Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men was originally broadcast as a television play in 1954. It is now regarded as one of the greatest courtroom dramas of all time. The twelve jurors in Rose's play must determine if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of murdering his father. Tensions arise as each man brings his own personal experiences and biases into the jury room.

Before reading this play, students should already have a sound understanding of the United States' judicial system. Providing background information on seminal court cases throughout the country's history could be beneficial for students who are unfamiliar with how the courts operate.

The teacher should promote open discussion of each juror's perspective, so students can understand how personal prejudices and different ways of thinking can influence others who have an important decision to make. Watching Sidney Lumet's film or the original telecast after reading the play will help students conceptualize how the text of a play or screenplay comes to life.

1. Summarize Twelve Angry Men

Twelve jurors must decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. The jurors argue over the defendant's fate, each man bringing his own perspective into the mix. They must deliberate over the evidence they've received until they decide on a verdict. Is the young man guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

Content Warning: This play contains discussion of murder and some mild profanity.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching Twelve Angry Men:

  • Identify the protagonist and the main antagonist in the play, and discuss the nature of their conflict.
  • Analyze the characteristics and influences of each juror.
  • Identify the dramatic climax at the end of each act.
  • Obtain a deeper understanding of the United States' legal system.
  • Define the term "stereotype," and explain how stereotypes are used in the play.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 63 pages
  • Publication Date: 1954
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10
  • Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written Drama (1958)
  • Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay (1958)

Literary Elements

  • Conflict
  • Dialogue
  • Dramatic Irony
  • Exposition
  • Foil
  • Foreshadowing
  • Stage Directions
  • Symbolism

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Justice — The twelve jurors must make a decision that will ensure justice is served; they must decide whether the defendant should be condemned to death.
  • Prejudice and Personal Bias — Several jurors have personal prejudices that influence their opinion of the defendant and the crime he's alleged to have committed.
  • Reflection of American Society — A trial by jury is considered one of those most important elements of American democracy. They jury reflects the many opinions and tensions that arise among the country's citizens.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Justice

Theme of Prejudice and Personal Bias

Theme of Reflection of American Society

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The way Juror No. 8 dissents and uses logic to undermine the other jurors' thinking.
  • How the play reflects our country's justice system and what it takes to find someone guilty of a serious crime.

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • All of the jurors are assigned numbers instead of names, making it difficult to keep track of who is who.
  • The dated or old-fashioned language with which the characters speak.

9. Order Twelve Angry Men Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
Twelve Angry Men Paperback Student Edition
Twelve Angry Men Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Twelve Angry Men Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Twelve Angry Men Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

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