Elementary gifted learner students recently held mock trials where they learned about courtroom justice and all the work that goes into taking a case to trial.
“Students were taught the basic structure of the American court system and allowed to select a civil or criminal case to participate in,” explained district GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) teacher Brenda Combs. “We adapted basic fairy tales and put a modern twist to them in order to make them applicable in our unit.”
For example, Hansel and Gretel were charged by the state with petty theft, aggravated battery, criminal mischief, and larceny against Marvinia Cruller, the owner of the Gingerbread Bakery who dressed like a witch in order to attract people to her shop.
Jack and Jill sued Harvey Miller, the owner of the well, for punitive damages due to contributory negligence and attractive nuisance.
Jeremiah Birch, the woodcutter in Little Red Riding Hood, was charged with battery on a Mr. I.M. Wolfe.
Combs said that she had the fifth and sixth grade GATE students divide into defense or prosecution teams in each trial and they had to develop questions based on each witness’ affidavit. They also wrote either an opening or closing statement and then delivered it in a pseudo-courtroom setting in the classroom. The third and fourth graders served as witnesses in each case. In order to hold up under direct and cross-examination by attorneys from both sides of the aisle who volleyed questions and chimed in with objections, the witnesses had to become familiar with their affidavit.
Combs served as the judge for the proceedings and other classmates volunteered to serve as jurors. Fifth and sixth grade teachers nominated students they felt would benefit from the experience of serving as a juror. Students received extra points for dressing up for court.
Combs said that the mock trials met California standards for persuasive writing, speaking, and critical thinking, and they also created career awareness.
The number of trials held at each school depended on the number of GATE students. Two were held at Magnolia, four at Fair Oaks, and three each at Cloverland and Sierra View.