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Lesson Plans

How Derek Chauvin trial highlights trauma of police brutality

April 15, 2021

Protesters march on the first day of opening statements in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., March 29, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

Full Lesson


For a google doc version of this lesson, click here


Derek Chauvin has been charged in the murder of George Floyd and the prosecution and defense are using two very different tactics to highlight their cases. This lesson plan has students analyze the facts of the Derek Chauvin trial as well as any potential stereotypes used in the case and the racial undertones thereof.


What does the role of trauma play in people’s lives as it relates to police brutality and ensuing court trials?

ESTIMATED TIME: One 50-minute class period

GRADES: 9-12


Students will first watch a video that highlights the goals of the prosecution and the defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin and answer background questions as a warm up.  They will then watch a video on witness testimony and engage in a class discussion about the testimony and various stereotypes that may be used.  To wrap up, students will examine how the Chauvin case compares to another high profile case involving police brutality of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991.


Watch the following video and answer the background questions

For some an extra layer of trauma surrounds Derek Chauvin trial 

Then be sure to look at the latest updates on the trial here. The defense wrapped up their case on April 14, following the prosecution. Closing arguments begin April 19.

  1. What did the prosecution aim to do as it lays out its case?
  2. What is the goal of the defense team in laying out their case?
  3. How is the citing reacting and responding to the events in the case?
  4. What is the extra layer of trauma that is described ? How do young people play a role?
  5. What were some of the things jurors took note of during testimony?


Students should watch the video below and the teacher should then conduct a class discussion using the following questions. Or students may answer the questions in groups of 3-4. Students should then come back as a whole class and engage in a class discussion.

‘He was terrified:’ Witnesses offer emotional testimony about Floyd death in Chauvin case

Discussion questions:

  1. How did the two witness testimonies differ?
  2. In questioning Mr. Williams, the defense seemed to try to portray him as being “mad” or “angry.” Why do you think they would do this?
  3. There is multiple witness testimony in this specific case. How could that potentially impact the outcome of the case?
  4. How do you think race playing a role in the questioning tactics on both sides?


After students engage in a discussion about the witness testimony and the case, they will then use their knowledge of the case to compare it with that of the Rodney King case. You may also want your students to read additional articles on the Rodney King case, including:

USA Today article Derek Chauvin trial in George Floyd death compared to Rodney King case 30 years later

The Guardian’s Rodney King: 30 years after brutal beating, activists say LAPD ‘still corrupt and violent’

ABC Denver’s Longtime activists remember Rodney King case ahead of Derek Chauvin trial

Next, have students create a Venn diagram that focuses on the following:

Highlight (5) key differences between the George Floyd and Rodney King trials.

Highlight (5) similarities in their cases.

After students complete their research, share out and discuss the following questions as a class.

  1. What do these similarities and differences say about where we are as a country as far as police brutality goes over the last 30 years?
  2. How did the response to the Rodney King beating being aired on television non-stop compare to what happened after George Floyd was murdered?
  3. Do you think the verdict in the Rodney King case is a precursor of what to expect with the George Floyd verdict?


C3 Framework:

  • D2.Civ.2.6-8. Explain specific roles played by citizens (such as voters, jurors, taxpayers, members of the armed forces, petitioners, protesters, and office-holders).
  • D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.

Common Core:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1(5): Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3(6): Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric

Ricky House is a U.S. history educator at an independent school in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh where he served as an Urban Fellow and Master of Arts in Teaching candidate. He has over eight years of teaching experience in school systems in Arlington, Virginia, Anne Arundel County Maryland and Washington, D.C. He has appeared on PBS NewsHour and has written several columns for NewsHour as well.

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