[SCED 694] Internship I : Sample Social Studies Unit Plan

Civil Disobedience: How Far Is Too Far?

High School Social Studies Unit Plan
In this unit, the students will reflect on the rights granted to them through the UN declaration of human rights. We will have students explain and interpret the consequences over time of the emergence of Civil Rights Movements and to recognize the links between individuals and social identity.  The unit will explore four different movements: Indian independence, Martin Luther King Jr. & Civil Rights, Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid era & the tumultuous protests around the world in 1968.  

Prior Knowledge:

Students will know what the UN Declaration of Human Rights states and their specific rights as citizens in the community setting and as pupils in the school setting. Students will have an understanding of the lives of the various figures we will study in this unit so that the themes of their protests are taught rather than their biographies. Some misconceptions students might have would be:

1) Civil disobedience is a thing of the past

2) These principles do not apply directly to their lives

3) They do not think they have the power to drive change

Essential Questions:
What are the causes and manifestations of civil disobedience in different cultures?

When is civil disobedience justified?

Where can we see civil disobedience at play in the world today?


The major concepts of this unit will include Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr,  Nelson Mandela and activities based on the unrests during 1968 in order to illustrate civil disobedience and citizenship awareness. This unit will emphasize how civil disobedience has long been exercised in protest of unjust laws. It will emphasize how non-violent methods proved to be a strong factor in obtaining favorable settlements and in the importance of group participation towards a common goal.

Focuses of development:
  • Awareness of historical Civil Rights Movements in order to foster responsible citizenship.
  • Relationship between rights and privileges; individual and community needs; origin of civil rights movements; consequences of non-violent action for governments, communities and the distribution of power; social responsibilities
Learning Objectives:
  • Recognize civil rights and freedoms
  • Analyze the main concepts of non-violence and philosophy surrounding civil disobedience
  • Gain more oral skills through class participation

Teachers nowadays have unlimited use various different techniques such as films, computers and the Internet in addition to classroom lectures. The aim of this lesson plan is to get students to understand complex concepts as well as become familiar with different usages of technology for education. This differentiation technique through the use of different mediums would benefit all learners. We will create a class website which would include: 1) Outline of the unit, 2) Important dates, 3) Videos describing the different assignments and criteria, 4) Blog for discussions, questions or comments (could offer this as extra credit as incentive). We will upload outlines of lectures after each class so that students would be able to access them at any time. 

Lesson 1- Overview and Ongoing Unit Assessment:

Preparing and Sustaining the Learning Environment

The principal has released a memo to all teachers to pass along to students informing them that all extra curricular activities have been cancelled for the remainder of the year due to lack of resources (staff, funding for equipment, etc). Give students an opportunity to discuss how they might affect change in this situation.  How would they respond, if at all, to this situation?  

After the class discussion the teacher will tell her real life story of non-violent civil disobedience from her freshman year in high school. This exact situation occurred,  which led to student protests in the form of walk outs and a refusal to wear uniforms until all extra curricular activities were reinstated.

In order to sustain interest in the topic, each day will begin with a memo from the principal, teacher or other staff member which will undermine the students rights.  It will be subtle at first and gradually build to infringe more and more upon the students school experience.  The hope is that students will begin to push back against these infringements and organize themselves in an act of civil disobedience.  The teacher may also prod the students along by placing anonymous notes in different students’ lockers to foment the frustration borne from the fake memos.

Each lesson will also incorporate a protest song from the movement being discussed that day and will serve to ‘hook’ kids into the lecture part of the lesson each day.  ‘Vande Mataram’ – India.  ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ – South Africa.  “L’Ete 68” – 1968.  ‘Blowin in the Wind’ – MLK

Lesson 2 & 3 – Gandhi

Overview: Students will learn the important details and events surrounding Gandhi’s life through collaboration with other students and the teacher.


  • Computer
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Internet
  • Projector
  • Screen
  • Notes

Activities and Procedures:

First of all, ask the students to explain their understanding of the concept of civil rights.  Example of questions: What are different ways through which we can express our opinions or protest against injustice? Do you feel that they occur in the school atmosphere? How?

Introduce the concept of Indian independence through the song ‘Vande Mataram’ and some brief contextual facts about the British occupation of India and the rise of populist movements.  Then, begin a discussion of Gandhi with a quote of his:

“My life is dedicated to service of India through the religion of non-violence. The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the riches and saints. It is meant for the common people as well.”

Question: What do you think this means? Then ask the students to keep this quote in the back of their minds, proceed with the lecture, come back to it at the end of the lesson, repeat the quote and ask them for an educated opinion of the quote.

Lecture using PowerPoint and include the following information:

     Early history of Gandhi  (Ask students to locate South Africa)

     His ‘awakening’ to civil injustices and the beginnings of his political ideology {five-point program} (Ask students if they were ever treated unjustly. How did they retaliate? Would Gandhi have approved of it?)

     Importance in the liberation efforts of India (Ask students to locate India- point out to them how ideas spread among continents)

     His death and legacy (Ask students if they know of anyone else who has been assassinated. Did their assassination have any influence on the global acceptance or spread of their ideas?)

Assessment: Provide exit slips to students to gage their understanding of the lesson.

Lesson 4 & 5 – MLK and Civil Rights in the United States

The lesson will begin with a video clip from Ken Burns’ documentary on Jazz that highlights the lynching of African Americans in the early twentieth century and Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” as a response. Students will then be introduced to the causes and timeline of the civil rights movement in the United States. In small groups they will analyze several primary sources from the time period including newspaper articles, photographs, and speeches. Students will develop methods for identifying bias, author’s purpose, and the source’s  intended audience.  For the following lesson students will read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

At the start of Lesson 5 students will watch King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as an introduction to discussing King’s overall aims, influences, and ideas. Students will receive some basic biographical information about King and the other leaders working closely with him in the civil rights movement. We will discuss how the civil rights movement broadened to include northern white liberals and how it began to branch out into more radical groups like SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the Black Panthers. A particular emphasis will be placed on the tactical and ideological differences between the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King’s organization, and these more radical groups. In small groups, students will create a Venn Diagram or other Mind Mapping tool to illustrate the relationships between these three civil rights organizations: SCLC, SNCC, and the Black Panthers. Students will follow the historical narrative up until King’s assassination in 1968 as a preview of Lesson 7.

Lesson 6 – Scenario 

As a midway point, we will use a scenario to have students reflect on what they have learned in an engaging way.  This should also help clarify key concepts and acts as a type of formative assessment so the teacher can gauge comprehension and make the necessary adjustments for the remainder of the unit.


There are 1000 people in Town X. 300 of them are students, 200 are faculty members or staff, 200 work in the town’s main office, 100 of them are farmers and 100 work for the Town Council (government). Recently, the Town Council has announced that they want to make a profit on the annual budget. Therefore, they decided:

1) They cannot afford to pay for the school’s cleaning staff (who will be fired) so they are passing a bill where the students and faculty have to stay after school and clean

2) They are going to fire 100 of the town’s main office employees

3) They are not going to buy produce from the farmers because they made a deal with a large corporation which will export cheap, chemical foods for the town.

There are riots going on in the town. People are angry, frustrated and feel oppressed.

Guidelines for students:

  1.   Explain the concept of civil rights: Be creative, can use diagrams, mind maps, cartoons, etc.
  2.   Imagine as if you were Gandhi’s or MLK’s supporters. Using their philosophy and methodology, how would you go into communities and advocate the use of non-violence? Hint: What can you use from their speeches? Once again, be creative: students can create a skit, song, PowerPoint, etc.

Evaluation of assessment:  Critical analysis of the topic: Comprehension of non-violent philosophies and its global relevance- 60%; Inclusion of definition words- 10%; Creativity, delivery and participation- 30%.


Your aim was always to help yourself and all the other students in your class to understand the importance of Gandhi and MLK’s philosophies. Your presentation should be presented clearly to the students in your class.

Consider the following:

  1. Did you use the points provided in the process as guidelines throughout the task?  
  2. Did you cooperate with your teammates?
  3. Were tasks assigned equally among individuals within the group?  
  4. Did your audience understand the presentation?
  5. Did you use visual aids in your presentation?
  6. Were the resources relevant?
  7. Were the resources used appropriately?
1-9         10-14        15-18 19-20
Following the guidelines We followed some of the guidelines We followed most of the guidelines We followed all of the guidelines We followed all the guidelines and also used our own ideas
Cooperation with your team mates Rarely if ever We cooperated some of the time We cooperated most of the time We always cooperated with each other
Target Audience The audience rarely if ever understood The audience understood some of the content some of the time The audience understood most of the content most of the time The audience always understood all the content
Compiling Information Our information was scarce and disorganized We gathered some information but needed more We gathered quite a lot of information but either needed more or needed to organize it more efficiently We gathered a lot of relevant information which was very well organized
Presentation Our presentation lacked clarity and information More content was needed and organization could have been better Our presentation was, for the most part clear, informative and interesting Overall our presentation was clear, informative and interesting throughout
Use of Resources We had no visual aids We had some visual aids but more would have enhanced our project We had lots of useful resources but

some could have been used more effectively

We had lots of useful resources and used them effectively

How did you score?

0-25: Overall your project needed more effort. Maybe next time cooperation within the group could be better to ensure a better result.

26-50: This was a good effort. However, there is room for improvement. Next time try to focus yourselves a little better.

51- 75: Well Done! You made a great effort. Next time try to strive for the very top. It can be done!

76-100: Congratulations. All your hard work paid off! Overall a fantastic effort! Keep it up!

Lesson 7 – Year of Worldwide Protests – 1968

Clips of protests in France, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, and the United States (from the History Channel documentary, 1968) will be shown at the start of the lesson. Students will be introduced to some of the major global events taking place in 1968 and will identify parallels between movements and regions of the world, tying these issues back to our previous discussions about civil disobedience. Topics will include the events in France during  May, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, the student protests and Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico, and the protests during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  In small groups students will be given one of these events and they will analyze the causes, aims, and outcomes. Each group will create a poster, slogan, or chant that could have been seen or heard at their protest topic. Students can present their creation the following day.

Lesson 8 & 9 – Mandela

The lesson will begin with a BBC video clip of Mandela discussing non-violent protests during apartheid in South Africa. Students will be introduced to the concept of apartheid and the major events and conflicts that led up to its implementation. The students will learn about the ANC and the party’s original tenets through the following quote: “[I]t would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.” We will use this quote to guide a discussion around the justifiable use of violence when trying to achieve civil liberty and equality.  Other resources would include influential anti-apartheid songs, video clips, and mind mapping tools to compare and weigh the pros and cons of non-violent and violent protests.

Lesson 10 – Culminating Assignment

“Find a Disobedient Citizen’’ – This assignment will tie together many of the key concepts discussed throughout the unit while providing a personal, human perspective.  Through various forms of communication, students will identify and interview a person who has been or is currently involved in civil disobedience from around the world.  Students can draw from their own community and family or make contact with someone from outside their community.  Students will interview these subjects and make an effort to identify their motivation, methods and how the movements discussed throughout the unit have or have not influenced their subject.  Students will present their findings on the final day or days through the medium they choose: song, video, report, poem, multi-media presentation, etc.  

Family and Community Engagement:

Students will complete an assignment in which they interview an individual who has participated in some type of civil disobedience. Students may use their family members or seek out other individuals in the broader community. They will also research about different instances of civil disobedience within their own communities to aid them find the individual they will interview.

Students will also keep blogs which their parents and other members of the school community can access to monitor their progress throughout this unit.  Formative assessments will include creative writing assignments which will be posted to the blog regularly along with the final presentation.

Lesson Designed by: Amreen Bashir, Nick Gerard-Larson, Kiley Little, Bryan Tynan