How to Bring Social Justice Issues to Your Classroom

Although many social justice issues impact our students in a multitude of ways, it’s important to find relevant ways to present these issues to students in a way that doesn’t seem like a distant past. Finding relevant content for students when is absolutely essential. What better way to do it than by studying athletes and social issues simultaneously!  

My school used the Expeditionary Learning Unit titled: Athlete Leaders of Social Change to anchor our learning. The curriculum is available for free online here and includes very detailed lesson plans, assessments, and an overall thorough progression of learning materials! The curriculum centers around Jackie Robinson’s role in breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, and the challenges and triumphs that accompanied his career. I had the privilege to engage in this important work with my fifth grade students. This unit of study really helped bring awareness to a lot of social issues my students felt disconnected from.

Here’s a quick guide to the main sequence of student learning. I hope something here sparks inspiration so that you too can further invite students to have conversations about social change in your classroom!

1. Hook them in!

Before we even started the unit, we had students start thinking about influential athletes from different time periods.  I used these awesome athlete pennants from from The Little Ladybug  Shop for a quick introduction to various athletes from different sports. I laid out all the different banners and gave students a chance to do a mini gallery walk to see their options. I let students select the athlete of their choice after having a conversation about “stretch goals” to try to pick an athlete they didn’t know a lot about so they could learn more! 

2. Make vocabulary accessible.

I like to use this vocabulary template when learning new words. It really helps students think about a word, it’s meaning, and imagine a scenario.  The terms students explored were: agent of social change, activist, ally, advocate, stereotype, discrimination, and segregation. These would be important terms students would see throughout this unit of study.  Though they were not the only terms learned, these helped to anchor student learning.  

Click the picture to make your own copy of the template!

3. Provide Opportunities for Students to have Meaningful Conversations using new Vocabulary!

Knowing that students would later be studying a specific athlete and social issue, it was important that students start talking about the movements or issues that certain athletes are passionate about. Students discussed the  important impacts athletes can make, which also led us to a great conversation about why they can make an impact.

In groups, students engaged in guided research that would simulate the work they would later do individually. Students were asked: What makes ____(insert athlete’s name)____ an athlete leader of social change?

This is a list of the athletes students studied for this guided research. Social issues ranged from the gender pay gap to educational inequities. Students created posters that showed each athlete’s achievements in making social change and within their sport. Students had really rich conversations about each individuals role in making social change and which reasons were the strongest!

4. Incorporate multiple text options.

Our anchor text was informational (pictured) so we supplemented this reading with Book Clubs! This gave students a chance to focus in one specific athlete(s) or social issue and allowed them to read closer to their reading levels. We used recommendations from Expeditionary Learning, as well as books we found available through Scholastic. Click here for our list.  We printed a calendar for students so they could determine which pages needed to be read for each meeting. We met twice a week and gave students specific topics for conversation, and wrapped up with a Novel to Documentary DVD Project.

5. Spark creativity.

We talked about this project with our students from day one. The required research information was similar to the work we did with individual athletes in our launch and the reasons for being the best athlete leader of social change was similar to the work modeled in group work. Students completed this planning sheet to think about the three most important reasons their athlete is the ultimate MVP of social change. Using these reasons, students had to plan and create multiple drafts of an artifact that represented their individual’s success and social change.  This extended the work to include design elements and creative connections.

6. Share student learning!

To showcase student learning, the school community was invited to an MVP Meet and Greet! Students became their athlete and had to persuade families to vote for them as MVP of social change! Students prepared a Persuasive Pitch and families could cast votes for the athlete leader that made the biggest impact! Hearing students communicate their ideas and demonstrate a level of passion for their work was amazing and this is definitely a topic and project I hope to do again in the future!

All files linked above can be found in this Google Drive folder. All files are VIEW ONLY, but can be edited once you make a copy. Please read the file titled: START HERE.

Have fun and please share how you plan to implement or how you implemented some of these ideas in your classroom! Comment below or tag me on Instagram @donutlovinteacher.

**I also love these Activist Posters from Caffeinate & Educate and think they would fit nicely into this unit as a graffiti board activity or simply as positive affirmations! 

Posted in ELA

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