Facing History and Ourselves Lesson Plan: Spread the Peace | Not in Our Town

Facing History and Ourselves Lesson Plan: Spread the Peace

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)

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

Throughout history, young people have also played an important role in their communities and in social change movements. (For example, high school students were a driving force behind the U.S. civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.) Not in Our School videos help students explore some ways young people are making a difference in their communities today.

The short video, “Spread the Peace,” produced by Not in Our School, shows how students at Mother Caroline Academy (Dorcester, Massachusetts) responded to growing violence in their community. As psychologist Ervin Staub wrote, “Goodness, like evil, begins in small steps.”  Watching this video gives students the opportunity to think about the small steps they can take to make a difference in the lives of those in their school and larger community.

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’s materials. Other resources in this collection include:

  • Preparing to use the Not in Our School website
  • Using Not in Our School videos
  • Youth Leaders Share Strategies for Standing Up to Hate
  • Not in Our School next steps: projects and assignments

This lesson is part of the Not In Our School Video Action Kit, a comprehensive toolkit featuring films, lessons, and resources designed to motivate students to speak out against bullying, and create new ways to make their schools safe for everyone.

Suggested activities: One or more of these ideas, in addition to your own, can be used to create a lesson plan relevant for your students.

“Spread the Peace” reveals how a classroom of middle school students responded to an increase in gun violence in their community. Before watching this video, ask students to identify examples of violence they have witnessed in their community or have heard about in other communities. Then ask students to respond to the following questions:

  • What strategies might students use to reduce violence?
  • What are the risks, if any, to taking these steps?
  • What challenges might students confront as they try to reduce violence in their community?
  • What would a successful response to violence look like? How could “success” be measured?
  • What resources do they need to be successful?
  • What might be the consequences of doing nothing?

For additional ways to prepare students to view these videos, refer to the “Preparing for Not in our Schools” lesson idea.  
To help students comprehend and interpret what they view (and to give you evidence of student learning), here are some ways to structure students’ response to the video:

    • 3-2-1  - After viewing, students can record 3 facts from the video, 2 questions raised by the video, and one feeling they experienced while watching the video.
    • Text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world – Here is an example of the kinds of questions you can use with this strategy:
      • Text-to-text: What events or ideas from this video remind you of other things you have seen or heard (books, movies, songs, television show, etc.)?  
      • Text-to-self: What events or ideas from this video remind you of something you have witnessed or experienced?  
      • Text-to-world: What events or ideas from this film remind you of something that happens in your community, nation or world?
    • Levels of questions – Here is an example of the kinds of questions you can use with this strategy:
      • Level one: What were students responding to in this video? What action did they take?
      • Level two: What do you think of their response? In what ways was it effective? What else could they have done to address the problem they saw in their school or community?
      • Level three: What power do you think young people have to change attitudes and actions? What gives young people power? What limits the power of young people to create change?
    • Two-column chart. On the left side of a page, students record information presented in the film. On the right side, students record their reactions to this information – a question, a comment, a feeling, a connection to something they know about or have experienced.  


Journal writing: Often a simple prompt such as “What struck you about this film? What ideas are on your mind?” is enough to spark students’ responses. Here are some additional questions that can be used for reflective writing:
    • What were the conditions in Dorchester (Boston), Ma and at Mother Caroline Academy that helped the students take action? How are these conditions unique to this specific context? What about these conditions reminds you of your own school or neighborhood?
    • In the film, the teacher asks students to define justice. What is your definition of justice? What do you think is the relationship between justice and choosing to participate?
    • In the film, the students explain how they were inspired by Not in Our Town, a story about how the residents of Billings, Montana responded to hate crimes in their community. What story that we have studied so far this year has been most inspirational to you? Why? If you can’t think of one, consider why you have not been motivated by these stories.
    • The students at Mother Caroline Academy say, “We might be small but we have a big voice”, and “We have chosen to stand together as a community and take action.” What do these statements suggest to you about choosing to participate?
    • Do individual students have the power to make a difference in their schools and communities? Why or why not? How might a student, any student, begin to make a difference? What steps could he/she take?
    • Psychologist Ervin Staub said, “Goodness, like evil, often begins in small steps. Heroes evolve; they aren’t born.” What do you think this statement means? Do you agree or disagree with this idea?
    • What “small steps” can students and teachers take to make a difference in the lives of others, especially in the lives of their classmates and neighbors?  
    • What risks are involved in standing up to violence?  What can help people overcome those risks?  Under what conditions, if any, might it be unwise to stand-up to perpetrators of violence?


Student presentations - Small groups or pairs can discuss the following questions:
  • What were students responding to in this video? What problem were they trying to solve?
  • What did they do? What strategies did they employ? What community or school resources did they draw from?
  • What risks did they take? What challenges did they confront?
  • What do you think of their response?  What did they accomplish?
  • What advice would you offer these students? What could be some next steps these students could take to further address this problem?
  • What more do you want to know about this situation? If you had the opportunity, what would you want to ask the students in this video?

A graphic organizer can be used to help students keep track of their ideas.  Students can refer to these notes during a whole-class discussion about the ideas in the film.

Discussion - After giving students the opportunity to respond to what they have viewed independently or in small groups, facilitate a class conversation. Here are some other effective ways to facilitate a discussion about this film:

    • Wraparounds:  Wraparounds give all students the opportunity to share an idea or question before a discussion begins. After viewing a video, you can ask each student to share one thought or question that is on their mind, or one moment that stood out for them.
    • Fishbowl: Fishbowl is a strategy that helps students practice being active listeners and participants in a discussion. Half the class can debrief the video while the other half observes. Then students can switch roles.
    • Big paper: building a silent conversation: You can ask students to record important quotations from the video, or you can ask them to suggest questions the video raised for them. These questions and quotations can serve as the focus of a silent conversation activity. Or, you can use the prompts above as the focus of a silent conversation activity.
    • Roundabouts:  In a roundabout, students form two concentric circles facing one another. Students discuss a question with the person opposite them until the facilitator announces that the inner circle should move one space to the right (usually after 3-5 minutes). Then students begin a conversation with their new partner. This process can be repeated for several rounds, and you can use the same question for each round or you can switch questions for each round. Often this is followed by a full group conversation about the ideas shared in the brief conversations.

Historical connections and other extensions: After viewing this video, students can explore historical examples of people, including young people, combating hate and intolerance in their communities, including:

  • Youth resistance movements during World War II and the Holocaust. Refer to these readings from Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior: “Rebels without a cause” (pp. 249-250) and “From bystanders to resisters” (pp. 373-375).
  • The role of young adults during the civil rights movement.  Refer to the film Eyes on the Prize and related readings from Facing History’s Eyes on the Prize Study Guide, especially epsiode 3 “Aint’s scared of your jails.”

The lesson idea “Not in our School next steps: projects and assignments” provides additional suggestions for how to extend students’ learning about combating hate and intolerance in their communities.




I had a couple of students watch the "Spread the Peace" video with me while they waited for their classes to begin.  They were so impressed with the vision and momentum exhibited by the students in the video.  I asked them if they thought it might be possible to make permanent changes to a community by doing something as simple as posting visual reminders to "Spread the Peace".  They said they believed it would work!  I was elated to hear my students felt empowered by the film and they began to discuss ways they might make some changes in their local community.

We are also elated to hear they felt empowered by the film! Every time I watch this film, I'm equally heartbroken by the violence that these girls have witnessed in their neighborhood (and specifically, in their families) and am utterly inspired by their effort to make a change in their community. Please let us know if you and your students plan an activity/action! ~Alicia @ NIOT, email: web @ theworkinggroup.org

 Wow, I've never imagined how much violence could exist in many neighborhoods. I got really shocked to see how there are places where little kids have to deal with the death of one or many of their family members and they dont even are traumatized because that's not the first time that they hear or see someone death. I am really happy to see how there are persons or organizations who are taking care of this kids and are trying to help them, also I can see that those kids are really encouraged and that they want to make their neighborhood a good place to live. I hope they can reach their goal.

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