Tulsa Massacre 1921- Unit Plans and Adaptations

Adapting this unit for use with your students

I imagine that as we are upon the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre 1921 and as it is gaining a lot of media attention, (movies, and national conversation) many Social Studies teachers might want to include the unit presented in this blog in American history classes or in discussions of Race in America. Maybe you’re a high school teacher in Oklahoma and it’s required that you teach this event. Maybe you just know the importance of teaching Black History as our American story and see this as a way into exploring the hard truths of our past as a way to envision a better future.

If that’s the case you will want to do two things 1. review the unit plan and 2. consider how to adapt this unit for your students.  This blog will help you do just that.

Here’s the Unit Plan

If you do use the unit, please give the originators of the unit credit and leave their names/ district on the unit plan.

Teaching is an art.

Even with these skeletal plans in hand each teacher or team of teachers has to make this their own and determine how it looks in the day to day.  It’s also important to consider how to make this relevant to your students. What connections might make this relevant and have the past reach into the present so students feel not just the sadness of the horrific event, but know how to take some positive action for THEIR present and future.

In implementing this unit, you have a lot of decisions to make- which pieces to keep which to change, which are not possible for you. For example – If you are not in Oklahoma the Historical Society panels are probably not an option for you, so you’re left to wonder how can you create that rich experience of looking at photographs from before and after the event for the IMMERSE phase?

You might also be wondering, What conversations will I have with my students?  Where might my students need me to stop and listen to have the hard conversations about how these hard truths are affecting them.

We can offer some suggestions here as you think about adapting this for your kids.


Go through the unit as these teachers planned and taught it and decide which items stay and which will go.  You’ll need to think about what CAN be done and what you WANT to include based on what you are trying to accomplish and teach.  Think about your learning goals, your age group of students, where you live and how this connects to them.


You’ll probably want to look at some of the resources in these blog posts that show the digital sets available to all students and determine which ones will be most powerfully used with your students and how to introduce them so they have the impact you are seeking.

FINALLY, Dig a little deeper.

There are 4 big things you’ll want to consider before implementing this unit as it is. This will help you dig a little deeper to be sure it matches your content goals and students needs.

4 Big Things to Consider or Change

1. Relevance

In this unit, taught by English Language Arts Teachers and their collaborating Librarian, the history content was important, but history wasn’t their main focus for the learning.  In this unit they were focused on teaching

  1. the literary aspects of the novel,
  2. how to learn from information and research,
  3. how to organize ideas into a logical and engaging  presentation
  4. using their oral and written communication skills.

The language arts focus allowed this team the freedom to move from teaching the event to taking a more humanities approach to learn FROM the event as it relates to how human beings still think today. By thinking about assumptions or prejudices and how they affect our current thinking and actions the students moved out of the past into their lives. They focused on how they could change things at the personal and individual level.  This made the unit extremely relevant to the students and helped them to not only understand the hard truths of our history, and their classmates lives, but also question their own actions and move to take action in their own lives.

So as you think about adapting this unit for your students please consider… How will this content connect to your students? How can you bridge the content so that it is more relevant to them?  Is the concept that this team chose “Assumptions” what you’d like to have your students investigate?  What are some other ways this could be approached?

2. Change the Concept

As mentioned above, the concept is critical because it frames the unit. GId begins with the concept in Open, as you saw in this post.  The team started by highlighting assumptions we make by analyzing art.  They also had the students write in their Inquiry Journal to think about assumptions from a personal level.  The work about assumptions continued through the reading of the novel as the teacher and students examined the assumptions that were made about characters in the novel.  Still later, the students explored what others have said about how assumptions impacted their lives as they looked for an avenue that was interesting to them.  The students choose a focus for their research based on groups for whom assumptions were harmful. They investigated how assumptions impacted those groups and society  (Remember, the students in this groups researched groups from Pitbulls, Christians, LBGTQ, homeless, and so forth).

In any GId unit, the concept becomes the thread that weaves all the way through the work. As a result, students will ask questions about around that concept.  Their research will be tied to the concept and each student’s own interest. So, if you’re teaching this unit in a social studies or history class you might want to change the concept to better match the content of your course or curriculum so the students stay connected to the work required in your course.

The National Curriculum for Social Studies indicates 10 main concepts. NCSS calls them themes and in our eyes there is a difference. But that’s fuel for another conversation.  Without going too deeply into it, the “themes” do make good “concepts” for GId units.  If you’d like to learn more about this, there is a chapter in our Guided Inquiry Design in Action: High School book by Jean Donham about moving from Topics to Concepts that is well worth your time.  We also facilitate the move from topics to concepts in our institute coursework.

The concept of a Guided Inquiry Design unit shapes the direction of the work and allows students to lift the learning up to a balcony view and make broader connections to their lives.  Because it is so central to the learning, it is important for the concept to be right for you and your students.

3. Culturally Responsive Inquiry

The third big thing to think about is maintaining culturally relevant teaching in the unit. When teaching hard truths of history it’s critical that you are responsive to the students in front of you.  Provide time and the means for them to process the hard truths in front of them.  Offer Inquiry Journals as a space to connect, reflect and relate.  Then have open and respectful conversations where clear ground rules are set so that all voices are valid and heard.

As you plan for this particular learning think about how the team stopped when they saw students having an emotional response to the content.  Consider, when will you stop.  What will you say when you need to stop.  And commit to listening to your students. Remember that how you respond to them when offer perspectives that challenge your thinking or ways of viewing the world, matters.  Being open to all perspectives is very important to teaching hard truths about our history.

If you are worried about this, there are some core things to remember that can help you.

Take an Inquiry Stance.

An Inquiry Stance (I’m here to learn alongside you.) really helps to shift from being that “sage on the stage” who knows all and seeks to impart information onto students to the “guide on the side” who listens and guides students to information. One trick for shifting to the guide is listening with a true desire to understand and hear students.

But how to respond to students?

In Guided Inquiry Design we describe the Third Space conversations that offer some great easy responses that encourage students to share their ideas as well as show we are listening to them.

Students want to be heard.

Instead of coming back with a value judgement, (I like what ___said or Good) Try to paraphrase what they said.  Once you’ve tried to paraphrase what they said, ask if you got it right or watch the student to see if they are nodding or looking perplexed.  If they are looking perplexed offer them a chance to repeat what they are saying, so you can get it right.  Begin with “Oh, so you’re saying that….” Trying to capture what the student is saying validates their thinking.  Once you are able to capture what they are saying, open the conversation to other students, by saying simply, “What else?” (You don’t have to thank students, show them you value what they are saying by listening to them. You can thank them for risk taking, but these kinds of comments are more useful in the one on one setting than publicly to the whole group.)

If you don’t want to try to paraphrase your students, or probe for more information from any one particular student, you can also just move the conversation by saying, “Ok. Who can add to that? Or who can to piggyback on that comment?”  It depends upon the comment, the moment and you’ll have to read the room.  But what you don’t have to do is offer your opinion.  Try to be quiet and let the students speak their minds.

Bottom line, a culturally responsive teacher seeks multiple perspectives from the students and validates all responses equally without judgement.

Using the Inquiry Journal is another way to hear all voices.  Writing in a journal is extremely useful as well when approaching content that includes hard truths.  It can give your students time to think and prepare what they want to say to the whole group and what they might not want to share publicly.  Stopping for a little quiet reflection is welcome in the culturally responsive classroom where hard truths are being addressed.

4. GId is Fluid and Flexible

The last and fourth biggie is that teaching this unit will require you to remain open to the fluid and flexible nature of the research process.  The Guided Inquiry Design process itself (the phases) can be trusted, but within that framework you need to provide time and wiggle room to stop, listen, shift move things, change what you thought you’d do to better match the needs of the students in front of you.  That’s best practice in teaching.  That’s the Art of teaching and this unit will push you to hone your art.   Stay fluid and flexible within the process.

We state in our books that GId is a “fluid and flexible” model, but the teacher Kelli Goodnight, explains this in her own words in our coaching conversation.


Think about those key components of how you’d implement the unit. If you have any other ideas, please write in the comments other things you’d have to change or think about to use this unit with your students.  Best of luck.

We’re all ears!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD


Author Guided Inquiry Design



1 Comment

  1. Thank you to all the educators who shared their journey creating and implementing this unit. This is a very valuable resource!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *