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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet

Project URL: http://teachersnetwork.org/teachnet-lab/fklane/pmaslow/inherit1.html

High school English students from grades nine through twelve explore the theory of evolution and read the highly relevant play “Inherit The Wind” and a series of articles and essays about the famous Scopes trial that centered around the right to teach evolution. They incorporate technology as they research the topic and write their own essays on whether evolution should be taught in school.

Students first read a New York City student’s published opinion on the 1999 Kansas law that banned evolution questions from state tests. They evaluate her essay and read a New York Times article about the Kansas law and other accounts of the Scopes trial from 1925. They take notes and write short essays on their opinions of the events. They also read an article outlining the conflict between religious faith and the theory of evolution. Again they take notes and write essays expressing their opinions. They read the play “Inherit The Wind” at home, and for each of the five scenes, they write an account using the point of view of one of the characters in the form of a letter to a friend or a diary entry. They also read the play in class and discuss issues raised and the literary devices the authors use in a play, which is a fictionalized account of the 1925 trial. Students write essays based on the play and choose five topics to research using the Internet. 

Completion of this project will take ten or more class periods. Students will be reading the play “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Computers with an Internet connection and search engine such as Netscape are needed. A basic working knowledge of computers is necessary.

A wide range of student ability is acceptable. I used these lessons with ninth graders in New York City who happened to also be studying evolution in their biology class. 

Researching the background issues first will enhance the students’ understanding and motivate them to be more engaged while reading “Inherit The Wind.” For the students I teach, the issue of religious faith being in conflict with the theory of evolution is a very exciting one. They become very animated in their discussions. Furthermore, students will be motivated to express their opinions about the conflict by drafting and writing essays, then revising and editing them. The research exercise that follows allows the students tremendous choice in finding an area of interest. Using the Internet is integral to finding and using the background information and even more important in doing the research on a related topic of their choice.

Working with a core group of subject teachers is ideal in ninth grade. This way the biology teacher is teaching evolution while the English teacher is teaching “Inherit the Wind.” An art teacher can show how drawings and other artwork “evolves” during the creative process. The history background is the Scopes trial but also the history of censorship and the banning of books.

Technology: Students employ the computer and the Internet as research tools and resources; compile, analyze, and evaluate data; and develop word-processing and research skills.
English: Students read informational materials to develop understanding and to reach a conclusion; produce a report which includes appropriate facts and details; develop several main points relating to a single thesis; analyze and revise work; respond to drama using interpretive, critical, and evaluative processes; and critique a document.


Peggy Maslow, a New York City high school English teacher for 23 years,  has used technology in the classroom for over 16 years. She has also been her school's newspaper advisor for almost two years. She has taught all levels of students ranging from those with reading difficulties to honors, and has taught courses in journalism, mystery, American literature and other topics.

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Curriculum Areas:
Language Arts

High School


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