Standing Up for Democracy | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
The Battle of Cable Street mural depicts details from the confrontation between anti-Fascist demonstrators and Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts in London's East End.

Standing Up for Democracy

Designed for students in the United Kingdom, these lessons foster the critical thinking, mutual respect, and toleration necessary to bring about a more humane society.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

unit copy


English — UK


Multiple weeks
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights


About This Unit

“Society is a home we build together,” writes Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. “Making something together breaks down walls of suspicion and misunderstanding.” 1 In recent years, however, a politics of difference has heightened suspicion and misunderstanding and threatened the ideals of liberal democratic society. This scheme of work is designed to inspire students to stand up for their democracy, and to help foster in them the critical thinking, mutual respect, and toleration necessary to renew the common enterprise of maintaining and sustaining a society together.

These 15 lessons, designed for use in classrooms in the United Kingdom, explore ideas and historical events that have global resonance. They are grouped together into four themes that are central to the mission of Facing History & Ourselves and at the heart of the process of bringing about a more humane, just, and compassionate society rooted in democratic values

  • 1Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together (New York: Continuum, 2008), 14–15.

This unit supports a multiple week exploration of Standing Up for Democracy. It includes:

  • 15 lessons
  • Videos, readings, and handouts that correspond with activities
  • 3 Unit assessments
  • 1 Final Unit Assessment
  • Classroom-ready PowerPoint Slides

Four Themes: 

  1. The Individual and Society: The first four lessons explore the complexity of each of our multifaceted identities as students examine the essential question: What is identity? What makes each of us who we are?
  2. We and They: The next five lessons prompt students to grapple with the ways we tend to divide ourselves at every level of society, and how “in” and “out” groups tend to minimise the complexity of our identities by elevating in importance single characteristics around which we differ. Students consider the essential questions: How do our beliefs about difference influence the way we see and choose to interact with others? How do others’ beliefs about difference shape the way they see and choose to interact with us?
  3. Understanding Human Rights: These two lessons ask students to consider the idea, essential to democratic societies, that we are all entitled to a set of fundamental rights regardless of our differences. Students consider the essential questions: What is a right? What rights should belong to every human being on earth?
  4. Choosing to Participate: In the final four lessons, students analyse examples of civic participation and standing up to hatred and injustice—the types of actions that are the lifeblood of a democracy—and consider the power of their voices and actions in shaping their society. In these lessons, they respond to the essential question: What must individuals do and value in order to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate society?

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this unit, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

History teaches us that democracies are fragile and can only remain vital through the active, thoughtful, and responsible participation of its citizens. In an increasingly polarised world, it is more important than ever for students to understand and embrace the fundamental values necessary to bring about and participate in upholding the democratic ideals of fair-mindedness, freedom, equality, respect and tolerance between people.

In working towards this end, students in Facing History & Ourselves classrooms explore the complexities of identity, the danger of “single stories” and how they can lead to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, when our tendency to divide ourselves and others in to groups can become harmful, the importance of valuing and protecting human rights, and strategies for enacting change to create inclusive and welcoming communities.

By engaging in the process of learning about the values that underpin democracy, while also developing their critical reading and thinking, negotiating, collaboration, and active listening skills, this scheme of work provides students with the tools to participate in their communities so that they can bring about the changes they would like to see in creating kinder, more tolerant communities.

We understand that teachers may use these lessons in a variety of classroom settings and ways. We recommend that, if circumstances allow, you teach these lessons in the order we are presenting them, but you should also pick, choose, and adapt where necessary to fit the needs of your schools and communities. Also, while each lesson is designed for a 50-minute class period, some teachers may need to spread the activities out over several shorter class periods, omit certain activities because of available time, or elect to include Extension activities to explore topics in greater depth. Whenever lessons are modified, it is important that students still have time and space to process the material, both individually and with their peers, especially at the end of the lesson so they can reflect on what they have read, seen, heard, and discussed in a safe and nurturing space.

There is a corresponding PowerPoint for each lesson that includes student-facing slides and activity instructions in the notes section for the teacher. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lessons plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic media and 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.

We believe that a classroom in which a Facing History & Ourselves unit is taught ought to be a microcosm of democracy—a place where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where different perspectives can be heard and valued; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions. We recommend that teachers create a strong foundation for a reflective classroom through the use of the following:

Even if you have already established rules and guidelines with your students to help bring about these characteristics in your classroom, we recommend taking a moment to review how you might frame your classroom contracts and student journals within the context of this scheme of work, weaving them into your daily practice so they become part of the culture of the classroom.

Each section of this scheme of work includes suggestions for a project-based assessment that is related to the section’s overarching theme, essential question, and key content points. In addition to providing students with an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired over their course of study to a novel situation, the assessments are designed for students to work collaboratively and creatively with one another, so they are practising discourse and dialogue, active listening, showing mutual respect for each other and each others’ ideas, negotiating conflict, and active listening. The fourth section’s assessment asks students to synthesise the ideas from the entire scheme of work and apply them to a Choosing to Participate action project that they will propose and perhaps implement in their school or local community.

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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.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY