Lesson 19 of 23
Duration:
Two 50-minute class periods

Putting the Characters on Trial

From the Unit:

Essential Questions

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

Guiding Questions

  • In what ways do the characters exhibit the range and complexity of human behaviour when making decisions about how to treat others: perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander?
  • Who is most responsible for the death of Eva Smith?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will explore the role that each character played in the death of Eva Smith.
  • Students will be given a specific stance to take on who is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith and will present their views to the class in the form of a court case.
  • Students will discuss the potential impact of trials and of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Overview

In the previous lesson, students were encouraged to consider the social systems that can impact the extent of the power we possess, the way we treat others, and how others treat us. They were then introduced to the complexity of human behaviour and the roles of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander. Students explored how these roles were relevant to the characters in the play, whilst considering their fluid nature – people can move between these roles and embody multiple ones at the same time.

In this lesson, students will participate in a mock court case, in which they will put each of the Birlings and Gerald on trial for their role in the death of Eva Smith. The aim of the trial will be to decide which character in the play is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith. Putting the characters through a mock trial not only enables students to re-examine the text in depth and develop their argument-building skills, it also introduces them to the notion of justice. Students can reflect upon the power of justice, and how justice is a means of giving victims a voice and an attempt at healing wounds, though scars may well remain. Trials not only challenge wrongs and hold people accountable, they also are a means of giving a voice to the voiceless. 

Again, students here will discuss the roles of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander, and think about how they apply to the characters’ decisions and actions over the course of the play. They will also consider the impact of taking responsibility for one’s actions, and how failing to do so often perpetuates the harm caused by an unjust action. It is important for students to understand the importance of taking responsibility as this can guide their behaviour and interactions with others. They are more likely to engage in the challenging, but restorative, process of owning up to and apologising for mistakes if they understand the power of engaging in such a process. Such understanding can make them active, responsible citizens who build healthy relationships based on empathy and responsibility. 

In the first part of the lesson, students will discuss justice and how justice might be served in the world of the play. They will then finish reading the play before going on to prepare a case for a court trial that seeks to decide which character in the play is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith. In groups of three, they will be given a position (i.e. prosecution or defence) and character (Mr Birling, Mrs Birling, Sheila, Gerald, or Eric) to prosecute or defend.

In the second part of the lesson, students will have the chance to either participate in the classroom court trial, or watch the court trial and take notes. Each prosecution and defence group for each character will elect a representative who will outline their case to the class. After hearing all of the cases and engaging in a quick discussion, students will vote on who they feel is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith.

The activities in this lesson refer to pages 65–72 (the end of the play) of the Heinemann edition of An Inspector Calls.

Alignment with the GCSE Specification

  • Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
  • Critical Thinking (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Knowledge of Content (Lit-AO1/AO3)
  • Spoken Language Skills (Lang-AO8, Lang-AO9)

Students critically read the final section of the play, reviewing the characters’ behaviour, reflecting on the ending and evaluating the different characters’ involvement in the death of Eva Smith. Students then scour the play for evidence in preparation for the trial, cementing their knowledge of the play’s plot and content, and employing evidence-based reasoning to find ways to either defend or prosecute a character. The court trial itself develops spoken language skills and encourages students to engage critically with the information presented when they vote on who they feel is most responsible for the death of Eva Smith. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.

Learn more about this unit’s Alignment with GCSE Specification

Notes to Teacher

  1. Classroom-ready PowerPoint Slides

    Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

Putting the Characters on Trial

PowerPoint
Putting the Characters on Trial

This PowerPoint for Lesson 19 of the Teaching Inspector Calls unit comes complete with student-facing slides and teaching notes, and is ready to use in the classroom.

Materials

Activities

Part I

  1. Reflect on Justice
    • Explain to students that after they have finished reading the play they will be participating in a mock court case, in which each of the Birlings and Gerald is put on trial for their role in the death of Eva Smith. 
    • First, ask them to journal on the following prompts concerning justice: 
      • Write about a time when someone wronged you or someone you care about. It might be a situation in which you or someone you love was treated unfairly, or it might be an accident that resulted in a loss or injury. 
      • After this event, what would have needed to happen for ‘justice to be served’?
    • Before having students apply the Think, Pair, Share strategy with a partner, acknowledge that it can be hard to share our ideas with others, and then model risk-taking by sharing something from your journal reflection with the class. Then, lead a short class discussion in which students share their ideas about what it means for them for ‘justice to be served’. Consider writing their ideas on the board to refer to later in the lesson.
  2. Read the Play
    • Let students know that they will be finishing the play in this lesson. Assign five students different reading parts and their relevant props. You will need students to fill the following roles: Eric, Sheila, Mr Birling, Mrs Birling, and Gerald. 
    • Pass out the props and read the section from Eric, ‘According to you, I ought to feel a lot better—’ (top of p. 65) to the end of the play (p. 72), and ask students to focus on whether or not any characters take responsibility for their actions and what this tells us about the lessons being learnt, annotating or taking brief notes as they read.
    • After finishing the play, give students the opportunity to discuss the following questions in pairs: 
      • Did the play end how you expected it to or were you surprised by the ending?
      • What do you think of the different characters at the end? Is this different from how you felt about them previously? If your views changed, what factors accounted for this shift?
      • What do you think about the character props? Would you change any of them in Act Three? If so, which and why?
      • Who do you think is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith?
      • Who do you think is the guiltiest character in the play?
  3. Prepare for Court
    • Tell students that in the next class they will be conducting a court trial to decide which character is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith. They will spend the remainder of this lesson preparing their arguments.
    • To prepare for the court trial, divide students into ten pairs or small groups, depending on your class size. Each of the characters involved in the death of Eva Smith (Gerald, Sheila, Mrs Birling, Mr Birling, Eric) will have two groups representing them: one will be a prosecution team, and the other, a defence team. 
    • Assign each group a character and a side and give them fifteen minutes to find evidence in the text to support their case: they are either fighting to prove why their character is the most responsible or why their character is the least responsible for the death of Eva Smith. Students should write their evidence and corresponding page numbers in their books. They will need this information for the trial in the next part of the lesson. 
    • They will need to use quotations and evidence from the text to support their case, and, in the case of the defence, they may wish to outline why another character bears greater responsibility. They should also think about how they can undermine evidence that the team they are arguing against might use to strengthen their own argument (e.g. If I was defending Eric, I might say the fact he drinks so much is indicative of a deep-seated unhappiness, which suggests that there are problems in his life). 
    • Project the following ideas to help students consider the types of evidence they should find: 
      • Find details that relate to your character’s treatment of Eva Smith.
      • Find details that relate to your character’s general conduct (e.g. prosecution would select examples of negative behaviour, whilst the defence would select examples of positive behaviour).
      • Find details that highlight how your character has been treated by others.
      • Find details that explore the way in which social systems have impacted their choices and behaviour.
    • Encourage students to refer to the roles of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander, if relevant.
    • Students can finish finding evidence for homework as needed. 

Part II

  1. Put the Characters on Trial
    • Start the class by having students sit with their group members from Part I and review any evidence they might have collected for homework. 
    • Then, explain to students that in the trial there will be a series of speeches, one for each character and from each side (prosecution and defence). 
    • Ask each group to nominate one person from their group to represent their argument to the class and then give the group ten minutes to prepare their three key points for a speech that lasts for a maximum of two minutes. Explain that you will be setting a timer to ensure that they do not go over their allotted time.
    • Outline clearly that what they do will have a bearing on the class decision of who is the most responsible character for Eva Smith’s death as the class will do a vote on this after the court trial.
    • You may wish to project sentence starters on the board to help them and encourage them to think about what persuasive writing techniques would be effective:
      • Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand before you today to. . . 
      • The individual that harbours the greatest blame. . .
      • [Insert name] are without a doubt guilty beyond measure. . . 
      • I beseech you, members of the jury, to vote with justice. . . 
    • Begin the court trial: Run through each character one at a time, allowing both the prosecution and defence to speak. You may choose to have a student represent the character on trial by sitting down wearing their prop, and a judge to watch over proceedings. Give each side for each character a maximum of two minutes to outline their case. 
    • Ask the rest of the class to take notes on the arguments presented.
    • Once the sides have represented their case, lead a short class discussion using the following questions:
      • What was the most powerful piece of evidence you heard? 
      • Given that all of the characters were involved with Eva somehow, what made one character more responsible for her death than another? 
      • What is the purpose of a trial? How can trials give voice to people who have none?
      • What needed to happen in this case for justice to be served? Who, if anyone, does serving justice help? 
    • Invite the students to vote on who they think is most responsible for the death of Eva Smith.
    • Next, invite the students to vote on who they think is the guiltiest character in terms of overall conduct. This is important as it allows the students to reflect on the act of taking responsibility and helps them to consider what they feel about the characters who took responsibility for their actions and those who did not.
  2. Create a Responsibility Pie Chart
    • Now that students have considered who they think is most responsible for the death of Eva Smith, they will examine the roles that other characters also played. It is important for students to understand that naming one character as ‘most responsible’ does not relinquish responsibility for Eva Smith’s death from the others.
    • Ask students to create a pie chart to represent the distribution of responsibility between the characters for the death of Eva Smith. They should include the following characters on their pie charts: Mr Birling, Mrs Birling, Sheila, Eric, and Gerald. 
    • After having drawn their pie chart, students should write a short paragraph that explains their allocation of responsibility, thinking about the characters’ choices, roles, values, and the systems in which they exist. 
    • If there is time, invite students to share their pie chart percentages in small groups or with the class.

Extensions

  1. Reflect on the Act of Taking Responsibility

    Ask students to journal on the following prompts:

    • Does apologising for one’s mistakes make a difference to a situation? 
    • Do you judge people differently if they take responsibility for their behaviour? 
    • Why might showing repentance be an important step for a perpetrator to take? 
    • What, if anything, do you think a perpetrator’s repentance might mean to the victim and others negatively affected by the perpetrator’s actions?
  2. Act out a Scene

    If your students enjoy drama, you can divide them up into groups and ask them to act out their favourite scene from the play. After having done some theatrical warm-up activities as a class, give the students time to rehearse and then call them back to watch each group’s performance in chronological order. You may want to ensure no groups are doing the same scene by giving different groups specific scenes.

Unit

Introduction
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Get Prepared to Teach this Scheme of Work in Your Classroom

Prepare yourself to teach this unit by reading about our pedagogy, teaching strategies, and the unit's content.

Lesson 1 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Building a Classroom Community

Students work together to create a contract with the aim of developing a reflective classroom community, which is conducive to learning and sharing.

Lesson 2 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Exploring Where I'm From

Students prepare for reading the play by considering the relationship between the individual and society, and by reflecting on identity. After discussing a poem about identity, they write their own.

Lesson 3 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Exploring Social Inequality

Students explore social inequality in the UK, discussing how an individual’s background can impact their opportunities before examining graphs that display social inequality and employment trends.

Lesson 4 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Priestley's World and the World of the Play

Students learn about important events that occurred during Priestley’s lifetime, completing a human timeline to understand their chronology, and are introduced to the concepts of socialism and capitalism.

Lesson 5 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Treatment of Edwardian Women

Students examine various resources, including excerpts from Emmeline Pankhurt’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech, to gain an understanding of how women were treated and expected to behave in Edwardian society.

Lesson 6 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Entering the World of the Play

Students begin reading the play, having applied what they have learnt about Priestley and the relevant sociohistorical context to make predictions about its content.

Lesson 7 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Class

Students explore class, status, etiquette and hierarchy to deepen their knowledge of the social expectations and values which guide the world in which the characters live.

Lesson 8 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Developing Character Inferences

Students are introduced to the concept of inferencing; they draw inferences from the opening scene of the play, and consider what messages Priestley sends through the language, character and setting.

Lesson 9 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Mr Birling

Students study the character of Mr Birling, critically assessing Priestley’s presentation of him, before using the character to reflect on how identity can influence people's views and behaviour.

Lesson 10 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Cost of Labour

Students explore the moral codes of the world of the play, before being introduced to the concept of a universe of obligation and participating in a debate on workers’ rights.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Persuasive Writing: A Letter to Parliament

Students write a persuasive letter to Parliament concerning the gig economy, having reviewed persuasive devices, generated claims and content, and read a model letter.

Lesson 11 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Sheila

Students use the character of Sheila to further understand the interplay between identity and choices, before going on to analyse Priestley’s presentation of Sheila in Act One.

Lesson 12 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Act One Review

Students consider the lessons we can learn from Act One of the play, before adopting the perspectives of characters in both drama tasks and written tasks.

Lesson 13 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Differing Perspectives and Conflict

Students begin Act Two of the play, reflecting on the differences in perception emerging between the characters and considering how conflict can arise from such differences.

Lesson 14 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Analysing Gerald’s Character

Students develop their understanding of the character Gerald, exploring the differences between his treatment of Eva/Daisy and Sheila, whilst reflecting on Edwardian gender expectations.

Lesson 15 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Mrs Birling

Students consider what factors impacted Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva Smith, and create a universe of obligation graphic representation for her character.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Analytical Writing: A Character Paragraph

Students write an analytical paragraph on character having generated claims, selected evidence and read a model paragraph.

Lesson 16 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Eric's Decisions and Consent

Students consider the role power plays in the interactions between characters, focusing on the relationship between Eric and Eva, before discussing consent.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Persuasive Writing: A Speech about Consent

Students write a persuasive speech for sixth-form students on the importance of consent, having reviewed persuasive devices, generated claims and content, and read a model paragraph.

Lesson 17 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Inspecting Inspector Goole

Students create an identity chart for Inspector Goole, analyse his parting words, and look for clues to uncover who or what Inspector Goole is.

Lesson 18 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Social Systems and Individual Agency

Students identify the parts, people, and interactions of various social systems, thinking about what bearing they have on character choices and behaviour, before considering responses to injustice.

Lesson 19 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Putting the Characters on Trial

Students finish reading the play and participate in a court trial to decide which character is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith.

Lesson 20 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Bearing Witness to Eva Smith

Students reflect on Priestley’s portrayal of Eva Smith and consider the symbolism of having a character who only appears in the narrative second-hand.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Analytical Writing: The GCSE Character Essay

Students write an essay on character having generated claims, selected and annotated evidence, and read a model essay.

Lesson 21 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

What Lessons Can We Learn?

Students address the essential question of the unit in a people's assembly, reflecting on the lessons that we can learn from An Inspector Calls.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Persuasive Writing: A Letter to a Newspaper for a Caring Community

Students write a persuasive letter to a local newspaper, which outlines the importance of considering the needs of others and suggests ways to create a more caring community.

Lesson 22 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Recurring Themes in the Play

Students prepare to write an essay on theme by identifying and analysing the themes explored in the play.

Lesson 23 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Theatre as a Call to Action

Students consider theatre as a call to action, discussing its power and limitations to spark real social change, before plotting their own play inspired by An Inspector Calls.

Requirements
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Alignment with Ofsted Requirements

Read about how this unit assists teachers and schools in fulfilling a range of statutory and non-statutory requirements as outlined in the 2019 Ofsted inspection handbook.

Requirements
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Alignment with the GCSE Specification

Read about how this unit is aligned with Ofqual’s subject aims and learning outcomes for both the English Literature and English Language GCSEs.

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