Resistance 101: A Lesson on Social Justice Activists and Strategies

Teaching for Change created “Resistance 101” to help young people move from dismay to creative action that can win real change. This innovative lesson plan, launched in January 2017 to coincide with the inauguration, helps students recognize their power to challenge injustice. The lesson introduces them to people throughout history, including many young people, who fought for social justice and civic change using a range of strategies.

Students must learn to think critically about our nation’s history and learn the lessons of social movements to make this a more just society. The master narrative of social movements being won by individual heroes and large demonstrations won’t serve young people well.

Here’s feedback from teachers about the impact of “Resistance 101”:

My students learned that you do not have to be famous or powerful to do your part to help change injustices in your communities. Some students even started planning their own resistance efforts as a result. —Michelle Epperson, middle school social studies teacher, Coburg, Oregon

Students were amazed just to know that they didn’t have to “go with the flow” and that they can make their voices heard. One student said to me, “I’m going to start a petition right now!” —Ashley Zappe, EarthCare, Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Resistance 101” taught my students about many people they have never heard of and enhanced their understanding that there are many different ways to get involved with social justice. The lesson helped my students understand that they themselves can be activists and choose how they want to participate, rather than being passive recipients at the mercy of government and the forces of history.—Jim Cartwright, middle school language arts teacher, Northampton, Massachusetts

Have you used this lesson? Please send us your feedback and we will send you a free book!

Resistance 101 is an introductory lesson, allowing students to “meet” people from throughout U.S. history who have who used a range of social change strategies. The lesson features activists from the 1800s-present:

Phillip Agnew

Richard Allen

Joe Angelo

Dave Archambault II

Ella Baker

Rev. William Barber

Judy Bonds

Anne Braden

Tarana Burke

Septima Clark

Shirley Chisholm

CP Ellis

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Fannie Lou Hamer

Rafael Hernandez

Barbara Rose Johns

Mother Jones

Henry Highland Garnet

Colin Kaepernick

Helen Keller

Yuri Kochiyama

Fred Korematsu

Audre Lorde

Winona LaDuke

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Bob Moses

Bree Newsome


John O’Riley

Sarah Parker Remond

Paul Robeson

Jo Ann Robinson

Favianna Rodriguez

Bayard Rustin

Linda Sarsour

Margaret C. Smith

Ida Tarbell

Emma Tenayuca

Mary Beth Tinker

Destiny Watford

Ida B. Wells

It is important to note, and to point out to students, that this list represents just a small sample of the people, time periods, struggles, and strategies we could have included. It is our hope that students not only choose to learn more about the people featured in this lesson, but that they also research and create more bios. In fact, students could create a similar lesson with activists in their community, youth activists, environmental activists, and many more.

The lesson is based on the format of a Rethinking Schools lesson called Unsung Heroes and draws from lessons by Teaching for Change on women’s history and the Civil Rights Movement, including Selma.

This lesson can make participants aware of how many more activists there are than just the few heroes highlighted in textbooks, children’s books, and the media. The lesson provides only a brief introduction to the lives of the people profiled. In order to facilitate learning more, we limited our list to people whose work has been well enough documented that students can find more in books and/or online.

For elementary students, see the #TeachResistanceToolkit developed by a group of teachers in New York. The toolkit offers read-aloud lessons about a real or fictional young person who resists injustice in their life. The read-aloud lessons are for One by Kathryn Otoshi, Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate, and Joelito’s Big Decision by Ann Berlak. The lessons include discussion questions, a related activity, and an “activist extension.”

There are also dozens of lessons to draw on from the Zinn Education Project website. In particular, check out the lessons highlighted in Teaching After the Election of Trump. Most of these lessons were developed by Rethinking Schools.

If you use the Resistance 101 lesson, we would love to receive your feedback, suggested edits, and photographs. Send us an email.


Resistance 101 at Deal MS

Posted Thursday, May 28, 2020 |

Stay Connected

View Our Photos


Your donation to Teaching for Change (a 501-c-3) is tax-deductible and helps us provide teachers and parents with tools to create schools where students learn to read, write, and change the world.