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Darwin/Lamarck Court Case

By Don Mills

This six to seven 40 minute period activity allows students to role play while learning theories of evolution.

To start this activity have your students write their names on scrap pieces of paper. Read the list of roles to the class. After reading the roles to the class ask the members of the class interested in being the judge to place their names in a beaker then draw a name and return other names to their owners. Repeat this process for the bailiff, attorneys, and court reporters. The witnesses will be chosen during the research. Anyone not chosen as a witness will become a juror. Divide the class into two groups for research: Darwin's attorneys and half the remaining class, the judge and one court reporter; The remaining students for Lamarck. Allow four class periods for research and preparation. Review how a trial is run in the court system with the class at some point during research. Arrange the room to look similar to a court room on the third day and begin the trial. The trial works better if all parties come dressed for the occasion (an old graduation gown works well for the judge) and if it is video taped.


  • JUDGE : Preside over court, follow judicial rules and maintain order in court.

  • BAILIFF : Call court to order, introduce judge, and swear in witnesses.

  • COURT REPORTERS (2) : Record all proceedings in a notebook.

  • DARWIN and LAMARCK : Tell where they were educated and what they have done in life.
      DARWIN: Explain variation and natural selection. Use information on prickly pears

      and tortoises from the Galapagos. LAMARCK: Explain use and disuse and transmission of acquired characteristics.

    Opening : What you are going to prove and how you will prove it.
    Closing : What verdict should the jury give and why? What evidence supports that verdict.
    Questioning: Ask questions of your side's witnesses.
    * any attorney may cross examine witnesses*

    PROSECUTION: Attempt to prove Lamarck's theory of Use and Disuse and Transmission of Acquired Characteristics to be correct.

    DEFENSE: Attempt to prove Darwin's theory of Variation and Natural Selection to be correct.

    1. Paleontologist - Support Lamarck with fossils, animal studies, etc. of giraffes and/or other animals.
    2. Farmer with three sons ( remember there was not as much mechanization during Darwin or Lamarck's days)
    3. Add others as desired ( seek teacher approval first)

    1. Paleontologist - Support Darwin with fossils, animal
      studies, etc. of giraffes and/or other animals.
    2. August Weisman - utilize his experiments with lab mice.
    3. Add others as desired (seek teacher approval first)

  • JURORS: Rate the performance of all participating and render a verdict on which theory is more plausible.

Research guidelines and other hints
During research, divide your group into the following task groups:
Group 1 : Research your main witnesses background (birth date, education, books written, travels, etc.) and the parts of his theories. Be able to explain the theory and give examples of it. Look for other possible witnesses during your research in encyclopedias and texts (these could be for your main witness or against the other side's main witness.) Write a set of questions that the attorney will ask this witness and the answers that your main witness will respond with.

Group 2 : Research how the paleontologist can provide giraffe evidence that supports your person's theory. Write a set of attorney questions and paleontologist responses.

Group 3 : Research using SIRS and encyclopedias, etc. to find other witnesses. Upon approval of new witnesses, report these witnesses to the other side along with where the witness was first found. Write attorney questions and witness responses that support your main witness OR attempt to discredit the other side's main witness.

Group 4 : Using the list of witnesses from the other side, which the other side has provided your group, look up possible cross examination questions for each witness provided (you should know the responses you expect.) These cross examination questions must be given back to the other side so that the witness can research the answer.

Group 5 : Prepare the opening and closing statements using information gathered by the other groups and your own. Review the facts and theories during you closing statement.

The court reporter on each side must list who will be portraying the attorneys and witnesses for your side.

Trial procedures and hints:
Judge -Make sure all witnesses and attorneys are speaking loudly enough.

Attorneys - other cross examination questions may be created during the direct of each witness. Have paper available to take notes on.

Court Reporters - A tape recorder may be used to help you with the trial notes.

Witnesses - you should have notes with you at the stand. They will be helpful with new cross examination questions.

Bailiff - Use the swear in: Raise your right hand, Place your left hand on the Biology book. Do you solemnly swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help your grade.

Allowable objections - Badgering the witness and relevance.

Each side's attorneys and the main witnesses should sit together during the trial.

Juror Evaluation Form
Rate each person as follows:
    Ability to convey information clearly so that it is understandable (worst ) 1 2 3 4 (best)
    Performance (worst) 1 2 3 4 (best)

 Ability Performance
Judge    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Bailiff    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Darwin    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Lamarck    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Opening attorneys
 Attorney for prosecution    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Attorney for defense    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Closing attorneys
 Attorney for prosecution    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Attorney for defense    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Questioning attorneys
 Attorney for prosecution    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Attorney for defense    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Farmer    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Weisman    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Paleontologist , prosecution    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Paleontologist for defense    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Court reporter 1    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
 Court reporter 2    1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
Other Witnesses
      1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
      1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
      1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
      1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
      1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   
      1    2    3    4       1    2    3    4   

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