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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet
Witness for the Prosecution: Online Newspaper

Project URL:


See the video!

How it works:

Students read Witness For the Prosecution by Agatha Christie. The foreshadowing in the first act helps identify one main theme--mistakes are made in the justice system--which, by the way, could include mistakes made by juries, defense attorneys or their clerks, prosecutors, judges, police, and investigators.

In Act I, the facts of the case for murder are presented. Students then read a news article describing a possible accidental murder. They analyze the news article which should have 7 parts: the headline with a verb, the lead (normal or novelty,) background details, the 5 w's and h answered, attribution ( the source of all the facts either quoted or paraphrased), no bias demonstrated by the writer, and the most important fact according to the writer is first in the article.  Students write a news article using the newspaper article as a model but with the facts from the play.

Act II contains a dramatic transcript of the witness's testimony and questions asked by the prosecutor and defense attorney. A surprise witness for the prosecution appears--the defendant's so-called wife. Students read a second news article about a trial with a surprise witness and analyze it. Then they write a second news article about the trial in the play with a surprise witness.

Students analyze an obituary article and write an obituary based on one of the two characters who died in the play after reading the third and final act.

The fourth article they analyze is a feature article about how one man was mistakenly found guilty and sentenced to death because of mistakes made by the prosecution. Students then write their own feature article about mistakes in the justice system based on this play.

The fifth article students read is an editorial about the use of the "heat of passion defense" accepted by the judge to sentence a husband who murdered his wife for adultery to 18 months in jail. Students can write an editorial or commentary or letter to the editor on whether Romaine deserves to be tried and sentenced for something less than murder one because of the "heat of passion defense," or they can write on another issue pertaining to the play including a review of the play. This is an opinion article.

Students post their articles on the class discussion forum, so that they can learn from each other and also write for an audience other than the teacher. They also go through several drafts of their articles.

Students learn how to use Microsoft Front Page Editor so that they can create online newspapers with at least 3 of their articles. They also include images of the characters which can be photographs of students portraying the characters, or images from the Internet.

These online newspapers are posted on the school's web site for everyone to see.


Technology:  Students will use computer applications for word processing and publishing work to a virtual classroom space, as well as weave graphics and artistic expression appropriately into their computer endeavors.

Language Arts: Students produce written work that makes connections to related topics or information. They critique their own writing and a classmate's writing, revise drafts, and publish to a wide audience; analyze data, facts, and ideas to communicate information; use paraphrase and quotation in order to communicate information most effectively; read and write editorials; write advertisements; and participate in a discussion forum.

Materials used:

Students can scan photographs or take photos with a digital camera. The web-authoring program used was Microsoft Front Page Editor. Students need an Internet connection to find other images, to use the discussion forum, and to view the lesson and suggestions on the Internet. A word processing program is used to type the newspaper articles based on Witness for the Prosecution.

The Students:

Originally, I chose Witness for the Prosecution because of the trial scene and the fact that the majority of students in the three classes I was teaching were also taking a course in trial practice. Many of the students participated in the NYC mock trial competition. But for the most part, the student population could be any high school students. Depending on the students' ability you could proceed faster or slower, spending more time on vocabulary development if necessary. It also helps to have students learn basic journalism skills first such as interviewing, but it isn't vital.

Overall Value:

Students enjoyed being creative. For their online newspaper, they created ads and used design elements involving color and images. They learned to analyze newspaper articles and use the different newspaper article forms themselves. They had to analyze the plot, character and themes of the play in order to write good articles. Students learned from each other when they posted their articles on the discussion forum. These activities helped them to know the play well.


It helps to have students interview each other first and write articles on each other using quotes and paraphrases.  

Peggy Maslow has been teaching English and using technology at Franklin K. Lane High School for 16 years. At first she used basic TRS 80 computers and gradually she has moved up to using the Internet and web-authoring tools in her lessons with students. 

E-mail pmaslows@gmail.com

Estimated Class Periods To Complete: 10 or more

Subject areas: English

Beginning Grade Level: 9

Ending Grade Level: 12

What do you think of my project?  I'd really like to hear your opinion - 
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