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Teacher Lesson Return to "Can We ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ Our Way to a Better World?"
Can We ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ Our Way to a Better World?
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Social Media vs. Direct Activism—Reading Comprehension, Writing, Media/News Literacy

Note: This is a set of lessons intended to be taught over a minimum of 5 days. If you have limited time, consider adapting a shorter version of this unit using the YCteen story as the central activity.


● Students will demonstrate comprehension of a story and articulate its main idea and supporting arguments.
● Students will use explicit reading strategies to support their comprehension.
● Students will write a five-paragraph essay stating and defending an argument.

Standards: This lesson meets Common Core Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. (See end of lesson for a complete list.)

Vocabulary: activism, cause, protest, demonstration, peaceful assembly, non-violence, boycott, manipulate, dialogue, legislators, morality, empathy, humanity, commitment

DAY 1: Activism: Occupy Wall Street and Civil Rights Movement Sit-Ins

Introduction (15 minutes): Ask the students to volunteer responses to the following questions. Then, write responses on the board.

● What is activism? (Use of direct action to support/advocate for an issue or cause).
● What are some examples of activism? (Possible responses: marching, boycotts, sit-ins, rallies, petitions, signs, etc. Students may also mention online forms of activism—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—if not, add them to the list and ask students to elaborate on how social media can be used to support a cause.)
● What kinds of activism have you or your peers been involved with?

Tell students they are going to explore how the use of social media is changing the way people seek change in the world through activism, and that they will spend the week analyzing the following question by studying several examples of youth activism: Which is more effective in making lasting change: in-person forms of activism, or online/social media activism? (Students may disagree; that is fine—encourage them to defend their point of view.)

Tell students they’re first going to watch Youth Occupy Wall Street, a short video (4:29) of young activists at an Occupy Wall Street protest march in fall 2011. (Go to

Explain that the Occupy Wall Street movement’s basic aims are to seek greater social and economic equality and raise awareness about the influence of corporations on politics and government. After the video, ask volunteers to share which statements they connected with, and why.

Viewing (30 minutes): Introduce the idea that young people have often been a powerful force in social movements, including the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Tell students they will now view a section of the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize” about the 1960 student lunch counter sit-ins. (If you don’t have access to the series, you can easily find it on YouTube. This 14-minute clip—edited with some additional context to make it digestible for an upper elementary school audience—works well:

Before viewing, provide students with some basic background about the goals of the movement, and in particular, the immediate goals of the sit-ins. Here is a brief script you can adapt:

Young people played a powerful role during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, working to end racial segregation and discrimination. Here are three examples:
● The Freedom Riders. In 1961, many young people—black, white, and other races—challenged Jim Crow laws and risked their safety by riding buses together into southern states that enforced segregation laws on buses.
● Birmingham Children’s March. In Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, African-American children and teens bravely faced high-pressure fire hoses, vicious police dogs, abusive police officers, and jail time in order to boycott school and march to call for an end to segregation and police brutality.
● Lunch Counter Sit-Ins. Black college students and some of their white peers staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters across the South, refusing to abide by store rules that denied counter service to African-Americans. They simply remained at the counter until they were arrested by police. (Keep in mind that, at the time, lunch counters were roughly the equivalent of fast-food restaurants.) Tens of thousands of people participated, and 3,000 were arrested in 1960 alone.

Today, we are going to watch a short video that shows how the student lunch counter sit-ins had an important and lasting impact on the movement.

After viewing, ask students to write responses to the following questions:

●What was the students’ immediate goal? (end racial segregation at lunch counters)
●What were the students’ larger goals? (end racial segregation generally; to achieve equal rights for all Americans)
●What strategies did they use to accomplish their goals? (non-violent resistance; sitting at lunch counters for hours on end; marching; holding politicians accountable)
●Although there was no Internet in the 1960s, do you think the result would have been different if the students had only used social media to achieve their goals instead of direct action? Why?

(Note: Students may disagree on the impact that the Internet and social media would have had on the movement. Some will make the obvious point that a “virtual sit-in” isn’t really a sit-in. Nudge students to explore the difference. Other students may suggest that if social media had been available in 1960 to get the word out about the sit-ins, people might have turned up in even larger numbers. You might want to remind students that the sit-ins relied heavily on rigorous training of participants in non-violence, and whether having masses of untrained people show up to participate in sit-ins might have had a different, possibly less-successful, outcome. There is no right or wrong answer here; the idea is to get students thinking about the complexity of building a social movement and educating the public about instances of injustice.)

DAY 2: Online Activism: “Kony 2012” Viewing and Critical Discussion

Introduction (10 minutes): Briefly review yesterday’s activity, focusing on the central question: whether online forms of activism or in-person forms of activism are more effective. Acknowledge that there is no absolute right or wrong answer to this question.

Ask students how many of them have heard about the Kony 2012 campaign by the group Invisible Children. Begin by providing some basic historical background (you may wish to start by locating Uganda on a map of Africa). Explain that since the 1980s Joseph Kony has led a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army against the Ugandan government. The LRA has been responsible for brutal crimes against humanity such as killing innocent civilians, rape, using child soldiers, forcing girls and women into sexual servitude, and forcing people (including children) to murder family members in an effort to break down communities and increase the LRA’s power over the people.

Viewing (35 minutes): Tell students they are going to watch “Kony 2012,” a 30-minute film by a nonprofit group called Invisible Children, which started a social media campaign in early 2012 to raise awareness about Joseph Kony’s atrocities, and to call for his capture and prosecution. Explain to students that Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” video was one of the most successful social media campaigns of all time—the video was viewed by millions, who in turn spread the word about Kony through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. You can find the video at

Tell students that, as they watch “Kony 2012,” they should take notes about the following questions for discussion after the film. Write these questions on the board:

● What are the goals of the film?
● Who is the film’s target audience?
● What techniques/strategies does the film use to persuade its audience? Which are more effective, and which are less effective? Why?

After viewing “Kony 2012,” give students five minutes to write out responses to the key questions for discussion in the next class session.

DAY 3: Reading YCteen Critique of “Kony 2012” and Critical Discussion of Online Activism

Introduction (15 minutes): Review and discuss yesterday’s key questions with the class. Emphasize that the film targeted young people, and ask students to think about how the film seemingly suggests simple, concrete actions (buy an Invisible Children “action kit;” participate in the “Cover the Night” campaign; sign a petition that Invisible Children will send to Capitol Hill), but press students to evaluate what kind of lasting change each of these actions is likely to accomplish. The goal here is to get students to critically evaluate the effectiveness of social media campaigns, and consider whether there is a lasting impact beyond “spreading the word.” Students may reach different conclusions about this, which is fine—as long as they are pressed to defend their point of view.

Reading (20 minutes): Have students take turns reading aloud Julijana Stefanovic’s YCteen story, “Can We ‘Like and Share’ Our Way to a Better World?” on p. 10 of the print issue. Remind students of the central question: Encourage them to use the reading strategy of text marking—underlining or circling key statements, writing questions/brief comments in the margins of the story—as they read in order to increase their comprehension. Pause periodically during the reading to summarize information and check for understanding.

Writing (10 minutes): Hand out the following key statements from the story. Tell students to choose one (alternatively, you can assign them), and write whether they agree or disagree with the statement, and why—citing evidence from the text of the story. Responses will be discussed in the following class session.

“Social media doesn’t help you do truly difficult things in the world—it just lets you hold hands with a couple of acquaintances while clicking on a button to sign a petition.”

“When you have a complicated political situation involving several independent countries, getting people riled up may not address the issue.”

“When it’s so easy to join a cause, it’s also easy to drop it—nothing is risked and nothing is sacrificed.”

“‘Kony 2012’ demonstrated how effectively technology can trigger human empathy on a stunning scale. If we can translate that kind of empathy into lasting, active commitment, we really can make a change.”

DAY 4: Pre-Writing About Online vs. In-Person Activism

Introduction (20 minutes): Ask volunteers to share their responses to the statement they wrote about at the end of the previous class.

Review the central question raised in the first session, reminding students that they will spend the next two days writing an essay that responds to the following question:

Which is more effective in making lasting change: in-person forms of activism, or online activism?

Review with students that they must take a position on this question, and defend it with evidence from the story and video clips they have viewed. Recap the examples of online vs. direct forms of activism that could support or contradict their arguments:

1. Direct action: (lunch counter sit-ins) with concrete results (desegregation of lunch counters, dialogue with people in power, and a growing movement that eventually led to major social change)

2. Online/social media (Kony 2012 campaign): Action with less-impressive results (wildly successful effort to get the message out; less-successful “Cover the Night” direct action campaign; little impact on legislators; little impact on Kony’s Ugandan victims).

3. Julijana Stefanovic’s YCteen article also discusses a more successful use of social media to prompt direct action: In the aftermath of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin’s shooting death, social media helped successfully spread the word about the Million Hoodie March and other actions advocating for an investigation into the handling of the case and an end to racial profiling more generally.

Writing (25 minutes): Create an outline for students to help them organize their thesis statement, supporting and counter-arguments, and conclusion. (You can write it on the board or make a handout—an example that you can adapt is included below.) Separate students into two groups: Those who argue that social media is a more effective form of activism, and those who argue that in-person/direct action is a more effective form of activism.

Break each of these large groups down into groups of three or four students each, and have each smaller group work together to begin filling in the outline. Before they begin, explain to students that their arguments must be supported by evidence from the story and videos they have watched.

Ideally, you should model for students how to complete one argument on the outline with supporting evidence. Also, draw students’ attention to the fact that they must address at least one counter-argument that could be made by someone who holds the opposite point of view, and then give evidence explaining why they reject that argument. Explain that this is a standard feature of any persuasive/argumentative essay.

For the conclusion, remind students to creatively re-state their main idea/thesis statement (using different words), and to leave the reader with a “call to action.”

For example, those students arguing that social media can be an effective form of activism might want to use the conclusion to urge their audience that online activism means more than clicking “like” or “share” on Facebook, and urging them to further educate themselves about the issue and share their knowledge with friends and family, or get involved with a group that is taking further action.

Those arguing that direct action is the most effective may wish to conclude by reminding the audience that multiple forms of direct action may be necessary over time in order to make change—not only attending one march, but also volunteering with petition drives, attending government meetings, participating in letter writing and phone campaigns, etc.

By the end of class, each student should have started their outline, in collaboration with their peer group. Assign them to finish the outline for homework, so they can begin writing the essay in the subsequent class session.

Example Essay Outline:

Thesis statement:
When it comes to creating lasting change,_________ is a more effective form of activism than _____________.

Argument 1:

Supporting evidence:

Argument 2:

Supporting evidence:

Counter Argument Rejection:

Supporting evidence:

(Creatively re-state thesis statement/main idea, and suggest a course of action that readers can take):

DAY 5: Developing the Essay

Introduction (15 minutes): Direct students to review the outlines they completed yesterday; give them an additional 10 minutes if necessary to complete the outlines. Then, tell students that they will use their outlines to write a first draft of an essay arguing for or against social media as an effective tool for activism. Remind students of the importance of using transition words, phrases, and sentences to move smoothly from one argument/paragraph to the next.

Remind students that the conclusion paragraph should re-state the thesis statement (though not repeat it verbatim), and leave the reader with a memorable, thought-provoking idea or question.

Writing (30 minutes): Give students the remainder of the class to work on their essay drafts. As they work, circulate around the classroom to evaluate their progress and provide one-on-one guidance as necessary. Additional days of writing time will be necessary if you wish to incorporate lessons on revision.


● Using the YCteen story, class discussions, and essays, have students design their own campaign to raise awareness about human rights violations in Uganda or elsewhere in the world, using some combination of social media and direct action.

● For more advanced students, consider assigning students to read Malcolm Gladwell’s 2010 New Yorker article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” which is referred to in Julijana Stefanovic’s YCteen story. This will allow for an even fuller treatment of the theme of effective forms of activism and the role of social media in social movements. It is also useful as a model for forming and defending an argument with evidence and additional sources.

Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading:
Key Ideas and Details
● Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
● Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
● Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing:
Text types and Purposes
● Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Production and Distribution of Writing
● Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Range of Writing
● Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge (continued)
● Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Common Core Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening:
Comprehension and Collaboration
● Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
● Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats
(e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
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