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The History of Capital Punishment in Mississippi: An Overview lesson plan

OVERVIEW

Throughout history, civilizations have used capital punishment as a means of keeping social order as well as for retribution. Today, throughout the United States as well as in Mississippi, lethal injection is the common form of capital punishment. Although the practice of capital punishment has evolved through the use of modern day technological advancement, the very practice itself has remained controversial. As of October 2004, Mississippi has sixty-nine condemned inmates that await execution on death row at the state penitentiary at Parchman.

CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies: 1, 3, 4 and 5.

TEACHING LEVELS

Grades 9 through 12.

MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

Pen/pencil

Blank paper

Notebook paper

Mississippi History Now article

Internet access

OBJECTIVES

The students will:

trace the history of capital punishment in Mississippi.

determine the pros and cons of the death penalty.

compose an editorial for a mock newspaper.

OPENING THE LESSON

1.

The teacher will ask the students, “What is capital punishment?” (As stated in the Mississippi History Now article, “The state or federal government taking a person’s life in retribution for a crime”).

2.

The teacher will place the following item on the board or display the information on an overhead transparency:

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

3.

The teacher will ask the students if they think the use of the death penalty is cruel or unusual punishment. After students have had a few minutes to share their opinions tell the students that they will learn about the history of capital punishment in Mississippi today in class.

DEVELOPING THE LESSON

1.

Allow the students to work with partners, or in groups of three, in order to complete the following assignments (all three or one or two of the activities can be assigned to the student groups):

a.

Create a timeline that traces the history of capital punishment in Mississippi by using the Mississippi History Now article.

b.

Complete the Cause and Effect Chart below by using the Mississippi History Now article. The teacher can place the chart on the chalkboard or on an overhead transparency and allow each student to copy the chart into their notebooks.

Cause

 

Effect.

 

Convict lease labor was used

 

 

Sunflower County feared stigmatism

 

 

Public outcry against hangings

 

 

Testing of gas chamber required before executions

 

 

Executions come to a halt in the state from 1964 to 1983

 

 

Lethal injection becomes common practice in carrying out executions

 

c.

Assign each group one of the following topics listed below. The student groups should write a paragraph that describes how these topics are relevant to Mississippi history or how these topics played a part in the history of capital punishment in Mississippi History. Student groups should be prepared to share these paragraphs with the class.

1.

Hanging

2.

Electric Chair

3.

Gas Chamber

4.

Lethal Injection

5.

U.S. Supreme Court

6.

Mississippi Legislature

2.

The teacher will lead a class discussion on the history of capital punishment in Mississippi by asking the students questions based on the group activities.

3.

Allow students to group themselves or choose partners according to whether they agree with the use of the death penalty.

4.

The teacher will explain to the students that they will write an editorial for the local paper about the death penalty and the use of capital punishment. The students may want to write their letter from the perspective of someone directly related to a scheduled execution, such as a mother of the inmate, the mother of the victim, an anti-death penalty supporter, etc. Students may need access to the internet for research on various cases and information concerning capital punishment.

CLOSING THE LESSON

The teacher will allow each student group to share their editorials with the class. The teacher will ask the students the following questions after the paragraphs have been shared:

Do you think that the use of the death penalty will gain or loose support in the future? Why is the use of the death penalty such a difficult issue to resolve?

ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING

1.

Class participation

2.

Timeline

3.

Chart

4.

Paragraphs

5.

Editorials

EXTENDING THE LESSON

1.

Allow the students to conduct debates on the use of capital punishment

2.

Invite criminal justice officials to the class as a guest speaker

3.

Allow students to take a tour of the local court house and have court officials explain the judicial process to the students.

4.

Allow students to read books on this topic such as Donald Cabana’s Death at Midnight.

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