Troy Davis Given Capital Punishment (Upper-Intermediate Lesson Plan)

Download the Capital Punishment ESL Lesson plan here: Troy-Davis-Death-Penalty-UppIntermediate-24092011.doc

A judge's gable

Upper-Intermediate Capital Punishment ESL News Lesson Plan : Warm-up (Pair Work)

1)    What was the worst punishment you received as a child? Was it fair?
2)    What is the purpose of punishment?
3)    Would you rather be dead than spend life in jail?
4)    Can you think of any people who were punished for a crime they didn’t commit?
5)    Is capital punishment (the death penalty) practiced in your country?
6)    Who are some famous people who were executed?

Troy Davis Given Capital Punishment (September 24th, 2011)

Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, was working as a security guard in Savannah, Georgia, on August 19th, 1989. He saw a man being assaulted in a nearby parking lot, so he ran to intervene. MacPhail was then shot to death.

Seven witnesses testified they had seen an African-American man; later identified as Troy Davis, shoot MacPhail. Two others testified that Davis had confessed the murder directly to them. Bullets discovered near the scene were linked to another shooting, earlier on that same day, for which Davis was also charged.

Although Davis maintained that it was not him who shot MacPhail, he was tried and found guilty of murder and other related offenses. He was sentenced to death. Over the next 20 years, Davis gathered supporters, including religious figures and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who believed that Davis should not be executed because he was innocent. Another hearing was held in June 2010. Seven out of nine of the original witnesses changed their stories. Many claimed that had been pressured to testify against Davis by police. Others blamed the murder on another man, Sylvester Coles. This new information, however, did not convince the court to change the verdict. Despite a last-minute appeal and petition signed by nearly one million people, Troy Davis was executed on September 21st by lethal injection.

Davis’ supporters believe the justice system’s refusal to reconsider the death sentence in light of new information shows there is a fundamental problem with the American justice system. They hope Davis’ death will lead to legal reforms.

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is currently practiced in 58 nations, including the US, China, India, and Japan. (279)


Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan : Comprehension Questions

1)    Why was Mark MacPhail at the scene of the crime?
2)    Why did investigators believe Davis was the shooter? (3 reasons)
3)    What did many of the people who testified against Davis later claim?
4)    What do supporters of Davis hope will happen in the future?
  1. He was working as a security guard nearby. He went to the scene because he saw a man being assaulted.
  2. They believe he was the shooter because 1) people saw him shoot the man, 2) people said he told them he shot the man, and 3) bullets found at the scene are linked to a gun Davis earlier used to shoot someone.
  3. They claim that they were pressured into testifying against Davis by the police..
  4. They hope that the laws will change so that the execution process will stop if new information about a case becomes known.

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan : Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson. (Note: good as homework for students)
assault (verb)
intervene (verb)
testify (verb)
confess (verb)
try (verb)
maintain (verb)
sentence (verb)
execute (verb)
hearing (noun)
verdict (noun)
appeal (noun
petition (noun)
  • assault – attack
  • intervene – step in, get involved
  • testify – officially say, in a court of law, that something hapened
  • confess – accept blame, admit guilt
  • try – examine sb in a court to determine if they are innocent or not
  • maintain – insist, continue to say sth is true
  • sentence – say in a court of law that sb will receive a particular punishment
  • execute – kill as punishment
  • hearing – an official meeting at which facts about a crime are presented
  • verdict – decision made by jury in a court of law
  • appeal – a formal request in court for a decision to be changed
  • petition – a request for change signed by many people

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan: Idiom Focus

in light of ~

Example: “In light of the new information about the case, Davis should not have been executed.”
Background: In English, knowledge or information is said to “bring light” to an issue. When something happens in the light of something (e.g. new information), it means it happens considering that thing. Other synonyms: taking into account ~, due to ~ , because of ~
“In light of the weather forecast, we have had to cancel our camping trip.”

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan : Connect the below idea(s) to make a sentence.

government / uprising
intervene / assault
witness / testify
confess / robbery
man / try / murder
maintain / innocent
sentence / execution
in light of / petition / appeal
in light of / testimony
verdict / shocked

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan: Famous Quotes (Pair Work)

Discuss whether you agree with the below quotes:
  • “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit (acquit = let free)) a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death.” -12th century legal scholar Moses Maimonides
  • “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  • “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” – Gandalf (In The Lord of the Rings)

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan: Brainstorming (Group Work)

(Note: each student reads his/her role to himself/herself)

Group 1: What are the arguments FOR capital punishment? Make a list. When finished, present your arguments to the class.

Group 2: What are the arguments AGAINST capital punishment? Make a list. When finished, present your arguments to the class.

Part 2: In light of these arguments, are you for or against capital punishment?

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan: Pair Work

You and your partner are government workers. Your president has decided that capital punishment is necessary. However, he told you to manage the following issues:

  1. Which crimes should carry the death penalty?
  2. What should be the method of execution?

Consider the questions with a partner and then present your ideas to the class.

Capital Punishment ESL Lesson Plan : Discussion Questions

(Write your answers in the Comments section below if you wish)

1) Should people who are insane be punishable by death?
2) Do you believe capital punishment makes the public not want to commit crimes?
3) Should executions be done in public?
4) What’s the difference, morally, between capital punishment and torture?

Lesson plan copyright Matthew Barton of

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7 comments on “Troy Davis Given Capital Punishment (Upper-Intermediate Lesson Plan)

  1. iustinia (Posted on 9-29-2011 at 21:20) Reply

    Great lesson!

  2. Anouk (Posted on 10-10-2011 at 22:04) Reply

    Very nice lesson, thank you!

  3. Francisca Nancy (Posted on 10-11-2011 at 16:23) Reply

    Excellent lesson!! Everything you need to complete a lesson hour!!

  4. Larry (Posted on 10-9-2012 at 14:20) Reply

    Good job!

  5. Matilda (Posted on 2-25-2013 at 21:03) Reply

    There are some good activity ideas here, but I think teachers need to be careful when teaching this topic – especially to a group of students from other countries. I have refugees in my class (as I’m sure many others do) and a topic like this could be incredibly traumatising for those who have escaped persecution.

  6. Mookey (Posted on 4-8-2014 at 15:23) Reply

    Excellent source of information; thank you.

  7. michael (Posted on 11-14-2014 at 09:58) Reply

    thank you so much for this lesson plan, nicely set up and leads on really well! Appreciate your kindness for sharing :)

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