Race and The Court System

Name:Katie Nyquist

Topic:Themes in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee



Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

Part 1:  Driving question:

  • What are your three initial driving questions?

  • 1  What is racially biased?

  • 2  Where do you see racial biased in To Kill a Mockingbird?

  • 3  How does can an author utilize different types of rhetoric to prove or disprove a point?

What is your one, final driving question?
How does  racial  bias in court systems demonstrated in  To Kill a Mockingbird still persist in today's society?

Background information of this driving question:

In 11th grade literature,  we read the book To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the major themes in this book is race and how it relates to justice and injustice in the court system.  By asking my students this question, I want them to analyze the ethics of the situation presented in To Kill a Mockingbird. I also want them to compare historical examples of racial bias in the 1920’s to now.  

  • Why do you think this is a good driving question?

  • Does the DQ warrant in-depth study?   

My dq warrants and in-depth study because it not only requires students to analyze a particular theme within to kill a Mockingbird, but it also requires students to do research into historical and current events.  An important aspect of this project is being able to show a mastery of the two cases and being able to connect it to the novel.

  • Is the DQ an authentic and relevant issue/problem for my students?

The dq is authentic because it is not just asking “what is a theme in this book”, but  it is asking how does this theme relate to then and now? It helps students to understand issues then and now in the court system. It helps inform them, while also helping them connect present and past issues to the book. There is a lot of historical context in literature in general, and especially in To Kill a Mockingbird, due to the heavy racial tensions going on at this time.  Students hear about cases that have racial influence in the news all the time;for example, Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

  • Is there more than one plausible solution to the DQ?

Yes, because their are multiple ways one could view racial biased. Racial Biased is a very broad category with multiple different examples that students can explore. Students can take many different approaches to which examples they chose, and how they connect them to themes in the book.

  • Does the DQ provide opportunities for students to evaluate, analyze, present, and defend their solutions?  

Yes, because students are required to evaluate two different cases of racial biased. Then they have to analyze and compare them. After that they create a presentation where they present the information. They are also required to have a discussion at the end where they create their own driving question and ask the class.

Part2: Grabber

  • What is your grabber?

Two articles, one on a court case including racial biased then and now. My “then” article will be on the Emmet Till case http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/emmett-till)

and my “now” article will be from the national bar association analyzing the effect of gender and race in today’s courtroom.  


Introduction: We will read these articles in class and I will open up a discussion on racism in the justice system. Then we will discuss how the theme of race and injustice is present in To Kill a Mockingbird. I will ask students to brainstorm on how we see injustice in the news today and what they have learned about injustice from their history classes. Then I will pair them with 2 partners to research examples they might use in a project.

  • Why do you think this grabber is beneficial and how it  align with your driving question?

  • The Emmett Till case was one of the most horrific examples of racial bias in history, and it was after Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • Does the grabber capitalize on novelty and / or high emotion situations? Yes, because the Emmett Till case was very eye-opening to many people. There was very clear evidence that this had happened, yet the jury did not convict the men. It also relates to the book because it has elements of the fear of  black male with a white female.  

  • Does the grabber establish authenticity & relevance?

Yes, because the case was the start of the Civil Rights movement and it depicts the racial tensions in the 50’s, almost 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird was written. It also takes place in the south, which is the setting of the book.  The next article is an academic article from a reliable source. I chose not to use a specific case so I could give the students more variety of cases to chose from.

  • Make sure to explain in detail how this grabber would be used.

The grabber will be used to do two things:

1. To give students an example of a historical example.

2.) To further explain how racism is still prevalent in our court system.

  • Culminating activities: List all your activities here:

1) Activity 1:  Presentation

  • What is your first activity?

My first activity will require students to create a powerpoint to present their original take on the DQ. I will ask students to find two cases, one from present day and one from the past , in which there seemed to be a racial bias that led to a wrongful conviction. First, I will put students into groups of three using knowledge of who gets along in the class. I will assign this after we are done reading To Kill a Mockingbird. First, I will hand out 2 articles that exemplify racial bias in pop culture then and now, then I will encourage an open  discussion on the issue. Next I will use a powerpoint to present the idea of the assignment. Each group will have a week to meet and create an 8 minute presentation on two different examples and explain how it would be implemented  in the class, describe the process, such as how to group your students, when to present information to your students, what resources you will use, what students will create or share, etc.

  • Why do you think this is a good activity for PBL?

  • This activity is authentic because it takes a theme that we have analyzed in class and makes it relevant to the students. It gives historical context into the book we are reading and helps us analyze the meaning of the overall theme.

  • Students do have the opportunity to present and defend a problem and a solution, because there is a required discussion at the end where students have to find original questions to ask the class on their presentation. This activity allows students to use their own critical thinking skills to analyze an issue.

  • Does the activity require student collaboration?

This activity requires student to not only collaborate within their own group of 2-3 people, but it requires a class discussion at the end of each presentation in which the entire class collaborates with one another.

  • How will I judge what students have learned from the activity?

    • You will need to create a rubric for this step and potential example materials as well

Examples of Court Cases to use:


Trayvon Martin

Alfred Wright

Jordan Davis

Oscar Grant

Troy Davis


Scottsboro Boys

Ed Johnson

Brown vs Mississippi

Lena Baker

Trenton 6


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