Scopes Monkey Trial Lesson Plan: Social & Political Impact Debate

Submitted by: Natalie Leonard

Grade Levels: 9-12

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 9-12, students use BrainPOP resources to understand the debate between the viewpoints of traditionalists and modernists in the 1920s. Students will debate the teaching of evolution vs. intelligent design in schools, and understand the social and political impact of the Scopes Monkey Trial on the United States.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Understand the debate between traditionalism and modernism viewpoints
  2. Debate the teaching of evolution vs. Intelligent Design in schools
  3. Understand the social and political impact of the Scopes Monkey Trial on the United States


  • Class set of the Activity with the Graphic Organizer photocopied on the back
  • Projector and computer with internet access
  • Electronic copy of the 1st amendment (freedom of religion)


evolution, traditionalism, fundamentalist, intelligent design, creationism


Make a class set of the Activity with the Graphic Organizer photocopied on the back. Build students' background knowledge on the social changes of the 1920s. Students should also have some understanding of the changes in both rural and urban areas over time.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. For the first 5 minutes of class, have students write to the prompt: What role should religious ideas have in the classroom? Explain. Have students share after the 5 minutes are up.
  2. Project an electronic copy of the 1st amendment for the class to see.
  3. Have students pair up and interpret the 1st amendment. What do they think the founders meant when they wrote the establishment and free exercise clause? Discuss as a whole group.
  4. Introduce the Scopes Trial which took place in Dayton, TN, in the 1920s. It was known as the trial of the century, pitting religion
  5. Pass out the activity page.
  6. Have students watch the BrainPOP video The Scopes Monkey Trial. Using the graphic organizer side of the paper, have students take notes while watching the video.
  7. When the video is over, discuss as a class the opposing viewpoints of traditionalism and modernity. Have students continue to take notes during the discussion. Fill in any holes in information. Answer questions.
  8. Have students fill out the back of the handout (the activity page with the order of events and matching.)
  9. Discuss with students the outcome of the trial: teaching evolution in TN was illegal for 40 years after this decision. Discuss the current education climate in schools.
  10. EXIT SLIP: 1. On a scale from 1-10 how well did you understand todays lesson? 2. Why did you choose that number? 3. List three new pieces of information you learned today. 4. What questions do you have about the Scopes Trial?

Extension Activity:

Have students research the current debate over evolution vs. Intelligent Design in schools. Have them fill out a speech outline. Students should choose a side to give a persuasive argument for (which one/ both / neither/ should be taught in schools today). Students will give a 2-3 minute speech over their opinions on this heated debate. Students will need to reference the 1st amendment, and turn in their outlines on the day of the debate.