Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jack and the Beanstalk Trial - a roleplay for teens and adults

A few years ago I was teaching a group of upper-intermediate/advanced teenagers and the topic of the week was crime. It was in a UK summer school and we had done all the usual vocabulary activities and language work, and I wanted to do something different that would get them speaking. They were a lively group and I knew that some kind of drama activity would go down well with the majority. Mentioning this to a colleague who was teaching a similar class, she introduced me to something she had found surfing the web called The Jack and the Beanstalk Mock Trial. Now, this is actually a real mock trial, I assume designed for Law students, but it can be easily adapted to suit an EFL class. It is available in its entirety here.

Your teenage students will probably not have had any experience of a trial, but they should have seen plenty of Hollywood films that they can base the activity on. If not, you can always show them a few scenes of a trial from a film or TV show, so they get an idea of what happens.

The first thing I do before introducing the roleplay idea is to do some vocabulary work related to the courtroom: judge, jury, defense, prosecution, witness, sentence, be charged with etc. 

Then, I ask them to tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They can do this in pairs or small groups before giving feedback to the whole class, just to make sure that they all know the story. Then tell them that Jack is in trouble. He has been charged with two crimes: the first being the MURDER of the giant and the second being BREAKING AND ENTERING the giant's house and subsequent THEFT of  a goose and her golden egg.

Now give out a copy of the Charge Sheet to all the students, which they should read. Say that the class is going to act out Jack's trial.  Tell the class that you are going to split them into two small groups representing the Prosecution and the Defense, a Judge and Jury (depending on the number of students), and four Witnesses. You will need a minimum of eight students to do this activity (1 Prosecutor, 1 Defense Lawyer, 1 Judge, Jack, 4 Witnesses). If there are several students forming the defense and prosecution, they can either choose a spokesperson to speak during the trial, or take turns to speak. It is a good idea for these students to be the stronger and more outgoing ones as they will have to try and persuade the judge that they are right.

If the group has a very high level of English you can give them the Legislation and Legal notes but if not you could quickly explain and discuss what actually constitutes the crimes Jack has been accused of.

Now give out the roles and the following materials:

The Prosecution needs Martha's Statement and Detective Morse's Statement
The Defense needs Jack's Statement and Nora Jones (Jack's mother) 's Statement

Each group needs to read the statements they have been given and prepare their case. The witnesses (and Jack) should prepare their own statements, trying to remember as much of the information as possible in order to answer questions in their own words. They should try to think of any questions that they may be asked and make up the answers.

The judge is the most problematic at this stage because he/she doesn't really have anything to prepare but you can either ask the judge to help the Prosecution, or you could be the judge yourself, especially if you have a shortage of students. The judge is an important character, however, since he/she will have to instruct the Prosecution, Defense and witnesses to speak.

During this preparation period, you should go round monitoring and helping with any problems (language or ideas) students may have.

The trial itself is probably best held another day, as otherwise it will be rushed. This also gives students time to look over and learn some of the information they will be required to present, making a more organised and fluent trial. When you are ready to begin the trial, make sure everyone is comfortable and clear about what they should say and when, although it doesn't really matter if things go a bit astray, you can always put them back on track yourself if necessary. (If they are not camera shy, you could even record the trial and show it to them another day. Taking photos is another option. They could later make a poster as a kind of photo story, detailing what happened during the trial.)

Then, let them get on with it, only interrupting if absolutely necessary. If you have a very shy student that doesn't want to take part, you can give him/her the role of taking the minutes, which means that he/she has to listen carefully and can later type up what was said (or give to you to type up!).

At the end of the trial, the judge and jury must decide whether Jack is innocent or guilty and what punishment he should have, if any. The judge should base this on what he/she had heard during the trial and which side has been more persuasive, with the better arguments. There are some worksheets for the judge and jury to complete during the trial on pages 9-11 here (pdf).

You can then make a big drama out of sending Jack to jail if he is found guilty, which they all love!

I have only used this activity once and I had completely forgotten about until yesterday, when I was thinking about what kind of "crime" materials I had for my FCE teenage group tomorrow. So I am going to try it out with them. I think they will enjoy it because they are a lively noisy bunch and are quite fed up of doing FCE-type tasks. I will report how it went down on Thursday. Wish me luck!
Licencia de Creative Commons
So This Is English Blog by Michelle Worgan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at