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Classroom Transformation: Courtroom Edition - Opinion Writing




We are officially one week away from our state writing test. Nerves are kicking in and some are weary. When motivation seems to be dropping, this is usually an indication that a classroom transformation is in order.  Just walking into a "new room" is enough to get students motivated to work their hardest. This time around, I created a courtroom experience for my students where they were able to apply skills they've learned about text-based opinion writing in order to develop a focused and well supported paragraph.




STEP 1: LOOK THE PART

Setting the stage for a classroom transformation begins with a costume of course. I mean, isn't being able to take on a roll and play a character half of the fun? Today, the Honorable Judge de Cardenas showed up to the courtroom. The two essential items I needed were purchased online through Amazon: a robe (more like ... a graduation gown) and a gavel. I will include an Amazon Affiliate link below that you can click on in case you are interested in checking out the ones I purchased.

Amazon Affiliate link means Amazon will toss a few pennies my way if you purchase something through my link at no extra cost to you. ;)



STEP 2: TRANSFORM THE CLASSROOM

Luckily, not much is needed here. The items used were:

  • black table clothes from the Dollar Tree
  • Florida's District Court of Appeals seal (printed and laminated)
  • a desk name plate printed on yardstick paper

The background of the judge's bench was turned into a black background with the black table clothes, and the kidney-shaped table was covered with them as well. I then taped and stapled the laminated court seal onto the tablecloth in the background and placed the printed desk name plate on the table. Lastly, I added our classroom's American Flag and a gavel to the table, and the stage was set!

JUDGE'S BENCH

Once the main area was set, I organized the students' desks into groups of three to allow for manageable collaborative groups. Then, I placed "Jury Pool" numbers at each group to help me sort students into groups and easily assign prompts and articles.

THREE MEMBERS JURY POOLS

STEP 3: RESOURCES

1. Two copies of four different text sets:

  • School Uniforms
  • Students Participating in Activities to Improve Their School
  • Musical Instruments in School
  • Students Switching Classes in Elementary School 

2. Cards with the "prompt" informing the students what they would be writing about and what side
     they were to take (in support of or against a certain topic).

CASE CARDS AND TEXT SETS

3. Jury Notes Template

    These were filled out as students listened to others' paragraphs in order to track the elements of
    their paragraphs.

JURY NOTES TEMPLATE

STEP 4: PROCEDURES

1.  I set up the Jury Pool Desk Plates at each group of 3. Then, as students walked in, I handed them a
     jury pool card with a number on it. They had to find the matching desk plate and sit in that group.

2.  Each jury pool was given a group of texts, all centered around the same topic. (Pictured above in
     the RESOURCES section)


  • Groups 1 and 2:  school uniforms 
  • Groups 3 and 4:  participating in school improvement activities
  • Groups 5 and 6:  playing a musical instrument at school
  • Groups 7 and 8:  switching classes at school


    They were required to read the text set together and look for pros and cons for the prompt.

3. Once they were done reading the text, I came around and handed them their "Case Card."(Pictured
    above in the RESOURCES section) The case card told them whether they were to write about
    supporting the prompt or take the stand against it.

    Therefore, there was one group who wrote about being in favor of school uniforms, while another
    group wrote about being agains school uniforms.

4. Students then collaborated to plan and write a well developed paragraph together using the
    TRACE method. (You can read more about the TRACE method HERE.)  They were given about
    30-35 minutes to accomplish this task.

5.  Every student then received a Jury Notes template (Pictured above in the RESOURCES section)
     in preparation for the presentations.

6.  Jury Pools were called up one at a time.

     They were asked to state their case for the jurors, and read their paragraphs to the other jurors.

STATING THEIR CASE FOR THE JUDGE AND JURY

7.  The other jurors were responsible for writing the case title in the Jury Notes template next to the
     correct case number. As they listened to the paragraphs, they placed a checkmark in the correct
     boxes when they heard the information read. For example, when the heard:

  •  a transitional word or phrase at the beginning of the paragraph, they placed a checkmark in the "T" box
  • a restatement of the prompt ,they placed a checkmark in the "R" box
  • an answer or reason, they placed a checkmark in the "A" box
  • a citing from the text, they placed a checkmark in the "C" box
  • an elaboration or clarification, they placed a checkmark in the "E" box
      (Reminder: you can read more information about the TRACE method HERE.)
      
      Students also wrote what they loved about the paragraph, as well as any questions or 
      improvements that should be tended to. I then called on two or three jurors to provide feedback 
      before calling the next group. Each group took no more than 3-5 minutes to present and receive 
      feedback from their peers. 

JURY NOTE TEMPLATE FILLED OUT


This classroom transformation took about 15 minutes to prep using the Text-based Writing Opinion Resource found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store (you can find it by clicking HERE), and less than 40 minutes to set up.  

That's it! I hope this post encourages to try a classroom transformation in your ELA class, or any class for that matter. If you need any further clarification on this lesson, please feel free to ask them below, and I will do my best to answer them. 

Remember to click on the "Set the Stage" button for other ideas on how you can transform your classroom and engage your own students.  Happy teaching! 



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