The Scottsboro Trial

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SWBAT to view the first half of a PBS documentary on the Scottsboro Trial and address a series of comprehension questions while viewing.

Big Idea

The American tragedy that inspired Harper Lee.

Vocabulary 17 Quiz

20 minutes


Class begins today with a vocabulary quiz, testing words that were reviewed in this lesson, all of which were gathered from chapters 14-19 of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Scottsboro Trial Documentary

40 minutes


After the quiz, I explain to my students that today I am going to introduce them to the real-life case that inspired the Tom Robinson case in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I remind my students that thus far, we have explored a real hero of civil rights in this lesson, and that today we will learn about a tragic example of the type of injustice of which too many during that time were victims. 

Before we begin, I distribute a set of viewing questions to each student, which they will staple onto the left side of the next blank page in their classroom spiral notebooks, allowing them to answer the questions on the exposed lines on the right.  We briefly review the questions together, so that my students know what to listen for. 

The entire documentary* is 90 minutes, and so I have scheduled both today and tomorrow for viewing it in its entirety.  I have developed questions for my students to address for each 45 minute installment.

*Sadly, the film is no longer available on youtube, due to a copyright claim.  The DVD can be purchased on Amazon for under $12.00 (Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, PBS).

Question Review

10 minutes


The final few minutes of class are reserved to review the questions as a whole group and to address any additional questions my students may have about what they have viewed thus far.

I anticipate that some of my students may wonder about the legal process of the 1930s, particularly how it was applied in the American south, and that questions about the philosophy of Communism may also arise.  Thus, for any teacher considering the use of this documentary with his/her students, my advice is to brush up a bit on these two topics, so as to be prepared for what students may ask.