engagEd is a resource for educators who wish to teach the tools of engaged citizenship and involve students in solving the world’s problems.

To create this collection of resources, AWTT invited the portrait subjects and the organizations that represent them, their ideas, and legacies, to produce lesson and activity plans that could be used in middle or high school classes to build bridges between the classroom and the most important issues affecting student’s lives.

These lessons are created by changemakers with strong opinions. AWTT’s staff has edited and curated these activities and lessons to offer educators and their students a window into the thought processes, lives, and dedication of activists who work for economic, social, and environmental justice. Each activity offers a particular point of view that we believe is worth understanding and exploring. It will be up to each teacher to ask questions or present materials that help students see other points of view. One way to do this is to always ask, “What is the other side of this issue?”

For teachers participating in the Samantha Smith Challenge, these activities offer a great starting point for introducing your students to the idea that they can be part of the solution to the problems they see around them.

Teach your students to think like activists. Show them how to be citizens in a democratic society. Engage them in finding solutions for real world problems. With these tools and the confidence to use them, they will discover their own voices as citizens.

Lesson Plans

  • How To Know if Your Water Is Safe: A Lesson Plan by Diane Wilson

    Lesson type: Math & Science

    Issue: Is your drinking water and the water you swim and fish in safe?

    Issue description:

    In 1972 Congress passed the "first" Clean Water Act.  It stated that the US waterways would have 'zero emissions' by 1984.

    That goal was not met. Since that time, the Clean Water Act has been compromised again and again to allow whatever is the "carrying load"of the water body or “how much can the body of water take without serious damage."

    Every business, city, and/or industry must have a water permit from the state environmental agency before it can discharge pollutants (chemicals) into a water body. Check the documents at your state agency and see how many chemicals are actually allowed into local waterways and how many times this "permit' is violated by a business, the city, and/or an industry.

    Decide for yourself if the water is safe. Question authority.

  • How War Can Be Abolished: A Lesson Plan by David Swanson

    Lesson type: Humanities

    Issue: The Abolition of War

    Issue description: In a December, 2015, U.S. presidential debate, a moderator asked a candidate whether he could serve as Commander in Chief and defined that as being willing to kill innocent children by the thousands. In 1996 the U.S. Secretary of State said that having killed 500,000 innocent children was "worth it." Is there another way to think about war and peace? What greater evil or higher cause could justify such horrors? What do students think, and what do they imagine others think?

  • Learning To Think Differently About Difference: A Lesson Plan by Alice Rothchild

    Lesson type: Humanities

    Issue: When we learn about people who are different from us or conflicts and wars in other parts of the world, we see these people, conflicts, and wars through the lens of our own societies with our own assumptions, preconceptions, and language. Often our media reinforces these assumptions through language and point of view and fails to challenge us to think “out of the box” which is the first step in imagining creative solutions and actions that can lead to greater understanding and resolutions of controversial issues.

    Issue description:

    For example, discussions around Israel/Palestinian often trigger heated emotions that come from the legacy of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, the treatment of the indigenous Palestinians, and the narrative that major powers and mainstream media use to describe this history. Often they pit people and religious groups against each other as if the situation is “hopeless.”

    The language that is used in the US media often assumes that “Israelis only want peace,” various peoples and governments are “eternally anti-Semitic,” and "Palestinians are “terrorists."

    Another way to frame this discord involves not only respecting Jewish trauma and the role of anti-Semitism in history, but also the legitimate trauma and loss of Palestinians who once shared this part of the world with Muslims, Christians and Jews fairly peaceably.

  • Are Human Beings Naturally Violent or Naturally Peaceful?: A Lesson Plan by Paul K. Chappell

    Lesson type: Humanities

    Issue: Are Human Beings Naturally Violent or Naturally Peaceful?

    Issue description: If human beings are naturally violent, then we will continue to have wars. If human beings are naturally peaceful, then world peace has a chance. Let's explore the possibilities.

  • Free Schools for Free People: A Lesson Plan by William Ayers

    Lesson type: Humanities

    Issue: How can we make free schools for free people?

    Issue description: Schools are mirror and window into society—that is, schools always reflect and reveal their host communities: schools in a theocracy teach reverence; schools in an ancient agrarian community teach cultivation and animal husbandry; schools in an authoritarian society teach submissiveness and compliance. Schools in medieval Saudi Arabia, fascist Germany, and apartheid South Africa all produced brilliant scholars and scientists, some accomplished artists, and successful industrialists, but they also, quite predictably, taught a steady curriculum of obedience and conformity. Let’s reflect on the qualities, dispositions-of-mind, values, and preferences that characterize schools for free people in a free society.

  • Connecting through Portrait Drawing: A Lesson Plan by Tilly Woodward

    Lesson type: Arts

    Issue: Connecting With The World and Its People Through Portrait Drawing

    Issue description: This lesson for a middle school art class that combines drawing, interviewing, writing, presentation and reflective discussion. These activities allow students to learn how art helps access and gain knowledge about individual people and their concerns. By viewing selected existing portraits from a range of historical, contemporary, western, and non-western artists and then drawing and interviewing a classmate, students will understand portrait drawing as a way to deepen their understanding of an individual and his or her view of the surrounding environment.