The Tell-Tale Heart Mock Trial

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Assembled here are eight individual resources used with 8th graders to conduct a mock trial based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. For my classes, this was a major-fun!- culminating project in the 2nd trimester. However, I think it could easily be adapted to other purposes, including part of an existing unit on mock trials or a short project within a short story unit.

The key skills addressed with this unit are using evidence from text to build and make an argument, as well as speaking and listening skills. The project puts students in an authentic, real world setting of a criminal trial. The project is “just right” for 8th graders’ interests and skills, but could easily be modified for higher grades. The entire school community is invited to the trial performance.

The intent of this trial is not to render the usual “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict; rather, it centers on whether or not the Narrator can be held criminally responsible for the death of the old man (the insanity defense).

The materials here are not “soup to nuts” but can be integrated within an existing mock trial unit, or used in conjunction with the excellent mock trial materials already available online. (For example, I did not include a handout on closing statements because I didn’t use one. Instead, I talked students through the process.)

If you already have materials on mock trials, you may find the witness statements included here the most useful document. To meet the goals of the project, I created new characters, trying not to stray too far from what COULD be possible within the context of Poe’s original story.

The preview and the resources include a "Dear Teacher" letter which explains a bit more about the trial and how it worked in my classroom. Thanks for your interest!

Sample two-week project calendar (bolded items are documents within this resource):

Days 1-2 Read and discuss “The Tell-Tale Heart”*
Day 3 Read and apply the Model Penal Code test (i.e. insanity defense) * to the behavior of the Narrator; introduce other Witness Statements
Day 4 Draft Opening Statements; divide students into defense, prosecution and jury based on interest
Day 5 Direct and Cross examination – learn about and apply; jury begins research on their projects
Day 6 Introduce Objections
Day 6 Distribute section of DSM-5 on paranoid schizophrenia*; introduce closing statements
Day 7 Student preparation
Day 8 Student preparation
Day 9 Student preparation and Trial Prep Quiz
Day 10 Trial – Trial Program, Jury Graphic Organizer, and Rubric and Sample Comments

to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Total Pages
17 pages
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