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ELA Literacy & Social and Emotional Learning
Talking About Racism—Because it Matters


Story Summary: Aniqa reports on the everyday racism experienced by black students in her high school. When a #hashtag is created to raise awareness and inspire students to speak out, it pushes the school community to confront difficult issues. Aniqa extends her observations to issues of educational equity across NYC. Lesson Purpose: Using the restorative practice of Circle, this lesson explores the difficult topic of racism in our schools. By creating a space for young people to communicate with each other, and with adults, the Circle will increase adult awareness of what young people experience and help build relationships.

Preparation: For the Circle you will need to arrange chairs so that everyone is equally included in a circle. Select a talking piece ahead of time- a simple object that can be passed around.

Lesson Objectives and Common Core Connections
• Students make personal connections to a text and successfully participate in story-based activities and discussions.
• Students will build their self-awareness by reflecting on previous experiences for growth and learning.
• Students respond thoughtfully to, and seek to understand, diverse perspectives (CCLS SL.1).
• Students will read and comprehend literary nonfiction proficiently (CCLS R.10).

Before Reading the Story (15 min)
This opening activity will activate background knowledge to boost reading comprehension and set the emotional tone for the story.

1. Welcome students to the group. Introduce the lesson by telling them you will be reading a true story by a teen who reports on students speaking out against racism in her high school.

2. Explain to the group that in this lesson they will be participating in Circle, which is a restorative practice that helps people speak freely and listen deeply to one another about important issues that affect them and their community.

3. Introduce “rounds” as the way you will be discussing today’s story. A “round” is a pass of the talking piece around the Circle. The keeper (teacher) will pose a question and, as a participant, usually answers first. The keeper then passes the talking piece to his/her left or right. When you hold the talking piece you may respond to the question by speaking honestly from your experience and from your heart. When you do not have the talking piece, you are actively listening to the speaker. Remember, it is always okay to pass.

4. Round #1: “Name a value that helps you participate in a good way when you are discussing a very difficult topic.” Write the values as participants name them and place the list in the center of the circle.

5. Acknowledge that racism is a huge presence in our society, but we have very few opportunities to talk with one another about what racism means to each of us. It takes courage to talk about racism in an honest and respectful way. Thank students for bringing their best selves to the conversation.

During Reading (20 min)
By practicing active reading strategies while reading aloud and discussing as a group, students build comprehension and support fluency.

1. Introduce the story (see the summary above).

2. Share the expectations for a group read-aloud: volunteers take turns reading aloud as much or as little as they would like around the Circle.

3. Tell students they will practice an active reading strategy called reading for a purpose. This will help them read for a purpose and be prepared for the Circle discussion that will follow.

4. Reading for a purpose directions: Ask students to read for any moments in the story when they make a personal connection or something stands out to them. When this occurs in the text, students should:
Personal connection = Place a () in the margins of the story
Stands out = Place a () in the margins of the story

5. While sitting in a circle, read the story aloud together around the Circle.

After Reading the Story (15 min)
During this post-reading activity, students will make connections, build understanding, and rehearse positive behaviors.

1. Introduce the Circle activity by explaining to the group that they will be responding to questions you pose in rounds, just like they did earlier. Remind participants to be mindful of the list of values in the center of the circle as they speak and listen, and that passing is always okay.

2. Round #2 What stands out to you in this story? Tell us what gets your attention and why.”

3. Round #3 Based on your own life experiences and observations what wisdom do you have to share on this topic? What would you want the adults in this school to understand?”

4. Round #4

5. Thank students for participating in the Circle today and working to make connections to Aniqa’s story, reflect on their own lives, and share with one another.


The Circle protocols in this lesson were adapted from Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community, by Carolyn Boyed-Watson and Kay Pranis. You can find this resource through Living Justice Press.

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[Other Teacher Resources]
(NYC-2016-05-05)

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