Inherit the Wind

by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Inherit the Wind Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Inherit the Wind Include:

Based on the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of a trial staged to bring attention to the illegality teaching evolution in a public school. John Thomas Scopes, a high school science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, agreed to the “test” trial, brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union against the recently-passed Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of human evolution in any public school. Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee dramatized this account in their play, Inherit the Wind, which was later turned into a major motion picture.

The movie shaped the public’s interpretation of the Scopes Monkey Trial with the dramatic imprisonment and conviction of young Bertram Cates, the high school teacher from Hillsboro, Tennessee who dared to teach evolution in his classroom. In reality, John Scopes was fined $100, and his conviction was later overturned. Scope’s freedom was never at risk, as Bertram’s is in the play. Instead, the trial’s purpose was to highlight the tension between biblical literalism and evolution - origin of the evolution vs. creationism debate - and the importance of academic freedom.

Inherit the Wind Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | Inherit the Wind Summary

A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell Storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Plot Diagram
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Example Inherit the Wind Plot Diagram


Bert Cates, a schoolteacher, is on trial for teaching the theory of evolution from Darwin’s Origin of Species. Former presidential candidate Matthew Harrison Brady is coming to the small town of Hillsboro to prosecute Bert. Henry Drummond, a hot-shot lawyer from Chicago, will represent Bert.


Bert is nervous about going to trial, and his girlfriend Rachel, the daughter of the town’s reverend, is trying to convince him to back down. The town seems to be against Bert and preparing for the triumph of Brady. The very fabric of the town, its religious beliefs, are being challenged, and the whole world is watching.

Rising Action

Brady and Drummond face off in the courtroom, once close friends, now very far apart. The Reverend and Mayor are concerned with how their town will be perceived by the world. They want to make sure they look as God-fearing as possible. The evidence against Bert is mounting, with Rachel forced to deliver the most damning evidence of all: a private joke, taken out of context.


The Judge refuses to allow any of Drummond’s expert witnesses to testify about what the theory of evolution entails, so Drummond calls Brady to the stand as an expert on the Bible. He gets Brady to admit that since the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day in the Bible, the first day could have been 10 million years long. He then makes a fool out of Brady by getting him to say that God speaks directly to him.

Falling Action

Bert is found guilty, but the Judge only fines him, which Drummond will appeal. Brady tries to make a speech to the townspeople who have abandoned him, and ends up collapsing and dying. Brady collapses and dies.


Bert and Rachel leave town on the afternoon train. Hornbeck offends Drummond by making a smarmy comment about Brady’s death. Drummond reveals that he, too, is actually very religious, and that he respected Brady. He picks up Darwin’s book and the Bible and puts them together in his briefcase, symbolizing that the two juxtaposing ideas might be able to coexist.

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Inherit the Wind Characters

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Matthew Harrison Brady

  • Physical Traits
    A giant man; gray; balding; paunchy; around 65-years old. A former presidential candidate; his wife is concerned about his health

  • Character Traits
    Pompous; loves attention; loves to talk; concerned with his reputation; arrogant; a self-proclaimed expert on the Bible.

  • Quote
    “Natural law was born in the mind of the Heavenly Father. He can change it, cancel it, use it as He pleases. It constantly amazes me that you apostles of science, for all your supposed wisdom, fail to grasp this simple fact.”

Other characters included in this map are Henry Drummond, Bertrand Cates, Rachel Brown, Reverend Jeremiah Brown, and E.K. Hornbeck.

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Inherit the Wind and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Traits, Character Traits, and Quote.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Literary Conflict Activity in Inherit the Wind

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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflict. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the Storyboard Creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Examples of Literary Conflict in Inherit the Wind


Drummond and Brady are facing off against each other in the courtroom throughout the case. Brady basks in the glow of the love the town throws at him because they see him as a champion for their traditional beliefs. Drummond puts Brady on the stand and makes him look ridiculous.


Bert wonders if going through with this case is such a good idea. The entire town is treating him like he killed someone. Rachel is desperately trying to get Bert to back down, and he considers it until Drummond asks him if he honestly believes he committed a criminal act in sharing the idea of the theory of evolution with his students. He still remains hesitant, but decides to go through with the case anyway.


Bert is going against the law, the Butler Act, which forbade the teaching of the theory of evolution. He is standing up against his entire town, who views him as spreading evil ideas to their children. He is forfeiting his job, his home, and his reputation in the small town of Hillsboro in order to stand up against a law he feels is unjust, and to fight for the right to spread ideas.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in Inherit the Wind.

  1. Identify conflicts in Inherit the Wind.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Themes, Motifs, and Symbols Activity for Inherit the Wind

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Progress

Drummond and Brady were once good friends; Drummond even supported Brady’s bids for the presidency. Alone, Brady reminds Drummond of that and wonders why they have grown so far apart. Drummond responds, “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away—by standing still.” These words are a sharp rebuke of Brady and leave him stunned. Drummond is saying to Brady that progress is coming to their world, but in Brady’s stubborn refusal to accept anything other than the Bible’s literal word, he is doing himself a disservice. He is not progressing; he is falling behind while the rest of the world marches forward. In Drummond’s examination of Brady on the stand, he comments that the advance of man’s knowledge is a miracle, but progress has never been a bargain. In being able to reason, as humankind was “plagued” to do by God, sometimes we are lead in a different direction. This is progress.

Freedom of Thought

The very act of sharing an idea has put Bertram Cates into prison, and on trial. Freedom to think is also on trial here, as Drummond points out. Bert is threatened with a fine and imprisonment because he chose to share what he thinks with his class. His academic freedom to share ideas with his students is at stake, and will set the stage for other cases that will come forward against the Butler Act and other laws that force church and state together.


To Drummond, “right” is unimportant; truth is what drives him and drives this case. The truth of the case is that the law is unjust in limiting ideas and the spread of those ideas. This is censorship, and violates the separation of church and state and the freedom of speech, both of which are protected by the Constitution.

Later, Drummond tells Cates an anecdote about a rocking horse he once wanted, named Golden Dancer. He used to stand outside of the general store and think that if he had Golden Dancer, he’d have everything. Drummond finally got Golden Dancer for his birthday, and as he sat on it to rock, it broke in two. The craftsmanship of the horse on the inside was poor, disguised by the artwork and accessories on the outside. He uses this anecdote to point out to Bert that everything that glitters is not gold, and he needs to show it up for the lie that it is. Truth should not be hidden behind a coat of paint; it is what should guide everyone, and everyone - even Brady, as Drummond later points out - should have the right to be wrong, as long as he is being truthful.

Motifs & Symbols

The Radio

The radio man, Harry Esterbrook, brings in his microphone to capture the first public event ever broadcast on radio. This represents progress, albeit technological progress, sneaking its way into the small town of Hillsboro. The fact that people all over the country are able to witness the unfair verdict in favor of a possibly unconstitutional law, will drum up support for Bert and his plight. It is progress into the modern world, one that is governed by science and technology, rather than religion and superstitions.

Darwin’s Book

Darwin’s book Origin of Species represents the importance of free thought. Bert’s inability to even present this opposing theory of evolution flies in the face of the First Amendment, and seriously restricts the children's abilities to learn more about other beliefs.

The Verdict

The verdict sets up an appeal on a much larger stage. The appeal will bring the case even further into the public eye, and fosters conversation about whether opposing thoughts can be censored in public schools in favor of a religious theory. The verdict prompts the reader to think back to the theme of truth, which should guide all decisions and laws. Honest truth allows for both sides to be presented, and perhaps, like Rachel says, the sickly ideas will die off if they are truly harmful to society.

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Bert as the Everyman Hero in Inherit the Wind

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In literature, an “everyman” has come to mean an ordinary individual that the audience or reader easily identifies with, but who has no outstanding abilities or attributes. An everyman hero is one who is placed in extraordinary circumstances and acts with heroic qualities. While lacking the talent of the classical hero, they exhibit sound moral judgment and selflessness in the face of adversity. See our lesson on defining an everyman hero!

Use that lesson with your class to come up with five common characteristics of an everyman hero. Then, use the following 5-cell spider map to highlight how Bertram Cates meets these common characteristics of an everyman hero in the play Inherit the Wind.


At the beginning of the play, Rachel pleads with Bert to change his mind and admit what he did was wrong. She asks why he can’t be on the right side of things, to which Bert replies, “Your father’s side.” He knows that he is going against the town, the town’s religious leader, and religion itself, but he also knows he needs to stand up for his belief that he did nothing wrong.

Scared, But Determined

After the jury selection is over, Bert has second thoughts about going through with the trial. He thinks that everyone is looking at him like he is a murderer. Drummond tells Bert that if he honestly thinks he committed a criminal act, he will pack up and go home. After a moment of thought, Bert knows he can’t quit.

Upstanding Character

Rachel asks Drummond for his honest opinion as to whether or not Bert is a wicked man. Drummond replies that Bert is a good man, and even a great man, because it takes a brave man to be a pariah to his community for standing up for what he believes in. It takes a smart man to stand up and say, “I don’t know the answer!”


After watching Rachel badgered on the stand, and having her words twisted by Brady to the point that she becomes emotionally distraught, rather than allow Drummond to cross-examine her to correct the record, Bert tells him to let her go. He is upset by the pain this has caused her.

Stands Up for Beliefs

In the end, Bert is unsure of whether or not he has won, because he was found guilty. Drummond tells him that his perseverance in this case will give strength to the next person who has to stand up against a law that restricts his freedoms to think and to speak. Bert has stood up for the very freedoms every American should expect, and enjoy, even the right to be wrong. That is a victory.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Bert can be considered an everyman hero.

  1. Identify events of the story or characteristics of Bert that fit into attributes of an everyman hero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Brave; Scared, But Determined; Upstanding Character; Compassionate; and Stands Up for Beliefs.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Bert as an everyman hero.
  4. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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A Quick Synopsis of Inherit the Wind (Contains Spoilers)

Act I

Bertram “Bert” Cates is currently awaiting trial in Hillsboro, Tennessee for teaching his students evolution. Rachel Brown, the reverend’s daughter, is visiting Bert in the courthouse jail. It seems that she and Bert are romantically involved, and she is trying to convince Bert to recant, in order to get out of trouble. Bert refuses, believing that teaching evolution is not a crime. He is determined to stand firm, despite Matthew Harrison Brady, a former presidential candidate, coming to Hillsboro to prosecute Bert. The Reverend Jeremiah Brown, Rachel’s father, is concerned with making a good impression with Brady, and ensuring that Brady knows Hillsboro is a God-fearing town. E.K. Hornbeck, a journalist for the Baltimore Herald, arrives in the town. He provides surly and sarcastic comic relief, but his biting comments seem to sail right over the townspeople’s heads. In contrast, Matthew Harrison Brady arrives dramatically in the town and immediately captures the hearts of the people. Henry Drummond will be legal counsel for the defense, sponsored by the Baltimore Herald. Drummond is a well-known agnostic, and the people of the town begin likening Drummond to the Devil himself. Brady, for his part, welcomes the challenge.

Act II

The prayer meeting devolves into a sermon by Reverend Brown, reciting the creation story from the Bible, and ends with his praying for Bert’s eternal damnation. Rachel rushes forward and begs him to stop. Even Brady tries to curtail Brown, reminding him of a line from the Book of Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind”. This is a stern warning that sometimes zeal can destroy, rather than save. Howard, the little boy at the beginning of the play, is called to the stand. He reports that Bert did teach them about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and that he did say that humans were descended from “old world monkeys”. He damningly reports that no mention of God or the Book of Genesis were made during the lessons, which incenses the court. Drummond questions the boy about whether he thinks reading from Darwin’s book is wrong and posits that the entire trial is based on whether or not people are allowed to think. The Judge objects and insists that the right to think is not on trial, to which Drummond responds that a man sits in jail because he chose to speak what he thinks.

Rachel is called to the stand. Brady asks Rachel why Bert stopped going to church two summers ago. Rachel responds that it was after the little Stebbins boy drowned. At the funeral, Reverend Brown preached that the boy didn’t die in a “state of grace” because he hadn’t been baptized at the time of his death, meaning that Tommy Stebbins is in Hell. Brady then forces Rachel to reveal the comment that Bert had made in private. She hesitantly admits that Bert once joked, “God created Man in His own image – and Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.” Brady pushes Rachel further, but she becomes so emotionally distraught that she is excused from the stand, and Bert won’t allow Drummond to question her further.

Drummond then attempts to call Dr. Keller, head of the University of Chicago Zoology Department, as an expert witness to explain exactly what evolutionary theory is to the jury. Brady objects on the grounds that this kind of testimony would violate the Butler Act, which is what they are there to try to enforce. The Judge agrees, and also strikes down Drummond’s two other expert witnesses, decimating Drummond’s case. Drummond knows he has to get creative, and asks the Judge if he will admit expert testimony on the Holy Bible, to which both Brady and the Judge agree. Drummond uses this opportunity to call Brady himself to the stand, as he is a self-professed expert on the Bible.

He asks Brady how he can be so sure evolution is irreconcilable with the spirit of the Biblical creation story when he’s never even read Origin of Species. Drummond pulls out a copy of the Bible and asks whether Brady believes that the Bible should be taken literally, to which Brady responds in the affirmative. He questions him with Biblical stories. After showing Brady fossil remains that date back 10 million years, he brings his questioning to the finale: if the sun was not created by God until the fourth day, who is to say that the first three days were only 24-hours long? Brady falters and Drummond posits the first “day” could have been 10 million years long.

The Judge attempts to regain control of the court, and Brady accuses Drummond of attacking the Bible. Drummond asks why God could not have possibly spoken to Charles Darwin. It ends with Brady yelling that God does, indeed, speak to him, to which Drummond declares him the “Prophet from Nebraska.” Brady is humiliated and begins to yell the names of the books of the Old Testament, as he is excused from the stand. The court is cleared.


A radio man from Chicago is setting up to broadcast the case from the courtroom. It’s the first time a public event has ever been broadcast over the radio, a historic occasion. The Judge reads the verdict: guilty. Bert makes a statement which is faltering, but does show that he will continue to oppose what he views as an unjust law. Brady feels let down by a lack of drama surrounding the verdict; the people view him as a joke now. The Judge fines Bert $100, with no prison time, and allows 30 days for a file of appeal with the State Supreme Court.

The Judge recesses the court, but Brady desperately wants to make one final speech. With the business of the court concluded, a few spectators dutifully stay to listen, but without enthusiasm; the rest of the townspeople have moved on from their fallen hero. Brady collapses from the heat and stress, and is rushed to a doctor.

Bert sees the fact that he’s lost his job and possibly his place at the local boarding house as a loss, but Drummond assures him that he has been a champion for others who will also be affected by this law, and others like it, and those who will challenge it, as he did. Rachel enters with a suitcase and announces she’s leaving her father’s house. The Judge enters to announce Brady has died. Hornbeck makes some smarmy comments, at which Drummond takes great offense and defends Brady’s memory. Through an impromptu eulogy, he reveals that he is probably even more religious than Brady was, but knows that God isn’t as unforgiving and immovable as Brady made Him out to be. Hornbeck is appalled by the revelation of Drummond’s beliefs, and accuses him of being overly sentimental. Bert goes home to pack so that he can meet Rachel at the train depot to get out of town. Alone, Drummond picks up Darwin’s book in one hand and the Bible in the other. He weighs them in each hand, shrugs, and then slaps them together and puts them into his briefcase, symbolizing that maybe, just maybe, these two opposing concepts can coexist.

Essential Questions for Inherit the Wind

  1. What does the play say about the role of progress in society?
  2. Why is it important to stand up for certain issues and beliefs?
  3. When might it be important to stand against a law?
  4. Why is the spread of ideas so important to progress?
  5. Why is the freedom to think so important for growth? How could it be dangerous?
  6. How can ignorance of a topic or another belief be limiting?
  7. What is more important: individual values, or societal values? Why?
  8. How does Bert represent an everyman hero?

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