In Our Own Words: A Story Book with a Purpose

Through collaborative work, students create and develop a culminating project whose goal is to empower others in their community to stand up and make a difference.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Activate vocabulary around the different ways people can respond to prejudice, stereotypes and bias in their everyday lives.
  • Communicate messages about activism, including its challenges, to others in their community in response to needs they have identified.
  • Collaborate to plan and implement a project, processing the challenges of collaboration as they go.
Essential Questions
  • What messages about activism are most important to communicate to others in your school or community?
  • What strategies are helpful when working with others to plan a project?
  • How can we inspire others to stand up for what they believe in and make a difference?
  • Graphic organizer: Planning a Story (Grades 3-5, 6-8(Note: You can modify this very basic graphic organizer to meet the needs and goals of your students and their stories.)
  • Chart paper
  • Thick paper
  • Markers, colored pencils or watercolors

This is the fourth lesson of the series “Dealing with Dilemmas: Upstanders, Bystanders and Whistle-Blowers,” which is designed to help students think about the importance of standing up for what they believe in despite both external and internal obstacles.



Part of learning about creating change is taking active steps to work for change in your own community. As students establish their own voices, they benefit from carefully structured opportunities to communicate messages to others in their own community. In this final lesson, students will work collaboratively to create a story whose goal is to empower others to stand up and make a difference. Students will have the chance to create and incorporate strategies for speaking up against stereotypes and bias. Students will think about how the message they depict will affect the actions and reactions of their audience.



role model [ ROL MAHD-uhl ] (noun) A person someone can look up to, admire or try to be more like.

change agent [ CHEYNDJ AY-djent ] (noun) Someone who works toward change or helps make change happen.

conflict [ KAHN-flikt ] (noun) A problem or obstacle; something that gets in the way or leads to misunderstandings between people.

activism [ AK-tiv-izuhm ] (noun) The process of standing up for what you believe in or working to effect change.



1. Congratulate students on all the hard work and thinking they have been doing about being a upstander, bystander or whistle-blower. Explain that today’s activity will give them a chance to bring together the different ideas they have formulated. In this activist project, they will bring these ideas to the attention of their school or community by writing a picture book and sharing it with others. Ask students to share the big ideas about creating change that are most important to them at this point. Chart student responses.

2. Ask students to think about who in their community or school might be a good audience for a book about effecting change and standing up for principles. Help the class come to a consensus about who the audience will be, and discuss how students might construct a story with that particular audience in mind. Explain that though they are writing a creative story, they are also working as activists. Have them consider what they will do with their book once they have created it. Will they share it with others? Will they use it to teach about being an upstander? Will they lead discussions around the themes raised in the book? Will they help other kids craft similar stories?

3. Break the class up into small groups to brainstorm ideas for a story that communicates the important ideas they selected at the beginning of this lesson. When each group has settled on a possible idea, allow them to share it with the class. Discuss the merits of each idea until students are able to come to a consensus on the story they want to tell. (Note: Another option is to allow each group to create its own separate picture book.)

4. As a class, work to complete the Planning a Story (Grades 3-5, 6-8) graphic organizer to plan out the picture book. Once the plan is completed, assign one page of the plan to each student in your class. (Note: Depending on the length of the story and the strengths and needs of your students, you can also have them work with partners to develop their pages.) Emphasize that because this is a collaborative effort, when writing and illustrating their page, they might want to consult with the students doing the pages immediately before and after their own. Explain that it is all right if the rough draft lacks perfect continuity. Give each student or pair time to plan the words and illustration for the page. When students finish, ask them to check that their pages play a role in communicating one of the big ideas they are working on.

5. Bring the class together and have them read through their story, collaboratively revising and editing it so that the story makes sense as a whole. Then allow each student or pair to publish their particular page using thick paper and art materials. Emphasize that this book is meant to be a showcase of effort as well as ideas. The styles of each page will be slightly different, reflecting a diversity of perspectives, but the message should be unified.

6. When the book is complete, arrange opportunities for your students to share it with their intended audience. This is a chance for students to teach others about what they have learned through this series of lessons, as well as to inspire others to act. Students in grades 3-5 may simply read the book to younger kids and lead discussions about the themes. Students in grades 6-8 might read the book to others in their school and come up with resolutions or school goals together. Encourage your students to use their book as a teaching tool. It is a way for them to consolidate their own learning but also to bring their learning to the community at large, helping make their school into a safer environment.


Additional Resources

More ideas for talking to children about how to stand up for what they believe in can be found at the National School Climate Center and at Awesome Upstander. Various resources offer ideas to enhance the creation of picture books with students, including Read Write Think and Teaching Young Children to Make Picture Books. Also, a number of helpful graphic organizers are available at Education Place.



Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

CCSS: W.3.2, W.3.3, W.3.4, W.3.5, W.3.6, W.4.2, W.4.3, W.4.4, W.4.5, W.4.6, W.5.2, W.5.3, W.5.4, W.5.5, W.5.6, W.6.4, W.6.4, W.6.5, W.6.8, W.6.9, W.7.3, W.7.4, W.7.5, W.7.8, W.7.9, W.8.3, W.8.4, W.8.5, W.8.8, W.8.9, SL.3.1, SL.3.2, SL.3.4, SL.4.1, SL.4.2, SL.4.4, SL.5.1, SL.5.2, SL.5.4, SL.6.1, SL.6.2, SL.6.5, SL.7.1, SL.7.2, SL.7.5, SL.8.1, SL.8.2, SL.8.5, L.3.1, L.3.2, L.3.3, L.4.1, L.4.2, L.4.3, L.5.1, L.5.2, L.5.3, L.6.1, L.6.2, L.6.3, L.6.5, L.6.6, L.7.1, L.7.2, L.7.3, L.7.5, L.7.6, L.8.1, L.8.2, L.8.3, L.8.5, L.8.6, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.2


Extension Activity

Challenge students to brainstorm other ways they can take the messages they have learned through this series into their daily lives. Come up with a collective list as a class, and allow students to add to it as they have new experiences and go about their lives. Periodically check in with students to find out how they feel they are doing with living within their own principles. Discuss obstacles and challenges they face, and brainstorm ideas for overcoming them.


ELL Extension

Ask English language learners to work on translating your class book into their home language. Provide them opportunities to share their work with their classmates as well as their families and others in their community with the same home language.

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