Classroom activities - the death penalty

Level 5 social studies

Some suggested activities

In examining what is a highly controversial and potentially emotional topic, it is important to establish some boundaries and ground rules for discussion so that the views of students are respected. The topic may present some students with an opportunity to try and shock others, so you may need to remind students of the need to approach the work in a sensible manner.

  1. Divide the class into groups of four, and ask each group to draw up a list of three arguments for and three arguments against the use of the death penalty for murder.
  2. As a whole class, compile a list of the arguments that each group came up with. As a wider discussion you might want to consider things like the most common arguments.
  3. Ask your students why they believe some people support the reintroduction of the death penalty as a punishment.
  4. You could now use this discussion to hold your own class poll on the matter. You may wish to conduct the poll in a way where responses are anonymous. Ask the same question that was asked by TV One: Do you support the reintroduction of the death penalty (capital punishment) in New Zealand? It could be interesting not to reveal the results of the TV poll until after you have published the class results to ensure your students are not unduly influenced. You could display your class results as a graph.
  5. Individual responses: students can write their own views on the matter either as a piece of personal writing, as a letter to the editor or as a letter to a politician. You may wish to give students an opportunity to read some of their responses to the class.
  6. Static images: opposition to the death penalty has taken many forms and has involved personal protest and statements as well as opposition on an organised scale. Get your class to design posters that might be used by an organisation that opposes the death penalty and its possible reintroduction.

NCEA Level 3

The execution of Maketu can support the broad survey of 19th-century New Zealand at NCEA Level 3. It provides an opportunity to break the bigger themes, such as the establishment of British authority and maintenance of Maori sovereignty, into manageable bites for students. In particular it could:

  • support an examination of a significant historical situation in the context of change (practice essay)
  • offer a case study examining the issue of authority in the years immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

A. Establishing British authority

  1. As a concerned settler living in the Bay of Islands in March 1842, write a letter to the local newspaper expressing your satisfaction with the outcome of Maketu's trial. In particular your letter should highlight what you believe is an acceptance of British authority on the part of local Maori.
  2. You are Henry Williams. Having read a letter to the local paper expressing satisfaction that Maori have at last accepted British authority in the Bay of Islands, write a reply in which you outline your belief that Maketu's trial and execution can not be seen as a blanket acceptance of British authority.
  3. Having considered both positions in the case of Maketu, do you believe the final outcome reflected a case of Maori behaving in their interests, or was it a case of acceptance of British law and order?

B. Mana as a defence

Maketu claimed that Thomas Bull and Mrs Roberton had offended his mana, and at his trial he pleaded not guilty. As Maketu's Crown-appointed lawyer, C.B. Brewer, prepare an opening statement to read to the trial for your client where you argue that Maketu was responding to a situation where his cultural values demanded that his mana be defended.

C. Practice essay

Using the story of Maketu, material provided by your teacher and anything that you have been able to find for yourself, write the following practice essay for achievement standard 3.5: examine a significant historical situation in the context of change, in an essay.

Essay question

Describe developments that occurred in the years immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840–43) regarding the establishment of British authority in New Zealand. Evaluate the ways in which these developments influenced the lives of people living in New Zealand at this time.

Remember structure is important

  • A good essay must have good paragraphs.
  • Each key or new idea in your essay must be a new paragraph.
  • Think of a paragraph as having a set layout:
    • a sentence that outlines what the paragraph is about
    • sentences that support the topic of the paragraph
    • a sentence to conclude the paragraph.
  • Use the structure outlined below to help you write your answer.

Introduction – write an opening paragraph that:

  • identifies the situation you are writing about
  • introduces your argument about the significance of this situation.

Body – write structured and sequenced paragraphs that:

  • describe the historical context of your situation and apply terms, concepts and/or ideas related to this situation
  • examine changes (or continuity), trends and patterns over time related to this situation
  • evaluate ways in which this situation influenced people in the historical context.

Conclusion – write a concluding paragraph that sums up your main ideas and argument and links them back to the focus of the essay.

You should aim to write about 600–800 words.