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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Scopes Trial

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Scopes Trial, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using the excerpt from A School History of Tennessee and the excerpt from A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems, explain why the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools was a problem.

  2. Look at the image of the defense lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays reading scientists’ testimony into the record near a “Read Your Bible” sign. Who do you think may have hung those signs and why? What might be an impact of those signs’ presence during the trial?

  3. In the record of witness testimony, why do you think Clarence Darrow, the defense lawyer, asks this student if he still attends church?

  4. Look at the “New Exhibit in the Hall of Fame” political cartoon. What is the relationship between these animals? What is the cartoon’s commentary on the Scopes Trial?

Classroom activities

Divide the class into groups and, using the record of witness testimony, have students draft questions for either the defense or prosecution in the Scopes trial. What would they ask the student testifying? What might they ask a scientist? Or Scopes, the teacher?

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