About This Lesson
This is the third lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about contemporary antisemitism in a safe, sensitive and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on antisemitism – how it manifests in contemporary society and its impact – and consider what needs to be done to challenge it.
This two-part lesson is a means of helping students to develop as responsible and critical Internet users, who understand how content shared online, such as memes, can be used to spread hateful messages and manipulate those who encounter it. This is particularly important in the age of social media, when memes, images and ideas are shared with incredible speed, as it can prevent students from unsuspectingly sharing antisemitic content, and encourage them to think critically about the information that they are consuming. In the first part of the lesson, students reflect on how they consume and share information, and on the power of the Internet meme. Then, in the second part of the lesson, students look at specific examples of antisemitic memes, reflecting on the messages they send and the feelings they seek to provoke in the viewer/reader.
Some of the content in this two-part lesson, particularly the second part, can be challenging for students. We recommend that you review your classroom contract and teach the first two lessons of this unit (Introducing Antisemitism and Antisemitic Tropes and Exploring Antisemitic Tropes in Further Depth) if you have not already done so.
- How do people consume and share information?
- How is antisemitism spread online?
- Students will explore how people engage with the information they encounter.
- Students will understand how antisemitism is spread online and the potential consequences of being exposed to antisemitic content.
This lesson is organized into two 50-minute parts and includes:
- 3 activities in Part I and 4 activities in Part 2
- 2 handouts
- 1 classroom-ready PowerPoint
- 1 extension activity
The Internet is rife with antisemitic content and, if students are on social media, there is a high chance that they have been exposed to such content, whether it was explicitly antisemitic or used ‘dog-whistling’ to spread antisemitic lies in more covert ways. The use of memes on social media further heightens the risk of antisemitic content being encountered and shared, both wittingly and unwittingly. This is due to the fact that memes are designed to be shared quickly and widely and because, though they are created by anonymous users, they tend to be shared by personal friends and contacts.
Data Science Research Scholar Susan McGregor believes the person-to-person dissemination of the meme is what has made ‘the form such an attractive, powerful, and potentially dangerous format for the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and hate’. 1
The level of trust readers place in the content they are seeing is dependent not on the original creator (or even the substance) of that content, but on the trust the recipient has in the person who shared it. 2
The fact that someone’s decision to share a meme with close contacts depends on their understanding of its content, which may not include knowledge of its original context and associations, means that misinformation and damaging content can spread through different communities more easily.
As McGregor notes,
The person sharing the memetic “image macro” 3 with friends and family may be unwittingly sharing content that has much more pernicious roots – and hateful connotations – than their personal frame of inference would suggest. Even more crucially, however, is that while a given individual or community may be naive to the meme’s original meaning, its unwitting spread can, in retrospect, offer the appearance of broader “support” for its more hateful and extreme interpretations. 4
- 1Susan McGregor, ‘Memes, Antisemitism, and The Press’, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, 29 March 2019 (accessed 26 September 2022).
- 3One of the most dominant meme formats is the ‘image macro’: an image combined with text.
Preparing to Teach
A Note to Teachers
This lesson has two 50-minute parts. Part one encourages students to become critical consumers of content they encounter on the Internet and of memes. It contains important lessons in Internet literacy and provokes reflections that can help students prepare to be responsible internet users. Part two then focuses on antisemitic memes. While we encourage teachers to teach both parts, if you are pushed for time teaching this unit, then you might wish to skip to part two.
This lesson uses the Four Corners teaching strategy to discuss social inequality. Before class begins, familiarise yourself with the strategy and set up the room in advance. To prepare your classroom space, create four signs that read ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, and ‘Strongly Disagree’, and hang them in different corners of the room. Consider printing the signs on coloured paper or card and, if your school has a machine, laminating them so you can reuse them for Four Corners and Barometer discussions this year.
In the first part of the lesson, the four texts used in the group activity are not at the same level – some are more advanced than others with more complex vocabulary and content. It is important to think about this when you are deciding which groups students should work in. You may choose to ensure groups are made of mixed-ability students, or that some groups are given shorter excerpts or the texts that are easier to understand. Ideally, the groups would be divided in such a way as to ensure that they all finish reviewing their given text and the connection questions at the same time. If possible, print at least enough copies of each reading for sharing one between two. Please note, the first text contains the obscenity ‘shittier’, which we have opted to reproduce in the redacted form ‘sh[*]ttier’.
The images used in the second part of this lesson portray inaccurate, offensive images of Jews, drawing on derogatory stereotypes and tropes. Teachers have the responsibility to acknowledge that these images contain stereotypes and are based on damaging tropes, and to prepare their students to discuss the material in a thoughtful and respectful manner. If helpful, you might choose to revisit your classroom contract.
Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.
Explain to students that, in the present day, a large amount of antisemitic content is spread online. Sometimes, such content is explicitly antisemitic while, at others, some content deploys ‘dog-whistling’ techniques, which means that to understand its true message, people need prior knowledge. This content is at more risk of being shared unwittingly. It is therefore important to spend some time exploring how people consume and share information that they encounter.
Inform students that they will be engaging in a discussion using the Four Corners teaching strategy. In order to prepare for the discussion, they will have some time to think about how people consume and share information by completing an anticipation guide.
Pass out and ask students to complete the handout Consuming and Sharing Information: Anticipation Guide on their own.
Before engaging in a Four Corners debate that uses statements from the anticipation guide, take a minute to review the classroom contract and reiterate the importance of respecting the opinions and voices of others. You might also address ways for students to disagree constructively with each other, encouraging them to speak using ‘I’ language rather than the more accusatory ‘you’.
Explain the Four Corners teaching strategy to students and then project and read aloud the following statements one at a time. So everyone has a chance to speak, consider having students quickly share ideas with others in their corners each round before opening the discussion to the class. Remind students that they can switch corners if they hear evidence that compels them to do so.
- Everything people see, hear or read has an impact on how they view the world.
- It is easy to distinguish between misinformation and the truth.
- Information from anonymous sources should never be trusted.
- Only the creator of an image or a text is responsible for its content.
- People should be sceptical about everything they see, hear or read.
- It is dangerous to share information without first fact-checking its content.
Debrief the activity with the class by facilitating a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:
- On which statements was there the most agreement/disagreement in the class?
- What did the responses suggest about the power of the information that people are exposed to?
- What did the responses suggest about the challenges people face when consuming content?
- What did the responses suggest about the sharing of information and content?
- How are these statements relevant to what people share on social media?
Explain to students that they will be divided into groups and will be given a different article extract to explore the power of memes and how memes are used in the present day.
You might wish to share the following definition with students to ensure they understand what a meme is:
A meme is an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations. 1
One of the most dominant meme formats is the ‘image macro’: an image combined with text.
Begin by dividing the class into small groups and give each group a copy of one of the four readings from the handout The Power of Memes. Some groups will have the same reading. Explain to students that each group will read the group’s assigned reading together out loud. After they have read the text, ask students to briefly discuss and respond to the connection questions on the handout.
Then, give each group a chance to share their summaries of their given text with the rest of the class before leading a class discussion asking students to reflect on the following questions:
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of the meme format?
- The creator of a meme is often anonymous. What are the pros and cons of such anonymity?
- What have you found surprising, interesting and/or troubling about what you read in the articles?
If there is time, you may wish to close the lesson with a quick Wraparound, in which students share one word to summarise their learning or something from today’s lesson that resonated with them.
- 1Meme definition, Lexico.com(accessed 14 January 2020).
Explain to students that they will be exploring how antisemitism is spread online by looking at antisemitic memes before reflecting on the power of propaganda. First, ask students to respond to the following questions regarding how people consume information in their journals:
- Do you think people are generally sceptical? Or are they too willing to believe what they learn on the Internet, see on television, or hear from politicians or celebrities?
- How do you decide whether or not to believe what you see and hear?
- How do you decide whether or not to share information that you see and/or hear with others?
Have students discuss their responses using the Think, Pair, Share strategy, or briefly hear a few students’ thoughts as a whole group.
Explain to students that they will now analyse antisemitic images (these are contained in the lesson PowerPoint Addressing Antisemitism Online).
First, however, inform them they will do a quick reflection on and discussion around the following prompt:
- A picture is worth a thousand words (i.e. a picture can convey more than one thousand words can). How far do you agree with this statement?
Before you ask students to engage with each of the memes using either the Gallery Walk or the Big Paper teaching strategy, share the antisemitic meme of ‘The Happy Merchant’ (slide 15 of the PowerPoint Addressing Antisemitism Online). This is partly to model the activity and partly to set the tone for when students connect with these memes independently.
Give students a few moments simply to observe the image. Then, lead them through the following prompts, calling on different students for each prompt to allow for an array of ideas to be contributed:
- Identify a part of the meme that first caught your eye.
- Identify a part of the meme that raises a question for you.
- Identify a part of the meme that is designed to make you feel rather than think.
- Which antisemitic trope(s) might this meme promote?
Then, explain to students that this antisemitic meme is known as ‘The Happy Merchant’ and portrays a Jewish man using negative stereotypes and tropes. The merchant has derogatory features stereotypically associated with Jews (a large hooked nose, a scheming smile and frizzy, unkempt hair) and is depicted rubbing his hands together – an action associated with greed. This meme often appears alongside content used to promote a range of antisemitic tropes, such as Jewish domination and control, Holocaust denial, and Jewish greed.
The meme is from an image created by a racist and antisemitic cartoonist who was active in the 1980s and 1990s.
Next, ask students to engage with the rest of the images in the PowerPoint Addressing Antisemitism Online using either the Gallery Walk or the Big Paper teaching strategy.
Students should circulate to the different images and silently respond to them, using the following questions to guide their thinking:
- What part of this image catches your eye?
- What part of this image is designed to make you feel rather than think?
- What questions does this image raise for you?
- Which antisemitic trope(s) might this image promote?
After students have analysed all of the memes, lead a class discussion using the following questions, revealing them one by one:
- Do you notice any themes or patterns in this group of antisemitic memes/images?
- How do these memes appeal to people’s emotions and fears?
- Which antisemitic tropes are promoted in each meme/image?
- How have the tropes been adapted to retain relevance in contemporary society?
- How do you think these memes/images impact those who view them? How might they shape their world view?
- Have you ever seen any of these antisemitic memes/images, or similar versions of them, online? If so, where?
Next, give students the chance to reflect on the impact that being exposed to antisemitic tropes can have. Share the following information with students about the impact of Nazi propaganda in the Netherlands:
The following reflection is from Marion Pritchard, a graduate student in the Netherlands during the period of Nazi occupation. In it, she recalls her experience of viewing a film at a museum exhibit called The Eternal Jew. Filled with blatant antisemitic lies, the film was presented as a documentary but was in fact Nazi propaganda.
We went to see this movie and sat and made smart remarks all the way through and laughed at it because it was so outrageous. And yet when we came out of the movie, one of my Gentile [non-Jewish] friends said to me, “I wish I hadn’t seen it. I know that it was all ridiculous and propaganda, but for the first time in my life I have a sense of them and us – Jews and Gentiles. I’m going to do everything I can to help them, but I wish I didn’t have this feeling.” 1
- What did Marion Pritchard’s friend mean when she said, ‘I know that it was all ridiculous and propaganda, but for the first time in my life I have a sense of them and us – Jews and Gentiles’?
- What does her statement suggest about the way that propaganda can affect people?
- How is her statement relevant to antisemitic tropes and memes that are shared in society and on social media? What impact can they have?
- How can we counter the impact that antisemitic tropes and memes have on those who are exposed to them?
Have students discuss their responses using the Think, Pair, Share strategy, or briefly hear a few students’ thoughts as a whole group.
- 1Carol Ritter and Sondra Myers, eds, The Courage to Care (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 28. Reproduced by permission from New York University Press.
Finally, you might wish to give your students an opportunity to privately share their thoughts on the content covered in the lesson in an Exit Card.
- I came in thinking/feeling …
- I am leaving thinking/feeling ...
To help students understand the wider repercussions of antisemitic conspiracy theories, share NPR’s interview with Yair Rosenberg ‘How antisemitic conspiracies drive violent attacks and harm democracy’; Rosenberg’s article ‘Why So Many People Still Don’t Understand Anti-Semitism’ and/or the video Is the Focus on Antisemitism Overblown? | Antisemitism, Explained | Unpacked (4:19). Then, discuss the wider repercussions of antisemitism.
How are you planning to use this resource?Tell Us More
Materials and Downloads
Was this resource useful?Tell us More
Addressing Antisemitism Online
Exploring Antisemitic Tropes in Further Depth
Standing Up Against Contemporary Antisemitism
Teach Facing History
Not in the United States?
Find resources for Canada and the United Kingdom
Learn more about our other International Partners
Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.
Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.
Exploring ELA Text Selection with Julia Torres
Working for Justice, Equity and Civic Agency in Our Schools: A Conversation with Clint Smith
Centering Student Voices to Build Community and Agency