Graffiti on Trial

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Lesson At A Glance

Students will prepare for a mock trial in the classroom by examining the parts of an actual courtroom and then creating a floor plan for a courtroom in the classroom. Next, students will begin work on a dictionary of court-related vocabulary words.  Through participation in a mock trial, students will both explore the responsibilities of citizens to participate in local government through jury duty, and also understand the consequences of committing a crime. 

See how this lesson fits into the context of a full unit, and prior knowledge students should have before doing this lesson.



Students will understand the roles of persons in the court, the presumption of innocence, the value of evidence, and the importance of an impartial jury at trial.

Standards Addressed :

Social studies 3.4.1:  Determine the reason for rules, laws, and the U.S. constitution; the role of citizenship in the promotion of rules and laws; and the consequences for people who violate rules and laws.

Social studies 3.4.2:  discuss the importance of public virtue and the role of citizens, including how to participate in classroom, in the community, and in civic life.

Social studies 3.4.4:  understand the three branches of government, with an emphasis on local government.

Reading 1.3: Read aloud narrative and expository text fluently and accurately and with appropriate pacing, intonation, and expression.

Writing Strategies

1.1  Create a single paragraph:
          a. Develop a topic sentence.
          b. Include simple supporting facts and details.

1.   Revise drafts to improve the coherence and logical progression of ideas by using an established rubric.

2.3  Write personal and formal letters, thank-you notes, and invitations:
         a.  Show awareness of the knowledge and interests of the audience and establish a purpose and context.
         b.  Include the date, proper salutation, body, closing, and signature.

Writing Conventions

1.1  Understand and be able to use complete and correct declarative, interrogative,
        imperative, and exclamatory sentences in writing and speaking.


2.2  Plan and present dramatic interpretations of experiences, stories, poems, or plays with clear diction, pitch, tempo, and tone.

Common Core State Standards for ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects K-5

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading K-5

Key Ideas and Details

1.     Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from  it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from  the text.

1.     Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the  key supporting details and ideas.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing K-5

Production and Distribution of Writing

4.  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are  appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening K-5

Comprehension and Collaboration

1.       Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Big Ideas:

  • The strength of a democracy is equal to the strength of its citizens
  • E Pluribus Unum:  Out of many, one.
  • The American system of trial by jury is not perfect, but it is the best system people have yet invented.  In order for it to be successful, citizens must be informed, impartial, and willing to serve when called for jury duty.

Essential Questions/Issues: 

1. What does it mean to be an American citizen?
2. How do citizens help our government?
3. Does citizen participation make our country stronger?
4. What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

Higher Order Thinking Questions:

1. Analysis:  How does your behavior and appearance affect what people think of you?
2. Why is it important to think about your behavior and appearance in different situations?
3. Evaluation:  What would have happened if there was no jury in this case? What would happen in the real world if nobody showed up for jury duty?


How can you communicate the importance of jury service to the adults in the community?


Students will be evaluated through informal checks on their understanding of the trial proceedings, class participation, writing and art work.

Students will produce a dictionary of vocabulary words relating to the courts.

Students will write a letter to the participating judge, evaluating their learning during the mock trial.

Students will create a pamphlet urging citizens over the age of 18 to respond to their jury summons.

Click here to download assessment tools

Activity Steps:

Click here to download activity steps


– Hook: Read the book, That’s Mine, Horace, or similar, and discuss what rule was broken (don’t take things that are not yours), the crime (Horace kept the toy truck, when he knew it belonged to another, and lied to his mother about it), who is harmed (owner of toy), and the consequences for the perpetrator (guilty feelings, shame and remorse, and he had to give the truck back)

 Questions for students to ponder:  How did Horace know he had done something wrong?  Do all classes/schools have the same rules? Why do we need rules at school?  How are school rules like/unlike laws for older kids and adults?

– Crime and Punishment Game: Students are given game of cards to sort by law, crime, victim and punishment-small group or pairs. Look at these word cards, match up the crime with who gets hurt, and what should be done about it. (See sample cards in appendix A)


Briefly review laws from yesterday’s game (i.e., don’t steal, don’t litter, no graffiti, no hitting).

Introduce vocabulary of the court:  victim, defendant, arrest, trial, defense attorney, prosecutor, judge, jury, bailiff, witness, “under oath”, decision, verdict, sentence, presumption of innocence, impartiality – include visual presentation of courtrooms, and the role of each person in court.  Students produce a “Legal Dictionary” with definitions, illustrations, and sentences relating to each word.


Continue working on Legal Dictionary.

Class views photos and drawings of actual courtrooms, uses graph paper and cut-outs to design a layout of our classroom “courtroom”.

Present mock trial situation:  A woman (Ms. Rodriguez) saw someone spray graffiti on the side of her house.  All she can say is it was a boy.  We have 2 defendants,

Alberto and Bobby, who were seen running away from her house. Do you know who did it?  No, we need to have a trial, so our jury can decide who is guilty of tagging Ms. Rodriguez’s house. 

Teacher assigns roles of courtroom personnel, attorneys, witnesses, and jury members. Students are provided with scripted lines.  An actual judge and attorney will assist with the trial.


Trial proceeds, with evidence strongly implicating suspect Bobby.  Please see Appendix C for complete script of the trial.
Jury deliberates, with the assistance of an adult to help them stay focused.  Jury presents verdict, judge decides on sentence.

After sentencing, there will be time for students to ask questions of the judge and attorney, and discuss the jury’s verdicts.

Debrief: What did you learn from this trial? Compare and contrast the jobs of the judge and the jury. What if there had been no jury?  No judge?


Review yesterday’s trial.  During discussion, students reflect and make notes about what they liked about the experience, what they learned, and what they want to do in the future as a result of the trial.

Students write a thank-you letter to the judge, including their reflections.


Review yesterday’s trial. How are judges selected in California?  How can a person become a lawyer? How does a person become a juror?

Teacher shows jury summons, describes qualifications to be a juror.  A chart is created which spells out requirements and responsibilities of jury service.

Teacher presents displays sample brochures and pamphlets, and explains writing project:  a pamphlet explaining jury duty, and persuading everyone over 18 to answer their jury summons, and serve if selected.

Students begin work on their projects.


Students complete projects and present them in class.  Class votes on which one(s) they would like to see distributed in the community.

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson: 

Students will work in pairs and small groups, which will be assigned based on the needs of English Learners and Special Ed students. Roles in the mock trial will be assigned based on speaking and acting abilities. Students will participate in speaking, writing, drawing, and cut-paste activities, with choices to accommodate various learning styles.

Extension Ideas:
Students may work together with a bilingual class to translate students’ projects into Spanish. Class ultimately votes on their favorite pamphlet, which is duplicated and displayed for distribution to the public at our local fast-food restaurants.  Students may write letters to local businesses asking them to distribute our pamphlets.

Materials Needed: 

Chart paper and pens, Crime and Punishment Game cards (teacher made), grid paper for courtroom design.  An assortment of pamphlets and brochures. Photographs of graffiti on a building, courtroom props including evidence (see appendix B).
Writing and drawing paper, pencils, markers, scissors, glue, and crayons.

America is … by Louisa Borden, Illustrated by Stacey Schuett, Simon and Schuster, 2002.
History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, California Department of Education, 2005 Edition.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire by Diane de Groat, Scholastic, 2004.
That’s Mine, Horace by Holly Keller, Greenwillow, 2000.
“California Court System”, Superior Court of California, County of San Diego.
“Information for first Time Jurors” ,Los Angeles Superior Court, December 2008.

Websites:  photos of courtrooms and court personnel


Context of the unit:

This unit focuses on the third grade social studies standards, which require students to understand the role of rules and laws in our daily lives and the basic structure of the U.S. government.  Students will begin to understand the three branches of the government, with an emphasis on the judicial branch of their local government.  Students will also explore the role of the individual citizen in a democracy in terms of good social behavior, taking part in community life, voting, and jury service.

The unit will culminate with students writing their thanks to the judge and attorney who assisted them, and creating a brochure which explains jury service, and encourages adults in our community to respond to their jury summons.

Context of the project: 

Students will prepare for a mock trial in the classroom by examining the parts of an actual courtroom and then creating a floor plan for a courtroom in the classroom. Next, students will begin work on a dictionary of court-related vocabulary words.  Through participation in a mock trial, students will both explore the responsibilities of citizens to participate in local government through jury duty, and also understand the consequences of committing a crime.