Author:
Wendy Arch
Subject:
Literature, English Language Arts, Composition and Rhetoric, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, U.S. History
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
Level:
High School
Grade:
9, 10
Tags:
Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau, Persuasion, Writing
License:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
Language:
English
Media Formats:
Mobile, Text/HTML

Education Standards (21)

Introduction to Civil Disobedience | Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"

Introduction to Civil Disobedience | Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"

Overview

This is the first lesson in a week-long, mini-unit contains four individual lessons.  Through the course of all these lessons, students will be introduced to the concept of civil disobedience—people purposefully disobeying a law or protesting nonviolently about laws or social issues they feel to be unjust. They’ll read from, watch, and listen to three examples that address the issue: Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience," Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and the Teaching Tolerance documentary Viva La Causa written and directed by Bill Brummel.

Activity Description: This lesson focuses on introducing, defining, and providing a basic example of historical civil disobedience using Henry David Thoreau's experience and an excerpt from his essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience."

This lesson is designed to be used in a blended environment.  Accommodations are listed for non-blended courses.

Time needed for activity: ~45 minute class period

Resources needed: Online discussion board(s) set up at either pinup.com or answergarden.ch; copies of the "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" excerpt (printed or electronic)

Preparation

  • Preview all materials
  • This lesson and it's activities are intended to be used in a blended or flipped environment.  See accommodations for non-blended courses.

    What is Civil Disobedience?

    1. Start by establishing their understanding of plain disobedience and expand to what it means to be "civil."  This could include both the definition of civil as in "society" (a.k.a. civil service, civil suit, civil war, etc) and "polite." 
      1. Prompt students to go to an online formative tool such as pinup.com or answergarden.ch (sample located here) to collect student answers to the questions: "What does it mean to be "civil"?" or "What are the meanings of the word "civil?"
      2. *Note: this step could be done ahead of class as homework or as a bell ringer so that the responses are ready to go at the start of the period
    2. Now combine the two words to help students define civil disobedience: synonyms range from rebellion, protest, revolution, unrest, and insurrection. The term implies that citizens are purposefully disobeying the laws of the state or social issues that they consider unjust.
    3. Make the text-to-world or value beyond school connections. 
      1. Prompt students to go to an online formative tool such as pinup.com (sample pin board here) or answergarden.ch to collect student answers to the question: What are examples in world and/or American history where otherwise law-abiding citizens chose to oppose a law or negative social issue by disobeying or protesting it?
    • Alternative Learning Support
      • Non-blended/Flipped: Establish this as a whole class discussion in lieu of using the online components.
      • SWD: You might want to have students keep a vocabulary journal with the words and a picture of each word (a photograph with a sentence or a drawn picture) for reference.
      • ELL: Invite students whose first language is a Romance language (Spanish, French, Italian, and so on) to think of how to say those words in that language and possibly share with the class. Because of the Latin roots, the words will be quite similar.

    Opening

    1. Go to https://answergarden.ch/802071.  
      1. Supply as many answers to the question "What are some of the meanings of the word "civil"?" as you can.  Look at the other students' responses.  What patterns or common definitions appear?
    2. Now think about the term "civil disobedience:"
      1. Where have you heard the term before, and in what context?
      2. What does it mean? Come up with a definition.
    3. Go to https://pinup.com/BJZAL3Nh7
      1. Post an example of a time in world and/or American history where otherwise law-abiding citizens chose to oppose a law or negative social issue by disobeying or protesting it?
      2. Think about historical events and things happening today.

    "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" Excerpt

    1. Provide students with information about Thoreau’s essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” Prior to reading this excerpt as a whole class, explain the following information to students:
      1. In the essay, Thoreau questions why men obey the governmental law even when they believe it to be unjust.
      2. Thoreau detested slavery, so Thoreau refused to pay his taxes because general tax revenue contributed to the support of it 
      3. He was arrested and imprisoned until some friends in his community bailed him out.
      4. Afterward, he wrote this essay this is an excerpt from a response to his experiences.
    2. Have students use the double journal graphic organizer attached below to record both textual evidence and personal connections to Thoreau's definition of civil disobedience.
    3. Read the excerpt aloud as a class then provide time for students to respond to the following prompts:
      1. How can people respond to unjust laws?
      2. How AND why do people generally act when presented with unjust laws?
      3. How does the government generally act?  How does Thoreau believe the government should act?
      4. Why does Thoreau make an allusion to Jesus Christ, Copernicus, Martin Luther, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin?
    4. Discuss Thoreau's definition of civil disobedience. What are Thoreau’s beliefs about government in this short passage?What does he believe a government should do when a minority protests an unjust law?  Focus on how it still applies today and not just to slavery or the civil rights movement.

    Alternative Learning Support

    • Non-blended/Flipped: Print hard copies of the excerpt and double journal.
    • SWD: Have a scaffolded version of the double journal with some evidence already pulled for students to analyze.
    • ELL: Try to translate the excerpt into their native language.  Provide definitions for more complex vocabulary and brief biographies of the people in the allusions (especially Copernicus, Martin Luther, and Benjamin Franklin).

    Work Time

    Mathew Brady photo of Gordon, a whipped and scarred slave
    Photo Credit: Mathew Brady

    Henry David Thoreau despised slavery, and because part of his national tax dollars went to support southern states who promoted slavery, he refused to pay his taxes.  He was subsequently arrested, and after being bailed out, wrote an essay titled "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" to promote his beliefs and expose what he thought were unjust laws.

    TASK: Read the excerpt below and use the graphic organizer to collect textual evidence (quotes or paraphrases from Thoreau's work) and compare it with your own thoughts.  Be ready to discuss your findings with the class.

    Pull it all together

    In order to assess student's understanding they will now make a connection between Thoreau and modern-day injustice.

    1. Prompt students to go to your online discussion forum within your LMS.
    2. Read through the task with students:
      1. TASK: Do a quick Google search and find a current law or policy that disproportionately discriminates against one group. 
        1. First, post in the online forum explaining:
          1. What is the unjust law or policy?
          2. How does it harm people?
          3. What should we do about it?
        2. Second, respond to at least one (1) other post with a connection, concern, or contradiction (be respectful, please!).
    3. Remind students to post the link so others can learn more if they are so inclined.  And, as always. cite their sources!

    *See the attached rubric for a method to assess student posts.

    So, what does all this mean for us?  Thoreau was writing about slavery in 1849 - that doesn't apply to us today.   

    Or, does it?   

    Of course, it does!  Although systemic, legalized slavery is - rightfully - now with us anymore, that doesn't mean there aren't still unjust laws or policies in America and the world.  Now, you are going to do some research to look for and comment on current unjust laws or policies in America or the world.  

    TASK: Do a quick Google search and find a current law or policy that disproportionately discriminates against one group. 

    First, post in the online forum explaining:

    1. What is the unjust law or policy?
    2. How does it harm people?
    3. What should we do about it?

    Second, respond to at least one (1) other post with a connection, concern, or contradiction (be respectful, please!).

    Don't forget to post the link so others can learn more if they are so inclined.  And, as always. cite your sources!

    *See the attached rubric for how your post will be assessed.