The classroom was like any classroom. The desks had chairs attached. There were a couple of loose papers on the floor. Stacks of paper on the teacher’s desk.
The students were quiet at the beginning but it quickly turned into chaos, that beautiful kind of chaos, where true learning happens.
The students had moved the desks around into two groups on opposite sides of the classroom, to represent the Crown and defense sides of a courtroom. Each group was discussing why they thought their team should win. There was a lawyer with each group, sometimes leading, sometimes listening.
I was working at Parkdale Collegiate Institute with an English as a Second Language class and we were preparing for a mock trial. The case involved a teenager, Keri, who was accused of stealing an iPod. She had clipped it to her belt to try it out in the store and claimed she had forgotten it was there when she walked out.
These preparations were going to culminate at a downtown courthouse with the students delivering their arguments in front of a real judge, Justice Katrina Mulligan. There was a flurry of excitement as students who were playing lawyers, practiced asking their questions to the witnesses and going over their opening and closing statements.
On the day of the mock trial we met at the courthouse early. The students were nervous as they dressed up in lawyer’s robes and prepared for the hearing. I could see them going over their notes one last time, asking their coaches final questions.
A young woman gave the opening statement for the defence. She had just moved to Canada and she struggled with some of the words. She looked up at Justice Mulligan who nodded encouragingly. She finished her statement.
One students who was playing a lawyer swayed from side to side as he questioned the witness.
They were doing it! All of the practicing had paid off.
At the end, Justice Mulligan congratulated them on a job well done and took the time to give feedback to each of the students.
I remember one student in particular. He was someone who often argued with teachers. His English speaking skills were strong but the teacher told me that his writing was weak.
The judge said to him, “I don’t know what it is about you, but that was a real cross examination you just did.”
He glowed. He didn’t want to take off his lawyers robes.
They had been challenged – with English as a second language – to stand up in courtroom in front of a judge. And they had been brave. At the end of it all, they were tired and they were proud.
It was an ordinary classroom, but what had happened the weeks leading up to the mock trial was different. These students and lawyers had worked together and brought the law to life.
by Bryn Bamber
Run a mock trial in your classroom – use one of the OJEN’s mock trial lesson plans and do it yourself. Or consider signing up for the OOCMT.