Led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation encourages safe learning environments where students can lead efforts in their own communities to bring about a braver, kinder world. Teachers, librarians, and other educators may wish to capitalize on student interest in this work with resources that provide students opportunities to explore concepts of bravery and safety, how to be advocates, and how to engage in work in their own communities. Most of the resources in this toolkit are more appropriate for middle or high school age students. Find out more about bravery, safety, and self-expression.
Students in school today have many opportunities to explore concepts of bravery, heroes, and leaders. Do they have adequate opportunities to explore bravery as it relates to their own experiences and their own communities? These resources and lesson plans might help.
Humanities Essay: Am I My Brother or Sister’s Keeper?: This is an integrated essay project the students produce for their World History and English language arts courses. Students are asked to consider (1) how the examination of the past can inform us about our present lives and (2) what our responsibilities are toward one another.
Esperanza Rising: A Young Girl’s Story of Courage: This lesson plan shows the great courage of a young girl who displays a story of struggle and growth as she starts over in a new country and a new life.
Hometown Heroes: Students are asked by a community task force to create a video public service announcement (PSA) to honor their hometown heroes. Students conduct research and interviews to define courage and explain how it benefits humanity.
Boys Read: Considering Courage in Novels: Students select one of several recommended novels, then read and discuss the text with peers. They use online tools to review the main events and structure a persuasive essay on how the protagonist shows—or does not show—courage. This is a lesson on interpreting information and drawing conclusions.
Profiles in Courage: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: This lesson plan asks students to read To Kill a Mockingbird carefully with an eye for all instances and manifestations of courage, particularly those of moral courage.
A Hero in My Eyes: After studying the question, “What is a hero in today’s society?,” students create a textual and visual representation of a hero in their life. Students utilize literary devices, sensory details, and the narrative form to create a written character sketch of their hero in a heroic moment, and then represent that moment through photography.
What does it mean to your students to be safe to express themselves? Do they feel able to express their individuality? Do others in their classroom, school, and community feel able to do the same? These resources can help teachers explore these issues.
Bringing Hard Talk to Your Writing Project Site—with the Theatre of the Oppressed: This role-play exercise—based on the Theatre of the Oppressed—offers teachers the opportunity to rehearse conversations on uncomfortable subjects, such as race, class, and language. The model can be replicated at writing project sites and elsewhere.
New York Times Learning Network on Bullying: This blog post offers resources and questions for writing or discussing bullying.
Anthem Active Pre-read: In this activity, students are asked to move around the room and answer questions about the roles of individuals in society. On each sheet provided, they are asked to make a case for both sides. This is a good activity to get students thinking about the topics in Ayn Rand’s Anthem.
Every-Day Needs of Different Individuals: This lesson provides handouts and tasks that introduce the difference between “needs” and “wants” and includes short case studies for students to identify individuals’ needs, such as those of a homeless person, footballer, single parent, and troubled teenager, etc.
Sheena Iyengar on the Art of Choosing: In this TED-Ed talk, Sheena Iyengar studies how individuals make choices and how they feel about their choices. She talks about both trivial choices (Coke vs. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about individuals’ decisions.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: This activity offers a varied range of resources to teach and prepare students for an essay after reading the play or novel of Frankenstein. It also includes a scheme of work and teaching materials with essay and an essay plan.
Band Geeks, Dumb Jocks, Preps, and Nerds: Students tend to have difficulty discerning fact from fiction and understanding bias in texts and/or media. This project will help them discover personal bias and techniques used by writers and presenters in order to become more sophisticated readers and consumers.
Nina Jablonski Breaks the Illusion of Skin Color: In this TED-Ed talk, Nina Jablonski says that differing skin colors are simply our bodies’ adaptation to varied climates and levels of UV exposure. Charles Darwin disagreed with this theory, but she explains that this is because he did not have access to NASA. Nina Jablonski is author of Skin: A Natural History, which offers a close look at the human skin’s many remarkable traits.
Vaclav Havel: Free Expression: Aligned with New York’s Common Core State Standards, this lesson helps students to define and contextualize the term “free expression;” recognize the importance of maintaining free expression as a universal human right and as the foundation of a democratic society; and examine and analyze the role of writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and essayists in the maintenance of free expression as a human right. This lesson plan was produced by New York State United Teachers in partnership with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
(For similar resources, please see the Digital Learning Day Civics toolkit.)
Many students today engage in service learning or other activities. Lady Gaga’s Born Brave efforts seek to build on this by encouraging youth to not just do something good for their community, but to work to build a better, braver, and kinder community.
Writing for Change: Boosting Literacy and Learning Through Social Action: Growing out of the National Writing Project’s five-year partnership with the Centre for Social Action in England, Writing for Change shows teachers how to engage students in real-world problem-solving activities that can help them to acquire voice and authority – and passion for both reading and writing.
Youth Leadership and Citizenship Lessons: These lesson plans look at citizenship and leadership and feature activities on how to develop students’ leadership skills and become an active and positive “leader of change.” Activities include speed dating exercise, discussion, and case studies.
Digital ID project: Created by two National Writing Project teachers, the Digital ID wiki is a repository of reliable information, resources and guidelines to help all of us – students, teachers and administrators - learn how to be upstanding digital citizens.
Service and Activism in the Digital Age: Supporting Youth Engagement in Public Life: Part of the Connected Learning TV webinar series, this conversation focuses on youth activism efforts powered by technology.
Tough Talk, Tough Texts: Strategic reading, critical examination, and civil discourse aren’t just for college preparedness—they are life skills. Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, Colorado State University Professor and director of the Colorado State University Writing Project, shares small-group instruction whose goal is to give kids the ability not merely to succeed academically, but to change their world.
Think Green Guide—Tips and Resources for Earth-Friendly Learning Projects: Looking for ideas and resources to inspire environmental awareness and action in your classroom? Download this practical guide, filled with inspiring ideas and classroom-tested resources, to help you plan green projects that take student learning deeper.
Good Eats: Through this lesson unit, students reflect on their own diet and health status, and connect the impact of nutrition and food production to the welfare of the global community.
Games for Change: This website facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. Play games and/or develop your own.
Voices for Peace: Nonviolent Strategies for Change: This lesson provides a collection of resources for exploring the power of nonviolent strategies to effect social and political change. The comparative guide helps student assess the effectiveness of various forms of civic engagement through primary-source analysis of interviews from citizens who used peaceful means to advance democratic freedoms and human rights around the world.
Planning a Service Project: In this lesson, students will implement what they have learned about serving communities by planning and undertaking a community service project.
Loune Viaud: Health Care and Potable Water: Aligned with New York’s Common Core State Standards, this lesson helps students to connect the study of human rights in the past to the work of Loune Viaud; understand the widespread lack of clean drinking water and health care in the world today, especially in Haiti; be aware how ordinary citizens have made a difference fighting those abuses; and encourage students to become human rights defenders. This lesson plan was produced by New York State United Teachers in partnership with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
Youth-Led Research Resource Resources: CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans and provides examples of youth-led teams investigating different community issues around the country.
Implementing a Civic Action Project: The Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) seeks to instill in the nation’s youth a deeper understanding of citizenship through values expressed in the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Bill of Rights and to educate young people to become active and responsible participants in society. In this short guide to implementing a civic action project, teachers are provided with a nine-step process for empowering students to plan and implement civic participation projects in the community.
Art & Activism – Different = Better: In this lesson, students discuss whether art can change the world. Views include the opinion that art changes thinking and interaction, but that it can also be misinterpreted and developed in ways that the artist had not necessarily anticipated. Those interviewed talk about art that has had an impact on them and/or influenced thinking.
Relevant Common Core State Standards: The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History, Social Studies, and Technical Subjects: This document outlines a vision for students achieving literacy and being able to apply their literacy in a wide range of content areas and subjects.
The skills and understandings students are expected to demonstrate have wide applicability outside the classroom or workplace. Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature. They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to pick carefully through the staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally. They actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens world views. They reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic. In short, students who meet the Standards develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language.
By integrating literacy skills into topics that are relevant and current in students’ lives, teachers, librarians, and educators can help students develop their literacy skills while also empowering students to have a voice in all areas of their lives.
As students advance through the grades and master the standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language, they are able to exhibit with increasing fullness and regularity these capacities of the literate individual. (page 7)
- They demonstrate independence.
- They build strong content knowledge.
- They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
- They comprehend as well as critique.
- They value evidence.
- They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
- They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.