Facing History and Ourselves Lesson Plan: NIOS Next Steps: Projects and Assignments | Not in Our Town

Facing History and Ourselves Lesson Plan: NIOS Next Steps: Projects and Assignments

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)

Facing History and Ourselves combats racism, antisemitism, and religious prejudice by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

This lesson idea is part of a collection of resources Facing History and Ourselves has developed to support classroom use of Not in Our School materials. Other resources in this collection include:

Suggested activities

Watch Not in Our Town
Not in our School is an outgrowth of Not in Our Town – a national movement that began with a documentary about the powerful way the town of Billings, Montana responded to hate crimes in their community. Many of the student groups profiled on the website were inspired by watching this 25-minute film (excerpt below).

Not in our Town can be purchased from the NIOT website or can be borrowed from Facing History’s library. (Note: Only members of Facing History’s teacher network can borrow films.) Click here for a brief excerpt of the film. Facing History has created an online exhibit based on the film Not in Our Town.  The exhibit includes links to a reading about this event published in the Choosing to Participate study guide (pp.67-74). It also includes a video clip, discussion questions, and lesson ideas.


Using the Not in Our Town Website:

  • Local lessons tells the stories of community and school groups that have confronted hate and intolerance in their communities. Individually or in small groups, students can be assigned to read one of these and report back to the larger group answers to questions such as: What steps did the groups take? (Break it down as specifically as possible.) How did they work?  What are the three most important things you learn from this “local lessons” example?  This activity could also be organized as a jigsaw.  While students present local lessons, encourage students to pay attention to themes the stories have in common as well as aspects that make each story unique. After learning about what has happened in other communities, students may be inspired to share their own local lesson. These can be presented within the class and/or posted on the Not in Our Town website.
  • Mapping the movement against hate is an interactive feature that locates recent hate incidents and the locations of Not in Our Town and Not in Our School groups.  Here are some ideas on how to use this map in the classroom:
  • Project the map on a screen or wall of your classroom. Give students a minute or two to record as many notes as they can about facts they observe on the map.  Then give students another minute or two to create interpretations based on these observations.  Ask students to share observations and related interpretations. This can be done as a wraparound or students can share this information in small groups.
  • If you have access to a computer lab, give students 10-15 minutes to explore the map. You might begin with questions such as, “What do all of the people represented on this map have in common?”  You could organize this as a scavenger hunt, asking students to locate different kinds of stories, i.e., a story about a university, middle or high school, a community, or an individual.  
  • For homework or class work, you could ask students to learn about at least five stories by clicking on a dot on the map. Then have them identify the story that made the biggest impact on them. It might have been surprising, inspiring, or frustrating.  Ask them to write a journal entry about this story. What struck them about it? Students could share these stories in small groups, possibly by using the Save the Last Word for Me or  Learn to Listen / Listen to Learn teaching strategy
  • Not in Our Town Posters show one way the Billings community sent a powerful message against hate. Echoing the spirit of the Billings story, communities across the country and around the world continue to use Not In Our Town posters and flyers to tell the world they're standing for diversity, acceptance, and respect. Click here to view and download several of these posters. Students can analyze the message and imagery in them. (See the teaching strategy, “Media Literacy: Analyzing Visual Images,” for ideas on how to structure this activity.) As a follow-up to interpreting these images, students can design their own Not in Our School or Not in our Town poster.
  • The blog feature provides an easy way for students to interact with the content of the website and with each other. You can assign a group of students the same entry, or allow groups to select an entry that interests them. Then ask each participant to post a comment to the blog. Students can then respond to each other’s comments.  You could also have groups pair up so that they respond to each other’s comments on different stories. Before beginning this exercise, it is important to review proper blog etiquette.  What makes a comment useful? What make a comment distracting?  In the article, “The ethics of blog commenting,“ Davy Kestens of Tripwire magazine answers this question as follows:
  • “Thank You” is NOT enough
    Of course, comments like “waaaw”, “Thank you”, ‘I love it” would certainly add value to the blog itself but it wouldn’t add a value to YOU as a blog commenter. How about explaining what exactly “waawed” you about the post? Or sharing additional tips, links and information relevant to the original post? Even better, you can share a personal experience that supports the blog topic…etc.
  • Keep it simple…
    In your sincere quest to thank the author for a post well-written, you might be tempted to complicate things. For example, if you have two additional tips to give on a certain blog post, picture, or video you name it, it’s better to place each of them in a separate comment
  • Who has time?! Make it brief!

    Put yourself in the blog reader’s shoe or even see how you personally feel about lengthy blog comments written by others. The web is an information avalanche! No one has time to read an elaborated blog comment!

  • When you beg to differ, do it politely!
    It boggles my mind how some people could become insanely obnoxious when they disagree with a blog post and shower the writer with swear words and nasty vocabulary! What if, instead, you tactfully explained why you disagree with the blog writer’s opinion in general rather than attacking him/her on a personal level?!

Three Guiding Principles When Confronting Hate
Margaret MacDonald, a leader in the original Not In Our Town Movement in Billings, Montana, wrote a beautiful essay where she reflects on some of the guiding principles that helped shape the community’s creative and powerful responses to hate crimes in their community.  You might want to read this text aloud as a class, asking students to highlight words that stand at to them.  This would also be an effective text to use as the focus for a Socratic Seminar.  In addition to the questions raised by students, journal or discussion questions you might use with this essay include:

  • What organizations and institutions worked together to combat hate in Billings? What are the different resources each of these institutions bring to the table?
  • Margaret MacDonald explains that the community decided to respond to hateful vandalism even though it came from kids. Some might argue that kids just want attention and that, therefore, ignorance is the best response when young people behave inappropriately. How would you respond to this argument?  Under what conditions, if any, should intolerant and/or hateful language be ignored?  
  • MacDonald says “What happens to the smallest minority, happens to us all.”  What do you think she means by this statement? Do you agree or disagree with it? Can you think of examples from your own life or from history that support or refute this idea?
  • Based on MacDonald’s third principle “Focus energy on the targets rather than the perpetrators,” how would she recommend responding to bullying that happens at school? What do you think of this approach? What are the benefits of it? The costs or risks of taking this approach?

Conduct research on hate crimes, school climate and bullying in your community
After exploring resources (videos, blog posts, etc) on the Not in Our School website, ask students to share what they know about bullying, intolerance and hate crimes in their own school and community.  Questions they can respond to include:

  • Are you aware of any incidents of hate or intolerance in your school and community? If so, describe one or two of these incidents.
  • What has happened in their own school and community to respond to these incidents or to prevent acts of hatred, violence and injustice?
  • Do you think bullying and/or intolerance is a big problem in your school? In your larger community?  Explain your opinion using evidence.
  • What more do you want to know?  Where might you go to find this information?

Once students have identified what they know and do not know about hate, violence and/or intolerance in their own community, give them the opportunity to do some research, individually or in small groups, and then report back to the class on what they found. Students could interview community members, government officials, or nonprofit organizations.  They could also learn more about hate and intolerance at their own schools by distributing surveys and/or observing and taking notes of students’ behavior in the halls, cafeteria, etc.  Here are examples of school climate surveys students can adapt for their own purpose:

To learn more about hate crimes in their community, a very useful starting point is the Hate Map developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  This map allows students to track hate crime activity by state.  Informative websites on bullying include:

Students can also conduct their own internet searches to find interesting and credible sources on bullying and hate crimes. In addition to the general search function, Google provides searches that present information in different ways. You can find these functions on the bottom left navigation list and/or by clicking the heading “More search tools.”  

  • “Wonder wall” breaks down a topic into sub-topics via a concept may display. Click here for an example of a Wonder Wall search for the term “bullying.”  Students could be assigned different spokes of the wheel to explore in greater depth.
  • “Timeline” presents information organized by year.  This function allows students to trace the history of bullying or hate crimes, as reported by the media.
  • “Nearby” provides information relevant to your particular area. This function allows students to focus on bullying or hate crime incidents in their region.

Review the strategy “Evaluating internet resources” for ideas on how to help students assess the validity of their sources.

Start a NIOS Group
Once students have researched what is happening in their own school, they might decide to start a NIOS group – an organized group of students who take a stand against hate and intolerance in their schools. The Not in Our School website provides simple instructions to help students start a NIOS group.  Students can also document what is happening at their school and post this information on the Not in Our Town Facebook page.

Defining a “culture of acceptance” - In the video, “What Do You Say to “That’s So Gay,” students take steps to create a “culture of acceptance” in their school.

To help students think about what these phrase means, you can have small groups create an identity chart for a “culture of acceptance.” Students can discuss questions such as, “How do you know when a community has a “culture of acceptance?” What would you expect to find in such a community?”  Students can share their identity charts and use this information to create a working definition for “culture of acceptance.” A final assignment might ask students to describe a community they know about, from history or their own experience, that has a culture of acceptance or you might have students reflect on the degree to which their own school community embodies a “culture of acceptance.”  Students can also brainstorm ways that individuals can help create a “culture of acceptance” in their own communities. 

Protest Art/Post Your Art - The film “Art Students Picture a World without Intolerance” shows how students at Palo Alto High School use visual art as a way to protest against intolerance in their school. Watching this video may inspire your students to create “protest art” of their own.

Before beginning this activity, have students define the term “protest art” and think about examples of music, film, theater and visual art that fit this definition.

Drawing attention to hate and intolerance:  In addition to using art, students can use other forms of media, such as reporting, blogging or videos, to draw attention to hate and intolerance in their schools and communities.  Facing History’s online module Making Media, Making Sense, Making a Difference provides resources to help students explore different ways reporters – both professional and “citizen journalists” -  use media to get people to care about important issues.  For example, Investigation One: Why Don’t People Act? Confronting Psychic Numbing uses social science research to help explain why many people are more likely act on behalf of one victim as opposed to many victims.  This informs reporter Nicholas Kristof’s decision to focus his columns on one subject he thinks will especially capture his audience’s attention.



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