Posted by: ketheredge | July 13, 2011

The Count of Monte Cristo Mock Trial

Four years ago I began teaching 10th grade World Literature.  When I received the book list for the course, I saw The Count of Monte Cristo.  My first thought was, “This sure is a long book (even abridged) to read during the school year.”  The abridged version on the list was 531 pages.  I did a quick calculation and to teach the book in the “traditional” way and to move through the book in the “normal” two week time frame, I would have to assign roughly 40 pages a night.  I knew that was not going to happen.  Assigning 40 pages a night would ensure that no one read the entire book.  Okay, well, almost no one.  Therefore, I immediately decided on a pace that I felt would ensure students read the book and landed at a four week unit.  My next question, of course, was “4 weeks!?  We aren’t reading Crime and Punishment here; it’s The Count of Monte Cristo.  How much can I talk about the themes of revenge, justice, God’s retribution, and love & alienation for four weeks!?  And you can only emphasize the romantic style of Dumas so many times before the kids are going to puke.”  I was stumped, but I knew that, for me, the best option was to teach the novel the first year and then figure out how I could improve the lesson for the future.

I admit; the first year I taught the novel, we had a lot of discussions about plot summary.  However, during our discussions, I noticed students who had never talked before were answering questions.  Students who earned B’s on tests, scored A’s.  The kids loved the book; there was no denying that.  I, however, did not love the way I taught it.  I, therefore, devoted myself to finding a better way to teach the novel.

Flash forward one year.  I was sitting in a legal seminar earning my Continuing Legal Education hours for the year and staring at my Count of Monte Cristo unit notes.  I started reading the summaries I had created from the previous year, and I heard the presenter say “intervening cause.”  At that moment it hit me.  Edmond Dantès seeks revenge on his enemies.  He sets events in motion that cause deaths, kidnappings, insanity, and financial ruin.  He claims that his enemies are destroyed because of God’s retribution for their sins; he is just an agent of God.  However, would he be legally liable, or would intervening causes allow him to escape liability for all of the destruction he caused?  Eureka!  I had an intriguing problem to solve!  I had an intriguing question for my students, and at that moment, the beginning of The Count of Monte Cristo Mock Trial Project was born. 

Now, students read the novel first. I have them read the first 15 chapters of the abridged version before I give the students a role for the trial. After everyone has read the first 15 chapters, I assign each student a role – either lawyer or witness. (Before I assigned roles, I explained the duties of both witnesses and attorneys and then asked the students to tell me their preference of whether they would want to be a witness or an attorney in the trial. I honor those requests in my assignments. Sometimes I have too many students who request to be lawyers. When that happens I pick the defendant, the Count of Monte Cristo, from the students who have requested to be an attorney.) When the students receive their role, they are given the following directions:

Witnesses, to be well-prepared for your role in the trial, you will have to read and keep track of the important information related to your character. The Character Chart and Cause/Effect Chart on OneNote should help you keep track of your character and why he/she acts the way she does. As you read and analyze your character, you should evaluate whether your character would be more helpful for the prosecution or defense. We will discuss this concept often during our discussion of the novel.

Lawyers, to be well-prepared for your role in the trial, you will have to read and keep track of the important information related to the Count of Monte Cristo and the characters he meets. The Cause/Effect Chart on OneNote should help you keep track of different actions by the Count of Monte Cristo and the effect of those actions. As you read and analyze the different characters, you should determine which characters would be more helpful for the prosecution or defense. We will discuss this concept often during our discussion of the novel.

Therefore, as students read, they are reading with a purpose – either to become an expert on a specific character, or to prepare to defend or prosecute Dantès. Everyone is reading to develop the connections between Dantès’ actions and the destruction of his enemies. They are also reading with an eye toward answering the question – Is Edmond Dantès wholly responsible for the deaths, kidnappings, and loss of wealth, or did other intervening actions cause these events. (Dantès claims God sets all of the actions in motion and, therefore, he is not to blame; with every reading, the students are evaluating if Dantès is correct in his claims.) Students must monitor their own progress throughout the unit. At designated intervals, however, we, as a class, discuss the novel and analyze the latest facts in the case. We discuss at the following intervals: Chapters 1-15; Chapters 16-21; Chapters 22-40; Chapters 41-50; Chapters 51-62; Chapters 63-73

At every interval, students take a short reading quiz to assess whether they are keeping up with the reading. As a method of differentiated instruction, I also permit students to either (1) summarize the chapters from their character’s perspective, or (2) complete a cause and effect chart for the events that occurred in the assigned chapters. Although everyone takes the quiz, if a student demonstrates through his/her summary or cause and effect chart a deeper understanding of the assigned chapters than his/her quiz grade reflects, I replace the quiz grade with the proper grade reflected in his/her summary and/or chart. In this way, students are encouraged to keep track of their character throughout the reading rather than trying to remember everything at the end of the novel. When the students have read all of the chapters, they begin their formal analysis of the case and what role they will play in the trial. Witnesses are instructed to write a letter to the attorneys discussing (all that apply):

· How you know the Count of Monte Cristo

· What your thoughts of the Count of Monte Cristo are

· How the Count of Monte Cristo impacted your life

· How the Count of Monte Cristo used you and how you used him

· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the deaths of Caderousse, Marquis and Marquise Saint Méran, Barrois, Madame Villefort, and Edouard Villefort

· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the kidnappings of Albert de Morcerf and Baron Danglars

· What knowledge you have of the Count of Monte Cristo’s role in the bankruptcy of Danglars

· Whether your testimony will help or hurt the Count of Monte Cristo’s case

Witnesses are encouraged to “play the part” and to write from the character’s perspective. The witness letter, for many, is opportunity to use creativity in their writing. (Witness letters are posted on the shared OneNote notebook for everyone to view. Once posted, I review the letters and provide feedback within OneNote that the students can access at any time.) Lawyers are provided with an analysis chart and asked to complete the document, analyzing the role each witness will play in the trial. This document is a scaffolding technique that helps guide the attorneys in their thinking and leads them to begin strategizing for the best prosecution or defense. (The attorneys’ analyses are posted on the shared OneNote notebook under the password protected folder for either the prosecution or defense so their fellow lawyers can see their work. Once posted, I review the analyses of each attorney and provide feedback within OneNote that the lawyers can access at any time.)

Once we are finished reading the novel, I spend a day discussing the controlling law with the students. We use the Alabama Criminal Code as our controlling law, and we go through every statute that applies to the case and discuss the significance of the law.

Following the discussion of law, students break into prosecution and defense teams. (At this point, I create a witness list and put some of the witnesses on the prosecution team and some of the witnesses on the defense team.) In these teams, the students work together to determine how each witness either helps or hurts their team’s case. Attorneys work with witnesses, reviewing their letters and determining the importance of each witness.

Once the teams have begun to map out their theory of the case and how each witness will impact the trial, I spend some time instructing the students on how to draft questions for direct examination and cross examination. Students then draft questions that they believe the prosecution and the defense should ask them. (Questions are posted to the shared OneNote notebook so that everyone can see them. Once posted, I review and post comments to the questions within OneNote that the students and lawyers can access at any time.)

After the students have a working draft of their questions, I spend some more time discussing courtroom decorum and the rules of evidence for a trial. I help them understand how to object, what to object to, how to admit evidence, etc.

With all of the necessary information, students are given two more days to finalize their trial preparations and revise their line of questioning, etc. We then conduct the trial. Depending on the class size (i.e., how many witnesses we have) and the depth of the questioning, the detail of their objections, the length of jury deliberations, etc., the trial generally takes 4 ½ class days. (50 minutes per class) The jury is composed of teachers who volunteer and/or former students of mine who volunteer.

During the trial, witnesses who are not testifying, are attentively listening to the trial and taking notes based upon the other witnesses’ testimony. I provide them with a chart to keep track of each witnesses’ testimony and what facts presented by the witness prove that God controlled the downfall of Dantès’ enemies and what facts presented prove that Dantès is the sole cause of the deaths, kidnappings, and loss of wealth. This chart guides the students in their collection of evidence and helps them prepare for their out-of-class essay.

When the trial is over, students write an out-of-class essay answering the prompt: Were the punishments of Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand Mondego really God’s retribution or wholly the cause of Edmond Dantès?

(Note: The prompt is inspired by the novel. Dantès claims that his enemies are destroyed because God chooses to punish them for their evil; he believes he is only an agent of God rather than the cause of their downfall. In short, his belief is his main defense in the trial.)

If you are interested, you can find student directions, rubrics, portions of the OneNote notebook we share and some student samples at the following SkyDrive folder here.

What do you think? Would you conduct a mock trial in your class?

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Responses

  1. […] has written the following guest post. For a full description of the project, see her blog. They are either reading the novel from the eye of a specific witness and discovering how Edmond […]

  2. Very cool idea. Thanks. I have been teaching this book for awhile trying to find a way to tie together character tracking with a meaningful project. I appreciate you sharing!

    • Awesome! I’m so glad you found it beneficial. Feel free to reach out if you need additional resources to implement the project. 🙂

  3. Such a great idea! I am teaching this novel with my 8th grade Honors students and I was looking for a way to approach it with a more critical-thinking approach. I am looking at all of your documents on the SkyDrive, but I was wondering if you have an example of the cause/effect sheet you have students fill out to keep track of evidence- I was not able to locate that one. Thanks so much for sharing your plans, this is a huge help!

    • Hi Sara. I’m so glad you like the project. I’m probably have a sample somewhere. As soon as I get to my computer I will look for a sample & get back to you.

    • Hi Sara. I am SO sorry that it has taken me a week to get you the info you requested. It was a hectic week. 🙂 Anyway, on skydrive, I have uploaded student samples of the cause effect charts for characters in the student sample folder, and I uploaded a blank cause and effect chart that I show students at the beginning of the unit in the scaffolding devices folder. I created the cause effect chart in OneNote so I saved it as a PDF; however, in the OneNote notebook on skydrive, youc an find a blank copy of the OneNote page under the Notes section of the notebook. There are also some samples of cause effect charts in teh Notes section. Essentially, you will see that while I showed the kids one form for creating the cause effect chart, they ran with it and created visuals in many different ways. I hope this helps! Let me know if you need anything else.

  4. Thank you so much! This is such a great project idea and I am so excited to try it with my honors students (as are they!)

    • Happy to help and so glad you like the project! Feel free to reach out if you need further help, and I am sure you and your students will learn as much and have as much fun was we do every year with this project. Best of luck!

  5. Thanks for sharing this amazing lesson. I started a mock trial last year, and it was not a total success — too many loose ends. Your model makes sense and is well-organized.

    • Thanks Corinne! I’m glad you like it. If you ever need help with your mock trial I’m happy to share more strategies, just let me know! 🙂

  6. I have been teaching this novel for several years. My students all seem to love the novel. Like you said, previous non-responders and non-readers join in and love to share their point of view. I would also like a copy of your handouts if possible. We finish up chapter 16 tomorrow. It’s perfect timing. Thanks.

    • Hi Carrie, you should be able to find copies of all the handouts, etc. in the skydrive folder. The link is near the end of the blog post. Let me know if you have trouble finding it & I’ll repost the link.

      We are reading thr Count now as well. We are discussing chapters 22-40 today. 🙂

  7. Hey Kelli,

    I love this idea and am actually doing it right now with my 10th grade World Lit Class! We’re nearing the end of the book and I’m trying to get all of the trial preparation finished and I was wondering if you had the chart that you said you give to witnesses to analyze the other witnesses during the trial, or if there are any other handouts that aren’t included on sky drive that you give to your students to help them during the trial. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!

    • Hi Caitlin,

      How exciting! I am happy to share anything I have. I just added to the SkyDrive account two more documents – EssayPrepA (for students to take notes during the trial) and TrialNotes (for the teacher to take notes during the trial – my jurors like this document as well). Both documents are in the scaffolding devices folder. If there is something else you need and don’t see it on SkyDrive please let me know and I’ll add it. Thanks!

      • Thank you so much. Those are very helpful!

      • You are most welcome! Please let me know if you need anything else.

  8. […] 9th graders are going to be reading The Count of Monte Cristo, and I found a great teaching resource to set it up as a mock trial. The kids seemed SUPER hyped, and when I @mentioned the teacher on […]

  9. […] (I promise more on how I share my notebook later, but if you are immediately intrigued, you can read about my first venture of collaborating in OneNote, or, better yet, watch the video about the […]

  10. […] Count of Monte Cristo. I’m planning on eventually turning it into a mock trial, per this amazing lesson plan, but if you’ve read the book, you know: it starts out slow. There’s a lot to get […]

  11. This is an extraordinary plan. Have you ever considered applying the concept to a different novel?

    • Thanks, Amy. The only novel in our course of study that supported this type of experience was The Count of Monte Cristo. I do think, however, that the lesson could be applied to many different novels. 🙂

  12. I just came across this—I can’t decide if I want to teach it for the time it takes–so, I see how you broke up the readings. How long do students have to read each section/reading assignment? And do you assign it all as homework? (I absolutely love this idea, by the way. Thank you!)

    • Hi Kasey, Thanks for the comment. I am glad you like the idea. I understand your concern about the time it takes, but I found that the time was well worth it. The kids learned so much more than a basic novel study provides, and the real world application gave them so many skills for their future classes and college courses. I worried about the time at first too, but after seeing all the benefits I never regretted it. Students had generally two to three days for most of the reading assignments. I gave them some time in class to read and they read for homework as well. I hope this helps!


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