Social Justice Ideas for Middle-High School English

As the world struggles to deal with a myriad of issues from the global pandemic, to racism, climate change, women's rights, and more... students need help unpacking it all.  Many students are overwhelmed as they directly experience it, or they are bystanders watching it all unfold in front of them.  Students may struggle to understand the how and the why of inequity and may wonder how they can help.  As educators, it's so important to help students understand social justice issues.  

Social justice topics can be taught through reading fiction, exploring song lyrics, watching a slam poem, viewing a TED Talk, listening to a podcast, digging into some incredible online resources, visiting a museum, and more.

The ladies of the Secondary Coffee Shop are happy to share how they include social justice topics in their ELA classrooms and we hope you find inspiration in our ideas.

Presto PlansTo state it simply, kids need stories that reflect their own experiences, but they also need literature that allows them to see the perspective of others.  The concept of making sure the literature you share in your classroom are “mirrors and windows” was introduced by Emily Style.  A text that is a mirror reflects your own culture and identity. They allow the reader to feel a connection and also see that their culture is not only being reflected but that it is valued. A window, on the other hand, allows you to view and consider someone else’s experience.  They allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the world we live in and to provide windows into someone else’s culture and identity.  For some students in your classroom, this might be the first time they are able to learn about differences in culture, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  I would recommend doing a library audit to ensure that your classroom library includes books for all students.

Tracee Orman: Sometimes it’s much more effective to hear from an outside expert. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local organizations to see if someone would be willing to speak to your class about their experiences. Hearing another person’s story first-hand is going to be much more impactful than you trying to share their story yourself. You can do a Google search for social justice organizations in your area to find groups to contact. Also, a local college may have organizations with students willing to come to speak to your class.

 Nouvelle ELA: Have you checked out Learning for Justice’s Social Justice Standards? This is a great way to make sure your students are learning skills like self-advocacy, empathy, and standing up for others. For example, one standard is “DI.6-8.8 I am curious and want to know more about other people’s histories and lived experiences, and I ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and nonjudgmentally.” We can build a whole lesson around asking respectful questions (or building skills like “Googling first.”) We can also draw in a fun video like this one.

The Daring English Teacher : Another great resource for teaching social justice that all teachers should know about is the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL has an educators section on its website that has dozens of prepared lessons, activities, and resources for educators to use. You can filter your search by grade level and topic to make sure that you are providing your students with meaningful content. And if you teach in an area where you need to tie social justice education to the standards, you’ll want to check out the ADL’s lesson on social justice poetry.

Addie Williams - I love to weave social justice themes through my entire English class and there are some great resources on CommonLit that are free and include everything you need for a lesson. A quick search for "social justice", or a more specific topic like "racism" yields some excellent resources on their free platform. If you're looking for a film to show in class the National Film Board of Canada has some free and fantastic resources - again use the search bar to find specific topics. Many of the films can be streamed for free. Lastly, I've recently discovered Imaginaction - a partnership between the Canadian Federation of Teachers and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. They have over 350 resources and ideas for a wide range of topics - they span a wide range of topics and cover the globe. I also really love this free lesson on How to Be An Upstander from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Room 213

“People like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice.” This is a quote from Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, one I have my students reflect on and discuss. Our students are more socially aware than ever before and so we have the amazing opportunity to move them from awareness and hashtag activism to actually doing things that can bring justice to those who need it. One way we can do this is by showing them examples of ordinary people doing simple actions that make a difference. Download this PDF to get some videos of Ted Talks that you can share with your students. 

We hope we have inspired you with some fresh ideas for your classroom!

The Secondary English Coffee Shop

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