Defining Activism

This lesson will give students the chance to think about what these crucial concepts mean and to begin considering a relationship between community activism and community building.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • define the terms community and activist.
  • explore the “results of activism.”
  • determine a variety of characteristics and actions that would make someone a leader.
Essential Questions
  • What is activism and what are the results of activism?
  • What is community?
  • How does activism relate to community building?
  • Large poster/chart paper
  • Pencils and markers
  • Notebook for creating an Art and Activism Notebook


If you were to ask a young person “What is community?” they might pause and think for a moment before giving an answer. However, if you ask them “Who is in your community?” or “Who makes up your community?” without hesitation they would run a laundry list of names, persons, professions and organizations. At this age, young people are making decisions about how they interact with their community. What an awesome opportunity to reach out to these emergent leaders and to discuss the meaning and value of community and its leaders. Talking about activism and what makes someone an activist helps youth, at this age, think about how change happens within a community. This lesson will give students the chance to think about what these crucial concepts mean and to begin considering a relationship between community activism and community building.



  1. Break students up into three small groups and give each group a piece of chart paper. One paper should say the word “community,” one should say “activism,” and one should say “results of activism.” Assign three roles per group: recorder, illustrator and reporter. Instruct students to work cooperatively to write as many different words as they can think of that connect to, define or question the word on their chart. The recorder will act as the facilitator of the group and summarize the group’s conversation into easy-to-understand bullet points. The illustrator will document the conversation with visual images to support the text of the recorder for visual learners. The reporter will present the group’s work to the rest of the class when its time to share the group’s ideas. (Note: If the three groups are large, add a fourth role of actor. If necessary, the actor will act out one of the group’s definitions with the help of another student from the group.)
  2. Instruct each group to share its poster with the others and work on coming to a consensus on the definitions. We often think of community as a group of people living or working together and sharing some common ideas and activism as standing/fighting for change or for what you believe in. Continue to offer the guidance that the “results of activism” can be seen in many different ways, from changed policy, for example, to the changed hearts, minds and souls of an individual who once opposed or resisted the initial change and art as a visual way of expressing or sharing ideas, thoughts, feelings or stories. Discuss the terms until you feel that your students are comfortable using them.


Extension Activity

After this lesson, invite students to become more conscious of everyday examples of activism, within their families, neighborhood, school and religious organizations. Ask students to create their very own notebook, an Art and Activism Notebook. Students may use their notebooks throughout this series to document, record and illustrate their thoughts regarding art and activism. Students should record examples of activism and the results of that activism in the notebook for the next class. Ask students to think about the way community and activism relate to each other. Students should return to school ready to share examples of the ways in which community and activism connect to result in action.

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