detective, a chef, Betsy Ross, a surgeon, King George, and my personal fave: a judge.  I do it to set the stage and increase engagement but also I just really love being in character!

Each year, usually in the late spring, we do a court case.  You can take this SO many ways but here are some of our takes on it:

1. Put a character on trial!  If you have a shared novel, novel study, or picture book, place on of the characters on trial for an action or crime they have (or haven't!) committed.  We love The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and you can definitely put pretty much any one of those characters on trial for everything from murder to treason.

2. Pick a current event.  My kids LOVE this option and it's the one we typically do.  We have debated everything from the issue of social media and children to nutritional regulations of school lunches.  For this, I either print articles (NewsELA is my go-to) or have them do the research (I love kiddle.co for safe searches).
A sweet family gifted me a black graduation robe which means I can act the part AND look it!
Once we have a topic, I turn it into a court case.  This year, I posed a hypothetical situation and the case was announced:

A school district in California has prohibited homework being assigned in their kindergarten through twelfth grade classes.

We always discuss the topic and make some initial notes on the pros and cons of the issue, forcing ourselves to see it from different sides.

Then, I divide them into two teams: the prosecution and the defendants.  
We swear in all witnesses!  They learn what an oath is and why it's important.
Once in their teams, students do more work researching, reading articles, taking notes, and collaborating with others.  Within the teams, students decide who will be an attorney and who will be a witness.  Attorneys must write questions and witnesses must have a testimony prepared.  Each side selects one person to provide the opening statement and then another person to provide closing statements.
I encourage them to wear their finest "court" attire for the day and they definitely show up for it!
They know that everything has to come from a written source; they can't incorporate their opinions because the court of law needs facts (much like our informational essays!).
I add an American flag and some dollar store tablecloths to make it look a little more official!
We also add in a jury booth, pulling in 5-7 students from another class to listen, take notes, and eventually, provide the verdict.

I usually give them about a week (sometimes two, depending on the topic and amount of research needed) to prepare and prep.  The trial can last anywhere from 1-2 hours, but prepare for even longer if you teach them the fine art of cross examination!

And as for me?  I'm the moderator.  When it gets really heated, my toy gavel comes in handy as I settle down fired up attorneys or quell objections.  I'm also taking notes on the students and their level of readiness, preparation, and creativity.  Everything must be grounded in sources so I'm watching to see how they cite the evidence, include the evidence, and weave it in to support their side.  I'm also jotting down their questioning strategies AND the way they answer those questions.

I may not get to deliberate and come to a verdict but I can give them a grade.  Ha!
An attorney that provided an amazing closing statement!  This was in 2015 when I only had a Harry Potter robe to wear!
Why do kids love this day more than so many other projects?  I think it's because they're doing meaningful work and research that is applicable to the real world.  They are thinking across disciplines and they become passionately positive that their side is the right side.

Basically, they're hugely invested and highly engaged.  I couldn't ask for more!

Click HERE for the resources that help guide us, no mater what the topic is!

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