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Parole Board Hearing

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I stumbled upon this in desperation, but it worked so well it would be a shame not to share it! Not only did my students love this, but it's surprisingly good English practice for all, even the shy ones.

SYNOPSIS: All students except five are convicted prisoners currently serving jail time for varied offenses, while the remaining five serve as prison parole board officers. Each student is called before the parole board to answer questions and defend his/her position for early release.

TIME: Total Time = (student speech time)x(number of students). Typically, student speech time can vary from 1 to 10 minutes, so you can enforce time limits as needed to obtain the desired Total Time.

SKILL LEVEL: Intermediate to advanced; the more the better. Mine are Chinese college students.

PREPARATION: Use a word processor to make up a card for each student and a corresponding list with the same information to be given to the parole board members. (You can email me at the address below and I will be happy to forward a prepared Word doc.) Each card contains:

1. A prisoner number, e.g. 663047

2. The crime or reason the student was put in jail. I used this with five classes and found a mix from the serious like mass murder to the absurd like stealing a banana was the most effective. Be creative.

3. Two additional incidents the prisoner was involved in while in prison. Here, again a mix is good with a consistant theme for each individual. I used additional murders to kissing guards, singing after lights out and cutting off a cell mates hair while he was sleeping.


1. You can use this as an exercise in persuasive speech. Give some brief background about the parole process and the purpose of a parole hearing, while introducing key words and their meanings.

2. Select five parole board officers who will interview each prisoner together as a group. Try to select the best students as they will drive the exercise. If your inclined and can find them, police hats are a nice touch.

3. Line up 5 desks at the front of the room for the parole officers and one prisoner hot seat directly opposite.

4. Randomly distribute the cards to the students and assemble the parole board and give them the list of prisoners and prisoner info. Allow about 15-20 minutes for everyone to compose questions and a defense.

5. Seat the parole board and let them call up prisoners by number, asking them questions about their crime, prison incidents, character and defense, while the prisoners try to convince the board they should be let out.

6. Have the parole board decide the fate of each prisoner. I had everything including transfer to a mental hospital. Very entertaining!

Have fun!

Michael Mathiasmeier
Shaoxing, China
[email protected]

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