Lively Lessons: Change Makers

The month of January marks many notable anniversaries, commemorations, and observations of the lives and work of people who have made a difference in the world.

All month, Discovery Education will be highlighting content and strategies for acknowledging these change-makers, as well as providing opportunities for students to consider how they can make a difference in their communities and their world.


This week’s Lively Lesson prompts students to understand the motivations behind change makers and to begin identifying commonalities in their lives and work.  

As part of a biography, non-fiction text, or other unit, have students self-select their biographical subjects.  You may encourage students to focus their selection on people who have made a positive difference in the world, or have students select notable figures from a particular historic era, movement, or other topic.  Student subjects may include authors, inventors, athletes, activists, scientists, artists, or other change makers who have made significant positive contributions to society.

Help focus their thinking the following – or similar – essential questions:

  • What inspires people to work toward change?
  • How can the actions of an individual have a broader impact on their communities or the world?
  • What can we learn by studying the lives of others?

As students begin their research, have them identify typical biographical information, such as date and place of birth, lifespan, and historic context of their lifetime, and have them identify major events that affected the person’s life, and contributions they have made that have elevated to the status they hold today.

Reminder:  Discovery Education is a great resource for research, including encyclopedia articles, video segments, and images – all in a safe, educational environment.

Once students have gathered important information about the lives of their subjects, help students identify some commonalities between them.  Using a modified SOS: Four Corners activity, label or identify three corners of the room as Yes, No, and Maybe So.  Pose the following questions to students, and have them move to the corner that best matches their answer (Maybe So is for students who are uncertain or don’t know).

Whose subjects:

  • Were the first to do something?
  • Endured consequences as a result of their actions?
  • Experienced resistance to their ideas or actions?
  • Ideas weren’t accepted during their lifetime?
  • Overcame obstacles to achieve change?

After each question, have students turn to a partner in their group and take turns describing why they chose this answer, citing examples or evidence for their choice.  If students chose Maybe So, if their response was “maybe,” have students discuss with their partner and reach a conclusion  If their response was “I don’t know,” give students the opportunity to continue to research or reread/reinterpret their research sources.

Extension: students can continue their analysis of similarities and differences by working in pairs to compare and contrast biographical subjects, organizing the information in a Venn diagram.  You can also have students “connect the dots” between two subjects, which challenges students to build pathways of connected ideas, similarities, or relationships between subjects.

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