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Storyteller: Social Studies

Ethics in the Social Studies Curriculum

Group of students

The social studies curriculum provides many opportunities for highlighting ethical issues. Through reflections on history, students can critically explore ethical topics including the factors that led to social inequalities and the outcomes of federal and state laws. Teachers can use these lesson plans to supplement social studies textbooks and academic articles. The activities can be completed within a 45-minute period. The lesson plans refer to books that introduce events from the point of view of children and teens – what they see, hear, and feel. Each lesson plan includes discussion topics, ethics connection activity, and a fun experiential learning activity.

Lesson Plans By Topic

African-American Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968

Freedom Summer: Explore the ethics of free speech versus violent opposition to equal rights using 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

The Book Itch: This lesson plan covers the history of African-American citizens' voting rights following Civil War Reconstruction and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Youngest Marcher: In this lesson, we examine the Birmingham Children's Crusade of 1963 and the subsequent Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lilian's Right to Vote: Learn about the importance of literacy to the civil rights movement, and the centrality of Harlem as a place for knowledge sharing.


American Revolutionary War, 1775–1783

Paul Revere’s Ride: Learn about moral courage as necessary for protecting basic human rights and the well-being of society.

Countries of Africa

Planting the Trees of Kenya: Hear about the story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, and her work to restore the ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa.

Brothers in Hope: Examine the geography of South Sudan and how its history and water shortage required humanitarian aid.

Industrialization and Urbanization, 1880–1929

Brave Girl: Examine employers’ responsibility for protecting employees’ safety and well-being using the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909 as a case study.

Islamic World, 400–1500 A.D.

Silent Music: This lesson plan takes a closer look at calligraphy as an example of the artistic and intellectual contribution of the Arab-Islamic civilization in the middle ages.

The Antebellum Period: Slavery in the South

Steamboat School: Learn about the lack of access to education of African Americans – both enslaved and free – during the Slave Period.

Henry’s Freedom Box: Learn about the mistreatment of slaves in the southern states and legislative efforts to protect their human rights.

The Civil War, 1861–1865

Only Passing Through: Learn about the struggle and moral courage of Sojourner Truth and her work to aid slaves.

The Great Depression, 1929–1939

Tar Beach: Learn about the lives of racial minorities during the Great Depression and the challenges of discrimination in union membership and social welfare programs.

The Hellenistic World, 323 B.C.–31 B.C.

Hands Around the Library: Discuss the importance of Alexandria in the Hellenistic world and the value of learning at that time.

The Women's Rights Movement, 1848–1920

Around America to Win a Vote: Examine the heroic journey of Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, two activists who fought for women’s suffrage.

Westward Expansion in the 19th Century

Cheyenne Again: Learn about Native American boarding schools in the late 19th century and their actions to force children to abandon their cultural heritage in favor of assimilation into American society.

World War I, 1917–1918

The Poppy Lady: Learn about the events that led to American participation in World War I, efforts to support soldiers and veterans, and the ethics of war.

World War II, 1939–1945

Baseball Saved Us: This lesson plan discusses prejudice against Japanese Americans during World War II and life in the internment camps.

The Peace Tree: Learn about U.S.-Japan reconciliation post World War II using the story of a 390-year-old tree as a metaphor.

Jars of Hope: Examine the morality of civil disobedience as an expression of opposition to war crimes.

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