For my education methods class, I had to write a lesson and teach it to my eighth graders (they're in an ancient/medieval history class). I wanted to do something fun and interactive to get them away from their horrible textbooks and the insane amounts of bookwork they have to do. Keeping this in mind, I came up with what I think is a fairly fun and entertaining lesson. Please note that this lesson was intended for a block schedule (about 90 minutes), but it certainly can be trimmed down to fit a 45-50 minute class period if you so desired.
Trial by ordeal and trial by jury were two methods of criminal justice system used in medieval Europe. While my warmup was written by my mentor teacher, I would recommend a warmup that is something along the lines of "Brainstorm what you know about today's criminal justice system." By connecting trial by ordeal and trial by jury to the criminal justice system today, they can appreciate just how far our criminal justice system has come over the years. After discussing the warmup and encouraging students to participate, it is time to move on to the actual lesson.
In order to give students a foundation for both trial by ordeal and trial by jury, I wrote a packet about both of them. Its fairly short, and I had students to a popcorn reading where they took turns reading aloud. Rather than just reading straight through the packet, however, I stopped them about at the end of each paragraph to hit on a few discussion points. These points include:
-How are things like DNA and fingerprints helpful in trials? What could happen without them?
-Why is the Eighth Amendment helpful?
-Do we make people afraid to commit crimes today with things like jail and fines? (This was a topic my one class was VERY fond of discussing. I had to actually cut the debate off because of time, and when we had down time at the end, they asked if we could talk about it some more, so we did, and they LOVED it!)
-What problems come from ordeal by fire?
-Is ordeal by water fair?
-I connected ordeal by combat to the Hunger Games books, and students thought this was a hit.
-What changes have we made to trial by jury today?
-To help students visualize what a gibbet is, I told them about the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean where they show one. It really helped them visualize it.
To show understanding, students completed a compare/contrast sheet I found online. This gave them a chance to show how much of the information they understood and also provided a grade for the class period today. It's a simple compare/contrast sheet. We went over as a class how to fill it out, and after they filled it out, we went over it as a class.
After reading through the packet and the subsequent discussion and worksheet, I had students split off into partners. Just to mix things up, I emphasized that the partners should be someone who they usually don't work with. Students weren't exactly thrilled about this, but I really wanted them to branch out and work with someone new. Once they found partners, I handed out envelopes with slips of paper in them. Students sorted these slips of paper with words or phrases on them into two categories based on if they thought they were trial by ordeal or trial by jury. As groups finished, I instructed them to go around and help other groups who were still struggling. Once everyone was done, we went over the answers and discussed any confusion.
As a fun activity, I had students complete an "ordeal by maze." I found a very difficult maze online and gave it to them. I went over the rules as follows:
-You have 5 minutes to complete the maze (feel free to adjust the time as you deem fit)
-If you get out of the maze, you are guilty and will go to trial where you will be found guilty and be executed
-If you do not complete the maze, you are innocent, but you are stuck in the maze where you will most likely starve to death
Be very careful with the maze, never before have I heard students try to come up with so many loopholes. I equated the maze to labyrinth myth from Ancient Greece, there is NO way out, the entrance is sealed behind you, and you only have those five minute to get out. Students tried to argue every type of loophole they could with me, but I wouldn't hear it.
To end the class period, I had every student stand up at their desk. Starting on one side of the room and working our way across, each student had to say something they learned today. The catch was that there could be no repeats. Students were allowed to pass, but then they would go last and had to come up with something nobody else in the entire class said. Students liked it, but it could turn on you since one class asked me what I learned today. So, be prepared for something like that just in case.
I have attached all the worksheets I used or created for this lesson. Please feel free to use them, and I hope your students like it as much as mine did. Please let me know how it turns out.