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Critical Classroom Conversations

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Issues concerning social justice are more than just topics for speeches or for debate rounds. They affect students, teachers, families, and communities daily. Increasingly, some are choosing violence instead of dialogue in relation to these topics. As an educator, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure how to foster these vulnerable yet critical classroom conversations. Thank you for committing to doing so! Below are some resources to support you as you prepare and engage in this critical dialogue.

Seven students sit in a circle to engage in conversation

Set shared expectations. Grow together.

Solutions and paths to those solutions may be up for debate, but lived experiences are not. In these critical conversations, your students may want to share personal insights on these social justice issues. These personal insights often come from a place of lived experience. Using these stories allows us to view social justice issues through a critical lens. When having these critical conversations, some students may become uncomfortable. Although you want these conversations to be respectful, please be aware of any ground rules that may limit students from traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised communities from sharing their stories. Please also be aware that students may not feel comfortable sharing their lived experiences—that is okay. 

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This collection of resources was compiled through numerous media outlets and academic organizations. If you have a question or concern about a resource featured here, or have material you think we should include, please contact us. 


U.S. Capitol Attack

Teach MLK in Connection With the Attack on the U.S. Capitol
Multiple literature-based resources to discuss the attack on the U.S. Capitol in the context of American History. Useful for in-class discussions or written responses leading up to and around Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

How to Talk to Children About the Insurrection, Other Difficult Issues
A short audio feature from NPR about how educators and guardians can talk to students and children about the insurrection at the United States Capitol.

When Bad Things are Happening
Teaching Tolerance’s guide to reacting to a crisis with a classroom discussion. Their recommendations build on the Psychological First Aid (PFA) framework, developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Resources for Teachers in the Days After the Capitol Attack
A compilation of resources from a former classroom teacher who is now the Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at Swarthmore College and a co-founder and core member of the Philly Children’s Movement.

Current Events in Your Classroom
Facing History and Ourselves uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. This is their current events learning page with resources intended to foster thoughtful conversations.

How to Teach the U.S. Capitol Attack: Dozens of Resources to Get You Started
Education Week assembled a preliminary list of resources from experts, practicing educators, and national organizations to help with teaching recent events. 


Teachers Share Resources for Addressing Charlottesville Hate Rally in the Classroom
Education Week

#CharlottesvilleCurriculum Helps Educators Respond to Tragic Events
International Literacy Association

Resources for Educators to Use in the Wake of Charlottesville

As Confederate Monuments Come Down, Teachers Wrestle With Class Discussion
Education Week

Yes, Race and Politics Belong in the Classroom: Ten Tips for Teachers to Engage Students in Difficult Conversations
Education Week

There is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times

The First Thing Teachers Should Do When School Starts is Talk About Hatred in America. Here’s Help.
A Washington Post Article with many teacher resources for lesson planning. 

Walking the Talk: Examining Privilege and Race in a Ninth-Grade Classroom
(PDF Download)

On “Person-First Language”: It’s Time to Actually Put the Person First
Radical Copy Editor

The First Amendment Doesn’t Guarantee You the Rights You Think It Does
CNN Article

Ten Things Every White Teacher Needs to Know When Talking About Race
Truth for Editors Podcast

Teaching About Race, Racism and Police Violence: Resources for Educators and Parents
The Washington Post

School Leaders: Amid Tragedy, Take Care to Teach Moral Courage
Education Week

When Tragedy Strikes, Internet Resources Can Enrich ‘Teachable Moments’
Rostrum (Volume 90, Issue 1)

Tough Conversations: A Primer for Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom
(Rostrum, Volume 90, Issue 1. PDF Download)

Politics In the Classroom: How Much is Too Much?

Five-Minute Film Festival: Talking About Race and Stereotypes

Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject

When Tragic Events Enter the Classroom: A Teacher’s Dilemma
Education Week

Women’s History Month: 6 Lesson Plan Resources for Teachers

Creating a Welcoming Environment for ELLs and Immigrant Students: Strategies and Resources
Colorin Colorado

Decision Making in Times of Injustice Unit
Facing History and Ourselves

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn
Facing History and Ourselves

Websites for Lesson Plans for Gender Representation (Grades 9-12)

The Color Line – Teaching Activity
Zinn Education Project

Civility and Policing Emotions

Creating Space to Talk About Race in Your School
Tips on how you can help make race conversations normal, constructive, and successful from the National Education Association, in collaboration with Race Forward.

Stop Tone Policing
A medium-length article on the importance of preventing tone policing in classrooms and informal conversations. Could be a useful homework assignment or short class read to begin conversations.

Civility Through the Lens of Race: Courageous and Compassionate Conversations
A medium-length article on the intersectional impact of civility in education. Could be a useful written response assignment or reading for in-class discussion.

Questions to Ask Yourself in Tough Conversations
A medium-length article from a youth civic leadership and engagement organization, with guidance for framing classroom discussions. Could be a useful in-class assignment ahead of class discussions.

Teresa Bejan: Is civility a sham?
A short, informative, and persuasive Ted Talk from an author whose work focuses on the often harmful limitations of civility.

Performative Allyship

A Litmus Test for Performative Allyship
A medium-length article from the student perspective about investigating and reflecting upon allyship and intentions. Could be useful as assigned reading, in-class reading, and even as a model for structures of student writing.

Allyship in Academia/Education
A medium-length article encouraging an assessment of allyship in education and academia. Could be useful for a discussion about any specific kind of group allyship or allyship in general. 


Interrupting White Feminism
A landing page with multiple literature-based resources including articles and a Powerpoint presentation from a webinar. Could be useful for a unit or mini-unit on feminism and intersectional feminism.

Juliette Hampton Morgan: A White Woman Who Understood
A medium-long length article about feminism, including aspects of white privilege with a short biography story about Juliette Hampton Morgan. Includes discussion questions at the end. Could be useful for a multi-day or entire class lesson.

White Supremacy

White Supremacy Culture: Characteristics
A few excerpts from a workbook about dismantling racism. Medium-length article, includes discussion questions at the end. Could be useful for discussion or assessing written responses.

You and White Supremacy: A Challenge to Educators
A medium-long length article about a challenge in which educators interrogate their white privilege and how it shapes their classrooms. Could be useful for a discussion about the role whiteness plays in education.

| ProTip |

We encourage all community members, especially those having critical conversations with students, to consider the words they use. Simply put, words matter. One valuable resource we use at the NSDA is the Conscious Style Guide. Learn more about the words you choose by checking out their website.

Join us in making speech and debate a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive activity.