“Law and Order” and “Lamb to the Slaughter” Lesson

Reading “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl always leads to lively discussions in the classroom about the culpability of Mary Maloney. So of course I’m compelled to create a lesson where students battle out her guilt or innocence “Law and Order” style.

Use "Law and Order" and "Lamb to the Slaughter" to teach ethos, pathos, and logos. Students read the story then write closing arguments for a trial against Mary Maloney. They analyze closing arguments from Law and Order and model their own arguments (complete with an example of each: ethos, pathos, logos). Students present their arguments to the jury - the class - to see whose argument is most persuasive.

The Perfect Episode

You can’t just ask students to imitate “Law and Order.” Some, insert heart break, have never even seen an entire episode before. I found the perfect episode with “Family Hour” from season 17, episode 22: the season finale. A former senator murders his own daughter and is claiming self defense. Click here for the three-minute YouTube clip of the closing arguments.

UPDATE: The above clip is no longer available due to copyright infringement. Amazon Prime members can buy the SD version of the episode for $1.99 which is what I have done. I start the episode at 38:21 and let it run until 40:54. The verdict comes right after that.

It's only a three minute clip of a Law and Order episode, but it's perfect to use with Lamb to the Slaughter to help teach ethos, pathos, and logos in the closing arguments of a murder trial.

It’s the perfect episode for this lesson because everyone knows the senator did kill his daughter. The lawyers are trying to prove now if he should be convicted for the murder or if it really was self defense. To set up a similar scenario with “Lamb to the Slaughter” I include in my writing prompt that Noonan figured it all out and they know Mary killed Patrick. Now, the lawyers (students) need to prove if Mary should be convicted for the murder or if she was temporarily insane.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

The clip I show of the episode is just the closing argument and only lasts about three minutes. It’s short but very impactful. Each lawyer uses at least one instance of each appeal: ethos, pathos, and logos. I typed up the transcript of the closing arguments. Students annotate it to show each argument and analyze which appeal has the greatest impact on the jury.

Now students are ready to model their writing off of the “Law and Order” arguments. Students frequently just write out a summary, so it’s important to have them annotate their own arguments. Asking them to identify each argument usually leads to them realizing they didn’t include it yet. My students did a good deal of revising with this assignment, but in the end they came up with some really great work.

*For a quick lesson on ethos, pathos, and logos, hand out old magazines to students (one each or one per pair depending on your class and resources). After you explain each appeal, challenge them to find at least one advertisement that uses the appeal. I’ve shown examples in the past, but students better learn and internalize it when they have to find their own examples.

Once More, With Feeling

Further engage students by having them present against each other in an attempt to sway the jury (their classmates) to agree with them. This episode, the closing argument of a season finale, is intense. The actors do a fantastic job and the students love trying to out-do them. You can record student arguments and play them all together with a vote at the end; you can have them paired and battling one-on-one with a jury vote at the end of each battle; or you can take it a step further and involve a green screen so students can present in front of an actual (okay, just a picture) jury.

Click here for a link to my TeachersPayTeachers product if you want my worksheets already made. Hope your students like it as much as mine do!

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