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Teaching Of Mice and Men Through Performance Theory: George on Trial

by Jennifer Stone, Woodland Park High School, Woodland Park, CO, 2007

Objective

To deepen knowledge of the novel through drama, improvisation and dialogue

Suggested Time Allotment

  • Thirty minutes for end of book response and discussion. 
  • Forty five minutes for introduction of unit and assigning parts
  • Three 30 minute sessions for writing/planning
  • One 90 minute class period for the trial

Process

  1. Read the novel, if possible in class or even aloud.
  2. Immediately after, have the students write a short (1/2 page) response about George's decision to kill Lennie. This would need to be done before discussion so the ideas of the group or of the teacher have not yet influenced the students' opinions.
  3. Later you will need to examine the student responses. It is ideal if they are roughly equal, pro to con. If they are overwhelmingly on one side, you may need to insert a short discussion where you discuss ethics and morality regarding euthanasia, playing Devil's advocate to get support for the "other side." Of course this may not be possible. In the long run, it is the process which is more important than the verdict, so don't be too concerned if there is a slant.
  4. Introduce the concepts of a trial, especially focusing on possible charges that could have faced George. (Murder one, murder two, manslaughter, etc.) It is also important they understand that this is the kind of case that would require a unanimous verdict.
  5. Tell the students you, as a class, will put George on trial. Tell them the roles you have chosen, then have each student write on an index card the top three roles he or she might like to play. There is a lot of freedom here. Depending on the size of your class, you may choose the number of jurors and attorneys. It is probably necessary that there is a prosecution and defense "team" to mitigate absences and to help them focus their arguments.

Roles and Responsibilities

Prosecution

This team is ultimately responsible for these things:

  1. To decide which charges are to be brought against George. This MUST be determined the first day so the defense can prepare.
  2. An opening argument planned to be read or preferably memorized by one member of the team (or they can break it up if they would like). A copy of this should be given to you.
  3. A list of witnesses they would like to call given to you the first day of the meeting. These can only be from the list of characters you have assigned.
  4. Each member needs to show an equal amount of participation in questions developed for those witnesses. Maybe each attorney will question one witness, maybe each will take turns with the witnesses, but it is their job to be balanced.
  5. A closing statement that uses persuasive techniques. A copy of this needs to be given to you.

Defense

This team is ultimately responsible for the same things as the prosecution except for number 1. Instead, they need to decide what their defense strategy will be.

Characters

These people are ultimately responsible for these things:

  1. To prepare a statement that they will use to introduce themselves to the court as background. Some of this may be fictional as long as it fits within the confines of the book.
  2. To field questions accurately as their characters, only using the bias and slant that would fit their personalities.
  3. To submit to you, not to the prosecution or the defense, a short paper (1 page) that says whether their character believes George to be guilty or not of the charges. It is important that the students do not even discuss these with others.

Jurors

These people are ultimately responsible for these things:

  1. To submit a list of questions to the judge (you) that they would like answered. The most important thing that they need to do with these is to eliminate bias. If they show bias, return them and make them try again. You can then present these to the defense and prosecution teams for possible consideration, or you may just use these for your own benefit.
  2. Take notes during the trial. These need to be as complete as possible, maybe even a certain length, if you feel they won't otherwise. You may need to check these for points depending on how you choose to grade students.
  3. The jury deliberation will occur orally in a fishbowl environment. The rest of the class may observe but not participate in this. This will be hard to do and can be omitted if it is not working.
  4. They will need to reach a verdict unanimously. If this cannot be achieved in a timely manner, it will be a hung jury. Try to avoid this, even if you, as judge, need to push them a little.

Other ideas are as court reporter/stenographer, court artist, bailiff, newspaper reporter or family member. It's most important that the students all contribute in a relatively equal fashion.

Suggestions for Grading/Assessment

  1. 1. Grade their 1/2 page response following the book as a small in-class completion grade.
  2. Use their written statements or questions (jurors) as another completion grade.
  3. Their live-action performance should be assessed not by their acting abilities but by their ability to commit to the role they have been given. Inaccuracies to the book are serious issues and should be graded as such. A student who knows the book well but is nervous should not be graded down, however.

Words to the Wise

People looking at this lesson plan may already have the idea that, in their classrooms, this would fail. They would wonder if their students would prepare, if they would buy into the concept. They would also realize that one or two weak links in the chain could cause it to collapse. The written component due before the fact is designed to keep this from happening. Sure there will be some classes where this will be wildly successful and others mildly so, but as long as the background is complete, it will not fail. You also have to be willing to pull students if they are not completing their pre-trial duties. This isn't easy to do, but it may be necessary if you have someone intent on ruining the class' experience.

Though many of your more histrionic students will gravitate towards the lawyer roles, you will need your best actors and actresses and your most diligent students to play the character roles. These take the most improvisation and the most knowledge of the book, and if they are played poorly it can result in a less successful trial.

Be flexible. In my mind it is better to give several partial class periods to this process, but if it suits you it can be done a few full periods. We as teachers know when the saturation point has been met and that it's different for every class. It may be that one class is done in three days and another in four. In some you will have to prod with questions, others will run themselves and you will be an observer.

Enjoy yourself. I firmly believe the more in character you are, the more comfortable the students will be with trying it themselves. This assignment puts you on their level as another player in a bigger arena and that will allow for better, more dialogic instruction.