How to Hold a Mock Trial in Secondary ELA

Why do a mock trial in secondary ELA?

Mock trials can be one of the most memorable activities you do all school year! They are meant to be used as a fun summative assessment at the end of reading any complex text. Students are assigned different roles within the trial and must research the best ways to win the trial using evidence, characters, and events from the text. It’s also great for teaching public speaking and argumentation.

What grade levels can I do a mock trial for? 

This resource would be best for any grades, but I’ve had the best success with secondary grades (6th-12th). It highly depends on the text you choose.

What materials will I need for this mock trial?

This guide is written for my ready-made mock trials below:

Or you can use the editable resource below to use it for any text!

What materials will the students need for this mock trial? 

Your students will need access to a computer with a Google account (if they will be using the digital resources provided.) Each student should also have a copy of the text you’ve chosen. Optionally, students may choose to dress professionally for the mock trial, so appropriate clothing may also be needed. 

How long will it take to teach this mock trial?

It usually takes me a week (5 daily lessons) to teach this mock trial. See the possible teaching schedule below:

Daily Lesson Breakdown

Day 1: Introduce the concept of this mock trial by creating a packet of the following sheets and distributing a copy of this packet of the to each student: Student Directions, Roles, and the General Script. Explain to students that a mock trial is very much like a real trial, but since you’ll be using fictional characters, several liberties will need to be taken!

You can also show students this video from YouTube, which has a few minor differences from the mock trial general script in this resource, but overall shows the appropriate mock trial flow. 

Have students take out a piece of paper and write down their top three choices for roles.

After class, make the decision using what you know about your students’ strengths to decide who will take on each role. I usually decide who will become my attorneys first (in a large class I will choose 2-3 attorneys for each side), and then witness roles and other lead roles (judge, bailiff, jury clerk, journalist), and everyone else becomes a jury member. I’ve done this successfully in classes of 28-32 students, but this could easily be adapted to smaller classes by possibly eliminating witness roles, or adding on additional attorney roles.

Day 2: At the beginning of this lesson I explain to students that I thought long and hard about which roles would be best for them and let them know who was assigned to which role. Make copies of and pass out the appropriate rubrics and worksheets to students.

As a class, run through the general script, with students highlighting their speaking parts, and the students assigned to each role. 

*Note that this general script does not include any space for objections. If you’d like learn more about how student attorneys can make objections during a mock trial, check out this very helpful link. If this is your first time teaching a mock trial, I recommend not allowing students to object until you feel comfortable with going “off script.”

After running through the general script, I have students break up into three groups: prosecution, defense, and unbiased roles. For the unbiased roles (judge, bailiff, journalist, and jury members), they should work on the Webquest Assignment. Here is also a link to a YouTube video that details the jury selection process very well! 

I monitor student progress throughout the rest of the lesson, ensuring that the attorneys on both teams understand that they are the leaders and should guide their team into creating the best arguments and line of questioning for the trial. Let them know that cross-examining isn’t required per se, but it is advantageous to their side if done successfully. Witnesses should be aware that they need to be prepared to be asked questions from the opposing team and that they should stay in character. 

Day 3 and 4: Similarly to the latter half of day 2, students break up into three groups: prosecution, defense, unbiased roles. Continue to monitor student progress by rotating through all three groups.

After Day 4, you need to set up your classroom so that you’re ready for the mock trial! See the suggested classroom layout below (bailiff will be standing). Print and use the Seat Labels to make it clear to students as to where they need to sit for the mock trial. Fold the labels on the solid lines so that it creates a triangle. Secure the edges with tape. Optionally, I’ve also seen teachers use blank name stickers and write the roles on them, and students can simply stick these to their shirts!

Day 5: It’s the much-anticipated day of the mock trial! You might decide to give students 5-10 minutes to confer with their groups before beginning. Let students know that whether they win or lose the trial is irrelevant to their grade, as long as they’ve adhered to the rubric and tried their best! 

Once the mock trial does begin, you are now just an observer. I take notes on student performance while they’re presenting so that I can give them appropriate grades using the rubrics for each role later.

For homework or for discussion the next school day, you could assign the Mock Trial Reflection.

If you have any questions about how to hold your first mock trial in your classroom, feel free to reach out to me at!


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