Committing to Nonviolence: A Lesson from Viva La Causa

Students will explore how the concept of nonviolence affected and united social change movements in the 20th century.
Grade Level


Activites will help students:

  • Explore how the concept of nonviolence affected and united social change movements in the 20th century.
  • Understand how nonviolence informed the farmworker movement.
  • Apply principles of nonviolence to an issue affecting their lives or community.
Essential Questions
  • Who or what inspires you to make positive changes in your own life or in the lives of others?
  • What issues in your own school would you most like to change?
  • What is nonviolent resistance?
  • What modern examples of social injustice would Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi or César Chávez likely protest?
  • What are some modern examples of successful nonviolent social movements?

This lesson is part of the Viva la Causa teaching kit.



Viva La Causa introduces students to nonviolent resistance, a philosophy and social change strategy that rejects the use of physical violence. Nonviolence serves as an alternative to just accepting things as they are (passive acceptance) and to armed struggle. As illustrated by the farmworker movement, nonviolent tactics include strikes, marches and boycotts.

The film also refers to two nonviolent leaders and movements that inspired the farmworkers. Mahatma Gandhi, widely seen as the "father of nonviolence," introduced the general concept of nonviolent action and consciously applied it on a societal level. A lifelong Hindu, Gandhi organized a successful nonviolent struggle against British colonial rule of India, which ended in 1947.

In the 1950s, a young preacher in Montgomery, Ala., called upon Gandhi's model to counteract another injustice: racial apartheid in the U.S. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who later received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, recalled: "Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale."

In this interactive lesson, students will identify shared techniques of nonviolent resistance in the movements to bring independence to India, end American racial segregation, and secure greater economic justice for farmworkers. As a closing activity, students will write a personal essay applying nonviolent techniques to an issue affecting their community.



Day One

Ask students to share what they know about Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and nonviolent resistance. Write student observations on the board.

Explain that the class will delve more deeply into nonviolent resistance by looking at the movement for India's independence (led by Gandhi), the Civil Rights Movement (led by King) and the farmworker movement (led by Chavez.)

Divide the class into three groups. Provide each group with a copy of the handouts, A Trilogy of Nonviolent Movements handout along with an index card for each student. Assign Gandhi, King or Chavez to each group.

Ask each group to review their leaders entries on A Trilogy of Nonviolent Movements and list:

  • What nonviolent techniques did this movement employ?
  • What obstacles had to be overcome?
  • What were the outcomes of the movement?

Each student should transfer one item from the groups discussion onto an index card. Students should write their names on their cards. Collect the index cards for use during the following class period.

Day Two

Before students enter the class, move desks out of the way to create an open space in the center of the room. Use tape or string to create a large Venn Diagram on the floor. The circles should be big enough to allow students to stand in them. Teachers also can consider using chalk to create a Venn Diagram on outdoor P.E. courts.

As students enter the classroom, ask them to stand with their group and return each student's index card.

Ask the Gandhi team to step forward and provide a brief summary of the Indian independence movement. Each student should then read from his or her card and step inside the "Gandhi circle" on the floor.

The King and Chavez groups should follow. As students discover aspects they share in common across groups, they should move into the shared spaces between the circles on the floor.

When every one has had a turn, allow students a moment to look around. Then invite them to move their chairs back to their normal places and have a seat.

Conclude the activity with a whole-class discussion on the following themes:

  • What did these movements share in common? Were the motivations the same? Did they encounter similar obstacles? Which techniques were the same?
  • How were the movements different?
  • What did the movements achieve?
  • It took all of us working together to complete this activity. How does that relate to successful nonviolent resistance?


Closing Homework Activity

Distribute the following writing prompt to students as a homework assignment, asking them to apply nonviolent techniques to an issue affecting their lives or community.

  • Think about an issue of discrimination, injustice, or conflict that affects your life or community. Topics may be personal or local in scope, or address issues of national or global concern.
  • Describe the problem, and then describe three nonviolent techniques that could be used to address the issue. Explain how your personal philosophy of nonviolence influenced the techniques you've chosen.
  • Conclude by describing how these efforts can lead to, in Gandhi's words, "an overflowing of love for all."

Use students' essays to identify issues of common concern. Create opportunities for students to connect with others and act on their ideas.

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

Learn More