High School ELA Civil Rights GID


I really didn’t mean to leave the last blog as a cliffhanger.  But on that note, to pick up the story, we left our hero taking the plunge into a Guided Inquiry Design project on civil rights…and no worries, we all lived happily ever after.  

So the notorious science project from 2015 was an aberration, really, in a school which had been successfully using Guided Inquiry Design in several disciplines for a couple of years already.  One reason that the freshman reaction to that particular science inquiry was so loud is because almost every freshman in the school was doing it at the same time.  That, and a variety of other non-favorable guided inquiry design circumstances combined for a kind of perfect storm.  The silver lining, though, for me anyway, was that it really prompted me to investigate Guided Inquiry Design and then, more importantly, to partner with our extremely accomplished teacher librarian for tons of help and guidance with the whole project.  

Even without knowing the particulars of Guided Inquiry Design, a guided inquiry project on civil rights appealed to me as something that would kill a lot of birds with one stone.  I wouldn’t have to worry about appearing to have an “agenda” on social and political issues, I wouldn’t have to review and gather the right sources, and my students could come to their own conclusions based on their own research.  Plus, I could feel like my students were getting exposed to important information about the past and about our world today.  Such a project would satisfy an ideal of creating authentic assignments, it would connect literature with life, it would satisfy a research requirement, it would promote intellectual curiosity, it would just about walk the dog and build strong bodies 12 ways.  Still, there was a lot to think about and plan out beforehand, so I was fortunate to have our teacher librarian expert to walk and sometimes push me through it.  

It was my first Guided Inquiry project.  It was a lot.  I guess those are my disclaimers.  

I learned a lot.  I will do it again.  I guess those are my claimers.  

I’m not going to lie.  There were times when my teacher librarian partner looked at me like I had two heads (I wanted to let the kids use social media for research, somehow), and I know there were times I thought she had three heads—and I couldn’t understand any of them (She wanted to just give the kids a bunch of magazines and newspapers to look through! And forget about the differences between open, explore, and immerse or the five kinds of learning rubric—what are you talking about?).  But, we were successful in the end, and sometimes we even still speak to each other when we can’t avoid it (kidding!).  

We started with the idea or the prompt.  I wanted students to compare the original Civil Rights Movement to the things going on today.  I had even seen some articles with titles like “Are We Having a Second Civil Rights Movement?” so I wondered if they could research that question and support or deny it.  Anita and I talked through some of my thinking and she helped me come up with the essential question: what are the similarities between the time of the original Civil Rights Movement and today, and how can we use this information to understand the climate in the U.S. today?

One of my favorite pieces of the project was one of the early stages. Umm… yes, it was definitely one of those early stages.  We created stations. One station had several photos of then and now (like a 60s protest photo and a picture of Colin Kaepernick).  One had an article from The Atlantic relating to racism and the presidential election.  The third station had a great video (that I found on Facebook) about the women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement.  The next day was even better!  In planning, Anita had watched me hem, haw, argue, and stress out for about 20 minutes straight, and then she decided that we should gather up a bunch of current magazines and newspapers from right there in the library where we stood, and have the students go through them in search of items related to civil rights.  I was incredulous.  I never thought they would just find things if we didn’t already know what was in there, but I went along with it, with absolutely no faith.  Luckily, Anita plowed on, because I  ended up loving it.  My honors students found a bunch of relevant articles and pieces.  The movie Loving was out (about an interracial couple who wanted to get married, which was against the law, and went to court), there was an article about local discrimination in housing, an article about immigration, and a bunch of other great things that I can’t remember.  I just remember that I was amazed at how wrong I was, and excited for all the topics the students seemed to be engaged in.  There was even something just pretty cool about seeing students reading newspapers.  None of the groups ran out of civil rights connections, and the sharing afterwards helped everyone to see how many different topics were included under the idea of civil rights today.  Check, check.  

My college preparatory level students who were doing the same project did not do as well with the newspapers and magazines, interestingly.  One kid got lost in the paper, and he and several others seemed to forget what we were looking for.  When we shared, he talked about what he had found interesting in the obituaries.  Although the students themselves were content, we decided to give this class one more day with that early stage of the process.  It’s noteworthy that these projects can be fluid and adapted for the students’ needs.  These guys needed a little more, so we found four videos and did another station session.  One video was the part of the Eyes on the Prize documentary that featured the story of Emmett Till.  One video was from an episode of What Would You Do? that featured a woman being denied service at a bakery for wearing a Muslim headscarf.  One video was about a transgendered teen who was an activist.  The final video addressed the Dakota pipeline protests.  Adding an extra day with some pre-selected content made a big difference for this class, I think.

Although there were other aspects of the project that I really appreciated, like how easy it was to read students’ notecards in Noodle Tools, I think those introductory sessions were the highlight for me.  I even used the same sort of station format for a lesson with my senior film class.

I could certainly say more about the project in its various stages, but I’m so long winded, and I have said the things that seem most important to me.   Definitely not a cliffhanger–I will try to talk about the results of our project in the next post.  

Susan Smith



  1. Bravo! A fun read and great ideas here! Thanks for shraing Susan. I was hanging on that cliff and now I’m excited for you all. Leslie

  2. Thank you for a fantastic post, Susan! I love your OPEN to this GID and would love to use it with my students. Thank you for your honesty as the fact is teaching is messy and it can get messy with GID. And that is why I love GID, it can become organized chaos, which mimics life.

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