Lesson Plan – History Is a Weapon: Introducing the Social Studies

When framed creatively, history can become a tool which helps us to undermine power, instead of the other way around.

Many of the educators I’ve been working with this semester have been challenging me to think more critically about the expectations and requirements placed on teachers in public classrooms. They have been pushing me not to accept the limitations and barriers in public schooling, but to devise concrete strategies for using them as a framework from which empowering discussions and lessons can be constructed. What follows is a potential lesson plan that could be used to frame a social studies classroom or unit, acknowledging the material required to be learned by the state. It is a starting place which might lead a community not to resign itself to the assigned material, but to imagine as a collective how to creatively approach that material in ways which render it useful, instead of limiting. This lesson would most likely work best with middle or high school students.


1. Freewrite: At the start of the lesson, the quotation “History is a Weapon” will be written up on the board. Ask students to take five minutes and do a freewrite response to what they see: “What does this statement mean? What history is it referring to? What does the word ‘weapon’ mean here?” (5 mins)

2. Share Out: Ask a few students to go around and share what they wrote for their freewrite responses, trying to get as many different perspectives on the quote as you can. Allow students to respond to each other’s responses, and gauge where the group stands in their understanding and approach to the quote, and the questions it raises for this particular group. (5 mins)

3. Introduction: “Today we will be starting our first social studies unit of the year. Before we do so, however, we need to create our own framework for how we as a community are going to approach the social studies. In other words, we need to come up with our own ideas and guidelines which we can use to help us understand all the new subjects we address here together. The exercises we do today are going to help us get there.” (5 mins)

4. Think-Pair-Share: “Let’s read this new quote out loud together and take a moment to discuss it:”

History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened. And there are always different versions, different stories, about the same events. One version might revolve mainly around a specific set of facts while another version might minimize them or not include them at all.

We cannot simply be passive. We must choose which perspectives will help us move forward: those which teach us to keep things going as they are or those which push us to work to make a better world. If we choose the latter, we must seek out the tools we will need. History is just one tool to shape our understanding of our world. And every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. (Paraphrased from the introduction to the History Is A Weapon website.)

“Take a minute to reread and to think on your own about what this new quote is telling us. At the end of a minute, turn to a partner and tell them any thoughts you are having about any part of the quote—ways you agree or disagree, ideas it is giving you, or anything else. When we are done talking in partners, we will come back as a big group to discuss our thoughts all together.” When the collective regroups, use the discussion to give students ample time to dig in, disagree, and deeply process some of the complex ideas of history as a weapon. Return again to the use of the word ‘weapon,’ and conscientiously underline the idea of a tool of empowerment, not violence against people or communities. Don’t move on until this concept has been given adequate attention. (15 mins)

5. Demonstrate: “We are now ready to come up with some of our own guidelines as to how to make history—all the different subjects we will be addressing in the social studies here together—into a weapon, a tool for empowerment and change.” Go to the board and begin do draft some initial guidelines for all to see, based on the previous discussion. Title the guidelines ‘How to Make History a Weapon.’

“We said in our discussion that we have to learn to look at events from many perspectives, and begin to ask questions about what those perspectives teach us, and why different people come to different conclusions about the same event. I think these are some great first guidelines.” Add these initial guidelines at the top of the list.

How to Make History a Weapon

– Look at every new idea and event from multiple perspectives

– Ask why each different perspective exists

Ask students if they are satisfied with these guidelines for how our collective will approach the social studies. (5 mins)

6. In Partners: “What we are going to do now is work with a partner and try to add on to this list. Use your freewrite, the second History is a Weapon quote, and our discussion to help you come up with a few of your own ideas about how we can make history into a weapon. After a few minutes we will return back and share what we’ve come up with.” Give students as long as possible to come up with some of their own steps and guidelines, circulating and supporting any groups that get stuck or confused. (8 mins)

7. Drafting Our Guidelines: “Let’s share out all the new guidelines we’ve come up with.” As students make new suggestions, add them to the original list:

How to Make History a Weapon

– Look at every new idea and event from many perspectives

– Ask why each different perspective exists

– Ask how new information will change our own perspectives

– Ask what kind of action we can take based on new information

– Learn and be knowledgeable of the history of our own community

– Learn and be knowledgeable of the history of other communities that share our struggles

– Ask how new information relates to our own community, and to ourselves

– Learn and be knowledgeable of many perspectives, not just our own or people like us

(8 mins)

8. Closing: “Why is having these guidelines important? How will we use them in the future?” Give students a few moments to share their thoughts, and to reflect on the significance of what they have just created as a group. “What we have just done is come up with our own guiding framework which will help us approach and analyze every new concept and event we learn about together in social studies. When we have time, we can write up and decorate this list, and put it up where we can all see it. We can also keep adding to this list as the year goes on. Every time we begin a new unit, or take on a new topic, we can return to these guidelines and use them to help us approach that topic as something which can empower us to make change.” (5 mins)

7 responses to “Lesson Plan – History Is a Weapon: Introducing the Social Studies

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