The Red Pony - Placing Characters on Trial

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Discipline

Language Arts, History, Civics, Performing Arts

Grade Level

6-12

Type of Activity

Small Group, Cumulative, Entire Class, Research, Oral Presentation

Objectives

  • Students will gain a greater understanding of the moral implications of the characters’ actions.
  • Students will judge the characters’ actions citing evidence from the novel itself.
  • Students will learn the basics of the jury trial system taking on roles as lawyers, defendants, plaintiffs, jury members, and judges.

Overview

This activity works well for The Red Pony because there are several “alleged” crimes committed during the course of the novel. The classroom will be converted into a courtroom (as elaborate or simple as time permits). Students will begin to understand the legal system and its implications. Even though this is a fun activity, the trial should not be played out as a comical activity. For young or large classes, teachers may wish to use this lesson as a brief introduction to the activity and elaborate, as needed, depending on the maturity level of the class.

Students (with various roles) will be divided into groups according to the “crimes” they will be trying in court.

If the class is especially large, perhaps some of the students (those not as mature) should be relegated to “jury duty” only, listening to and evaluating arguments. Teachers should not minimize this role but emphasize the importance of jury duty.

Materials Needed/Preparation 

  • The Red Pony copies
  • Familiarity with basic courtroom proceedings. Teachers should review this website (via LCD projector, computer lab, or hard copies) with the students so that they will have a rudimentary understanding of legal proceedings.

Estimated Time 

This will vary greatly depending on the class, its level, and size. Generally:

  • One class period for an introduction to the legal system and the roles involved.
  • Students will need to meet in their small groups to prepare their cases—at least one class period.
  • Two class periods for the various trials from each group.

Procedures 

The students will break into groups based on the “crime” being tried in court. Groups should divide their duties and, in writing, prepare for their cases. Cases could include:

  • Billy Buck is sued by the Tiflin family for negligence involving the death of Gabilan
  • Jody is sued by the state for animal cruelty (killing/harming birds, hurting his dogs, killing a buzzard)
  • Billy Buck is sued by the Tiflin family for false promises
  • Gitano is sued by the Tiflin family for trespassing on private property
  • Gitano is sued by the Tiflin family for the theft of Easter, the family horse
  • Billy Buck is sued by the Tiflin family for negligence involving the death of Nellie
  • Grandfather is sued by the Tiflin family for boring them with his stories (NOTE: This is best for mature classes as there is a subtle humorous element.)

The judge for each trial can either be the teacher or a responsible student.

Each trial group will be comprised of:

  • Prosecuting attorney
  • Defense attorney
  • Plaintiff
  • Defendant
  • Witnesses

The jury for each trial will be the rest of the classroom audience.

  • All trial groups should use the novel as their source for all claims and accusations. Quoting from the novel is encouraged. Basically, the trial should proceed as follows:
    • The prosecution and defense lawyers will make their opening statements—in essence, what they hope to prove during the trial.
    • The prosecuting lawyer will call the accused to the stand and question him or her.
    • The defense lawyer will then cross examine and question the accused.
    • Each lawyer will then call witnesses to the stand. In turn, each lawyer can cross examine and question the other lawyer’s witnesses.
    • After questioning, both lawyers will give closing arguments to the jury. This closing should, in essence, be a persuasive speech to convince the jury of his/her arguments to convict or acquit the defendant.
    • The jury (student audience) will deliberate and present their verdict to the judge and the court.
    • The judge will then free the defendant (if acquitted) or sentence the defendant (if found guilty).

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up 

  • Post Activity
    • Students can write their brief reactions to each trial and share with the class.
    • Students can also hold a post-interview “press conference” and ask questions of the lawyers.
  • Takeaways
    • This activity helps create a stronger connection to the events in the novel while introducing students to the process of a trial by jury.
    • This activity reinforces students’ abilities in critical thinking and argumentative writing/speaking.
  • Follow-up
    • Teachers can have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.
    • Teachers can have students bring to class “current events” about recent/current trials.

 Assessment 

  • During trial preparation, teachers should ensure that students are on task, taking the project seriously, and are cooperating with each other.
  • After the trials, teachers can grade students based on preparation, execution, persuasiveness of arguments, evidence, and level of seriousness.

California State Content Standards Met

  • Performing Arts: Theatre Content Standards 6-12
    • Artistic Perception: 1
    • Creative Expression: 2
    • Historical and Cultural Context: 3
    • Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7, 8
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2, 3
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8, 9
    • Range of Writing: 10
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
    • Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2
    • Presentation and Knowledge of Ideas: 4
  • Language Standards 6-12
    • Conventions of Standard English: 1, 2, 3
    • Knowledge of Language: 3
    • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4, 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
    • Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
    • Craft and Structure: 4, 5
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8
    • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12
    • Text Types and Purposes: 1, 2
    • Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
    • Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8, 9
    • Range of Writing: 10