High School Students (Grades 10-12)
Juries: Cornerstone of Democracy
This lesson focuses on the antecedents to the modern-day jury system in the United States.
Make enough copies of each "exhibit" for one-third of the class.
(Download handout as a Word doc or a PDF)
Get the students' attention by asserting "Trial by jury is a modern-day invention that contributes nothing to a democracy."
Encourage responses from the class focusing on your two major points: "modern-day invention" and "contributes nothing to a democracy."
After some discussion, tell the class you do have three exhibits that contradict your assertion then divide the class into three groups distributing one exhibit to each. [Note: You may wish to make a fourth group comprised of students who want to defend your assertion.]
Have each group choose a chairperson to guide the discussion, a recorder to write down key points, and a reporter to share their findings with the class. Charge them to be prepared to give the dates; examples of ideas/actions/events in which juries and democracy were linked; and explain this connection.
As each group reports develop a timeline on the board to demonstrate the early evolution of a commitment to the jury system in the US. Debrief the reports and fill in with any additional information on juries in early American history. Watch for vocabulary/concepts that may need clarification or further discussion such as impartial jury, common law, civil and criminal trials.
If time permits, conclude this lesson by providing a brief background on historical antecedents to the US jury system from the ancient Greeks to pre-colonial England.
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