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Justice by the People

Jury System Lesson Plans

Lesson 6: Making Decisions by Group: The Jury System



Students will learn about the nation’s jury system and its importance to the rule of law in the United States. Students will experience the Sixth and Seventh Amendments at work as they engage in the main lesson activities, including one in which they will serve as jurors.

In the main activities and lesson extensions, students will explore both individual and group decision making as they learn about reaching a unanimous decision within a group. They will learn how the court system works and analyze the concepts of fairness, impartiality, and bias as they relate to a jury of peers. Students also will use and present evidence to determine an outcome. With gained understanding of individual and group perspectives, students will write an essay in which they compare the decision-making process individually and by group.

Essential Question:
Write the question below on the board. Explain that the lesson activities are geared to help students explore and then respond to this question later during the Lesson Wrap-up.

How does group decision making in a jury trial reflect our democratic ideals and our Constitution?
Skills Supporting Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies:
  • Identify key ideas and inferences along with text support
  • Determine the central idea
  • Provide a summary
  • Determine the meaning of words
  • Trace and evaluate arguments 
  • Analyze multiple perspectives
  • Organize reasons and evidence in written arguments
  • Write conclusions to support arguments
  • Write to inform or explain
  • Participate in group discussions
  • Follow rules for discussions, set goals and deadlines, and define role
  • Review ideas from more than one perspective
  • Distinguish claims through reason and evidence
  • Adapt speech to fit the context of a task
Lesson Duration:
40–45 minutes for the main activities; 10 minutes for Lesson Extension 1; 10 minutes for Lesson Extension 2



Activity Directions (Part 1):
• Remind students that the right to trial by jury stems from both the Sixth and Seventh Amendments of the Constitution. Explain that a trial by jury is the process when dealing with a criminal procedure in the court system. This right to trial by jury is referenced in the Sixth Amendment as the right to an impartial jury.

• Hand out a piece of paper to the students. Also provide students with a print or online version of the Sixth and Seventh Amendments (see Materials for document links). Tell students that during this class, they will participate in an activity that will have them act as members of a jury panel. To prepare them for their service, ask students to read these amendments and then to summarize and paraphrase what the Sixth and Seventh Amendments set forth, plus write a sentence about their importance.

• On the board, draw a diagram and show the label “jury of peers” within a circle at the center. Draw three circles around the center circle. Label each of these circles either “fairness,” “impartiality,” or “unbiased.” Show lines that connect these circles to the center circle. Ask students what each term means within the setting of a court and trial. As needed, clarify the meanings of these terms as they are used in court.

Jury of their peers in court means “equals” or a broad spectrum that represents the population.

Impartiality in court means “with no prejudice” or “free of bias.”

Unbiased in court refers to “absence of bias.”

Tell students that along with the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, the terms in this diagram will be helpful to them when they make a jury decision in a little while.

Lesson Extension Alert: To discuss in further detail the requirements of a jury, see Lesson Extension 1.

• To complete students’ understanding of how a trial unfolds, explain that all sides are permitted to question potential jurors in order to determine if bias may be a concern. In the event that sides have found problems that may compromise impartiality, the court will have the final say concerning the acceptance or removal of any potential juror. (Lesson 9 will focus on juror selection.)

• Also point out that juries are expected to set forth their joint decision on the case’s outcome, and that this decision process must follow the examination of facts and evidence presented. Open a brief discussion by asking the following question:

How do the ideas of bias and impartiality, as shown in the diagram on the board, connect to this process?

• Conclude by telling students the decision of the jurors can mean the difference between punishment (including imprisonment) or exoneration. To clarify these terms, ask students to define prosecution and exoneration. If online access is available in your classroom, ask volunteers to find the definition for these words and check student responses.

Activity Directions (Part 2):
• Now that the class understands how jurors reach a verdict, they will hand down a verdict of guilt or innocence based on the evidence presented in the Deciding by Group: You Are the Jury Reproducible.   

• Distribute the Deciding by Group: You Are the Jury Reproducible. Have students read “Part 1: The Case.” Then, have them answer the questions in “Part 2: Juror Notes” without discussing the case with anyone else.

• When each student has completed Parts 1 and 2, divide the class into groups (to reflect the size of most juries, attempt to place 12 students per group). Have members of each group work together to reach a unanimous verdict based on the evidence offered and through discussion among group members. Encourage each group to debate the evidence presented and write down its understanding and analysis of the evidence, which may be useful references in their discussions. Remind groups to refer to the diagram on the board, which shows concepts related to a jury’s responsibilities.

After each group has come to a unanimous decision, have students complete “Part 3: Official Juror Form” by answering the questions related to reasonable doubt.

• Reconvene and ask a spokesperson from each group to present its verdict. If jury groups come to different decisions, encourage them to politely debate their differences by using the concepts of fairness, impartiality, and bias, along with the text of the Sixth and Seventh Amendments as support.  

Lesson Extension Alert: To further discuss the verdicts and students’ jury experience, see Lesson Extension 2.

Wrap-up With the Essential Question:
Return to the Essential Question that was written on the board at the beginning of the lesson.

How does group decision making in a trial reflect our democratic ideals and our Constitution?
Open a discussion in which students respond to this question, based on their class experience. Encourage students to support their responses with text and details from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

For homework, have students write an essay of a few paragraphs in which they compare the experience of working individually and in a group when making a decision. Either write on the board for students to copy or have students take notes on the questions below that you should read and review in class. The response to these questions should be included in each student’s essay:
  • What challenges did you face while working individually? In a group?
  • What were the advantages and disadvantages of working individually? In a group?
  • Did your group go back to the text of the case more than once?
  • How was this helpful? Did it create more discussion each time?
  • Did the members of your group remind themselves of their responsibilities under the Sixth and Seventh Amendments? Was this necessary, or did all the jurors keep this in mind during their decision-making process?

Lesson Extensions:
(1) In relation to a jury of their peers, explain that for courts this means that the available jurors must include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin, and gender. Jury selection must not include any process that excludes those of a particular race or intentionally narrows the spectrum of possible jurors. Open a brief discussion by asking the following question:

How does a jury of peers affect the decision making and verdict of a trial, especially in terms of fairness, impartiality, and bias?

(2) After jury groups have reported their votes on the case against Robert Smythe, open a discussion about the decision-making process by asking the following questions:

How did you feel about making a decision about someone’s guilt or innocence?   

How did bias and impartiality operate within the decision-making process when you decided as an individual and then when the jury made its group decision?   

If you were the subject of a case that went to trial, would you prefer to have the case decided by a single person or a group of people on a jury? Why?
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