What is the responsibility of a juror? Have your students review concepts of responsibility as well as review what the law says.
Introduce the Concept of Responsibility
Twelve Angry Men examines the connection between civic responsibility and democracy. Most of the jurors featured in the play become more responsible (by varying degrees) during the deliberation process and learn a valuable lesson along the way.
To introduce the concept of social responsibility, post the following quote on the board:
“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility."
-- Sigmund Freud
Ask students to discuss with a partner whether they agree or disagree with the quote and why. Have volunteers share their thoughts with the whole class. Ask students to focus on the part of the quote that reads “freedom involves responsibility" and have them come up with examples of how this applies to their own lives (such as having the freedom to go out with friends on a Friday night involves the responsibility of returning home at the time set by their parents).
Segue into the discussion of the jury system by posting the following on the board: Responsibility can be the difference between life and death.
A Juror’s Responsibility
Assess students’ knowledge of the jury system by asking them what they know. Some may have parents or guardians who have served jury duty; others may have some prior knowledge of the jury system from movies or television shows such as Judge Judy or Law and Order. Chart student responses and then share the following:
- Jurors must come to a trial without preconceived notions as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
- It is also their duty to base their verdict solely upon the evidence, without prejudice or sympathy.
Have students read the following sections on caselaw.com
6th Amendment -- Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions on findlaw.com.
Right to a speedy and public trial
Right to trial by impartial jury
Have students summarize or paraphrase what the 6th Amendment states, especially the section on “trial by impartial jury".
Some Post-Reading Activities
While students are reading the play, have them keep track of each juror’s voting history, quotes that indicate whether the juror is exhibiting responsible or irresponsible behavior, and whether each juror changes over time. The “Juror Tracking Sheet" found below can be used for this purpose.
- Have students write about a particularly biased or prejudiced juror from the defendant’s point of view. This can be in the form of a “diary" entry or a letter to the juror (from the defendant).
- Have students write a paragraph about the juror who changed the most during the trial in terms of his civic/social responsibilities. Students must cite evidence from the text.
- Have students create or fill out a plot structure diagram for the play; have them identify the exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
- Have students identify a possible theme for the play and support their claim with evidence from the text.
Download the Juror Tracking Sheet
Teaching "12 Angry Men"
Reginald Rose explores the ideas of acting responsibly and fairly when considering evidence in a murder case. "12 Angry Men" is suitable for grades 8 and up and is a great introduction to students in reading and understanding drama as well as our legal system.
- 12 Angry Men: Getting Ready to Read Drama
- Important Legal Terms for “Twelve Angry Men"
- 12 Angry Men: A Juror’s Responsibility