Speaking and Protesting in America

Suggested Learning Activities

The suggested activities and assignments below were developed in 2020 by Benjamin Leff, Social Studies Teaching Associate at the University Laboratory High School, Urbana, IL and member of the AAPB Education Advisory Committee, while the pandemic was transforming the educational landscape. Therefore, most of the activities and assignments are best suited for middle to high school and can be completed as asynchronous activities, or as parts of a synchronous curriculum.

Activity 1: Primary Sources Need Historical Context

Introduce students to the background of the exhibit topic and theme

Providing historical context for students helps them to properly interpret primary sources highlighted in the exhibit. For example, students would benefit from knowledge about the Vietnam antiwar movement and the May 1970 shootings of students at Kent State before listening to a program about the Jackson State killings that occurred ten days later. You may already have lessons and activities that can provide students with relevant historical background, but the AAPB exhibits themselves feature summaries of relevant historical context that students could read.

Example assignment: The Speaking and Protesting in America exhibit features brief treatments of a number of New Left social movements on the Exhibit Overview Page and the Protesting in the 1960s and 1970s page. Assign these pages as a reading and/or test comprehension by asking students to share why they think one of the programs in the exhibit was chosen to be included, and what its significance might be.

Whatever method you use, make sure students have some background knowledge about the time period and themes so they can make connections between the primary sources in AAPB and their historical context.

Activity 2: Encourage Students to “Interact and React”

Encourage students to engage directly with the collection

The AAPB provides a wealth of primary sources relevant to broad but coherent themes. Thus, you can allow each student to identify a clip from a given exhibit or collection, while still knowing that the class will collectively explore common ideas relevant to each clip. Remind students not to just click the first link they see and start listening. Instead, encourage them to think about which social movement interests them the most. They also might want to read the description or skim the transcription for a given clip before they start listening.

Example assignment: Direct students to find a clip from an interview in the Speaking and Protesting in America that interests them. The Protesting in the 1960s and 1970s page includes a number of clips that are either embedded into the paragraphs in the “Fight Against Racism and Injustice” and “The New Left: Student Protests, Vietnam, and Women’s Liberation” sections, or in the “Tour Our Resources” lists.

Next, guide students’ focus while listening to the clip. Since the interview subjects in this exhibit are usually activists, ask students to listen for moments in the interviews that speak to these questions:

  • How does the speaker describe the social problems that their social movement is trying to address?
  • What are some of the goals that the speaker articulates?
  • What are some of the tactics that the speaker argues should be used to achieve those goals?
  • What are some of the beliefs and values expressed by the speaker?

You could simply encourage students to take notes with these questions in mind, or if you want to give your students more structure, you could provide students with this graphic organizer.

Activity 3: Prompt Analysis

Write a blog

In order to provide students with a venue in which to analyze, reflect upon, and respond to the interview they have selected, a great activity would be to have each student craft a blog post.

Example assignment: Ask students to write a blog that other students in the class will read. You can decide on the appropriate blog length, but it would be a good idea if the blog includes the following components:

  • A title that introduces the focus of the blog post.
  • A link to the interview on the AAPB website.
  • A brief introduction to the main speaker(s) in the clip as well as the protest movement in which they participated.
  • A brief summary of the key points that the speaker is making.

For the brief summary, each student’s notes should supply them with examples of social problems, goals, and tactics identified by the speaker, as well as the speaker’s ideological perspective. (Tip: If there is a particularly powerful moment from the interview, students could embed a link using the “Share a segment” tool).

Additionally, the blog post should analyze or reflect upon the interview in some way. Here are some suggested prompts students could choose. Students would only respond to ONE of the following:

  • How can you relate the social critiques, goals, tactics, and ideological perspectives in this interview to a broader social movement? How are the views expressed here typical (or atypical) of views of activists in this era?
  • Do you personally find the speaker to be persuasive? Why or why not?
  • What are some of your personal feelings or experiences about social issues that the speaker is discussing?
  • Can you compare something in this clip to a modern-day protest movement (e.g. #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo)? How are they similar or different?

Group Activity 4: Open Discussion - Synthesis and Reflection

Peer review assignments

Students are motivated to produce stronger writing when they know their peers will read it. Additionally, reading other students’ blogs will facilitate broader exposure to the various social movements of the era. For example, Student A, who listened to an interview of a Black Freedom Struggle activist, can learn more about the women’s liberation movement and the American Indian Movements from a project written by Student B.

Example assignment: Assign students to read and comment on a given number of their peers’ blogs. You could encourage or require students to choose blogs that concern different protest movements.

When students write comments, the goal should not be to argue with or criticize another student’s blog. Instead, a comment should “continue the conversation” that started in the blog. Thus, a comment should follow a format like:

  • “I found it interesting that…”
  • “I think it’s really important that…”
  • "This reminded me of when we learned about…”
  • “This is similar to today in that…”

Extension Activity 5: Synthesis and Reflection continued

Allow students to synthesize what they learned from writing and reading the blogs. If you meet synchronously with your classes, build a discussion that allows students to compare, contrast, reflect, analyze, and relate what they learned to events, issues, and concerns of the present. If you meet asynchronously, have students write a private reflection, another blog post, or a post on a discussion board.

Example assignment: Students could consider the following questions:

  • What are some similarities between the different protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s? What are some differences? (Think about the social critiques, goals, tactics, and ideological perspectives of the different movements)
  • What makes a protest movement effective? What makes a protest movement ineffective?
  • Based on what you know of modern society, do you think these protest movements were effective? How? Has American life changed because of these protest movements? In what ways? Alternatively, what are some ways that you think America hasn’t changed?
  • How are these protest movements similar or different to some protest movements that you see today?


Michelle L Janowiecki

Digital Exhibits Intern American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Additional Resources