Goldilocks in the Dock: Using Fairytales to Create Mock Trials

Michael Bradley, Okinawa Christian Junior College

Quick Guide 

  • Keywords: Legal vocabulary, communicative activity, reinforcement
  • Learner English level: Low-intermediate to high-intermediate
  • Learner maturity: University or higher
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
  • Activity Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Materials: Multiple copies of three or four fairy tales

I encourage students to follow news bulletins in English. Many news stories concern the judicial system and require specialized vocabulary to understand them. To this end, I introduce around 15 words (see Appendix) over three or four classes to enable students to make sense of court stories. 

In this activity, the students have to create a mock trial based on a fairy tale. It contains two main elements: explaining a fairy tale to other students and scripting and performing the mock trial. In both cases, students are focused primarily on communication rather than on form, but they are encouraged to use the target vocabulary. 

It is helpful if the class has already performed a more typical mock trial (e.g., one where a student is charged with shoplifting), so they are familiar with the format of the activity.


Step 1: Source four or five common fairy tales and adapt them as necessary to remove any overly complex language and to ensure they are of a suitable length.


Step 1: Divide the class into groups of at least six students to fill all the roles mentioned below in Step 3. Give each group a copy of a fairy tale (e.g., Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel). The group reads their story together and the teacher moves between the groups quizzing each one about their particular fairy tale in an effort to ensure that every member of the group understands the story completely.

Step 2: The students form new groups comprising at least one member from each of the previous groups. Ideally, each person in the new group will have read a different fairy tale. The students then tell each other their fairy tales in English, preferably without reading from the paper.

Step 3: The students return to their original groups. They are asked to create a mock trial based on their fairy tale. They have to decide who is on trial and what he or she is charged with. They also choose who will play the following roles: defendant, judge, prosecution lawyer, defence lawyer, prosecution witness, and defense witness. The mock trials should be between 6 and 10 minutes long, and each will begin with the judge announcing the charge (e.g., “Goldilocks is charged with theft and criminal damage”).

Step 4: The students script their roles and rehearse the mock trials.

Step 5: Each group performs in front of the class. Because of Step 2, the students should be familiar with all the fairy tales, enabling them to better understand the other groups’ mock trials.

Step 6: The audience acts as the jury for each trial and returns a verdict.


This activity engages students from start to finish, and using the language creatively helps them to learn it. The trial activity is also a chance to reinforce the target vocabulary–around 15 words–introduced in previous classes (see Appendix). A bonus is that the exercise is light-hearted, so students are likely to feel relaxed, and as a result will hopefully be more disposed to language acquisition.  



The appendix for this article is available below.