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ESL Law & Court Vocabulary: Words & Exercises

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Law and court vocabulary is rather common in daily life--we come across it as we read the newspaper and watch the news. However, this vocabulary is technical and can be hard to learn. So, use these activities to help ESL students learn law vocab in fun and engaging ways.

Introducing Law & Court Vocabulary

Many students may not be interested in learning law and court vocabulary. After all, the language can be technical and dry. To motivate your students, you could begin by asking them: ''What movie or TV program have you seen where someone went to court?'' Have students discuss the details of the case, or talk about a show you've seen, including the reason why people were in court, what they were saying, how the judge looked, and so forth. Next, ask students to tell you about law and court vocabulary they have heard and seen. Include these terms in your vocabulary lists.

You could also show a video clip (available on the internet) of a court scene. It can be a court scene from a comedy movie such as Legally Blonde or My Cousin Vinny, or a drama movie such as The Judge. Students can talk about the appropriate behavior in court based on what they see and know. Within this introduction, you can ask students some questions that involve vocabulary, such as:

  • Why do you think attorneys refer to judges as ''your honor?''
  • Why do you think judges wear black robes in court?
  • Why do you think there's security personnel in court?

These introductory exercise can motivate students to learn about the topic before you present ESL law and court vocab terms.

Vocab Lists and Activities

Let's look at law and court vocab lists by category and explore some activities you can use to teach these terms to your ESL students.

Legal Documents

Provide students with the following vocab list and define each type of legal document for the class:

  • Affidavit (statement in writing and confirmed by oath in front of a notary public)
  • Subpoena (an order for someone to appear as witness and give testimony in front of an authority)
  • Complaint (narration in writing of why someone is being accused of a crime)
  • Interrogatory (list of questions to ask someone about facts related to an accusation)
  • Warrant (a written order to arrest a person)
  • Pleading (narration in writing of civil matters, such as reasoning for a divorce and basis for an adoption)

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