Joanna Slater summarizes the recent student walkouts and demonstrations responding to the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida. She notes the rise of activism among youth, as they become politically engaged with issues that affect their daily lives.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Question to Explore:

  • What was the purpose and outcome, if any, of the nation-wide student walk-out and demonstration following the tragedy at Parkland, Florida, high school?

New Terminology:

Nascent, unprecedented, NRA, activism

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

NOTE: For background on Canadian gun laws, click here for the lesson in the March 2018 issue of Classroom Edition. 

Recent nation-wide student walkouts and demonstrations against gun violence in the United States seem to have struck a new chord with the public and with politicians.  Unlike previous mass killings at public schools, the Parkland tragedy involved high school students mature enough to organize a walkout in protest of politicians’ unwillingness to consider more restrictive gun laws in the US. People around the world listened and watched the impassioned and reasoned speeches of the student leaders. Most people agree that this activist movement has a greater chance of effecting change than has been witnessed in decades. As a side effect, students now appear to have discovered their power as citizen activists.

Your students may benefit from a lesson on student activism, historical and present. Working in groups, they will research student protests from other decades, review and respond to the article by Joanna Slater, and develop informed opinions on the uses and merits of student activism. Wikipedia offers a useful summary of student activism in twenty-three countries, including Canada:

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion about the Parkland mass shooting.

  • Ask students to explain, as much as they are able, the student walkouts and demonstrations that followed the tragedy.
  • Show this seven-minute video of Emma Gonzales—from this link, or another, as you choose:
  • Ask students how they feel about this speech. How did it affect them?
  • Discuss the term “activist” as applied to student demonstrations.
  • Ask for opinions about the merits of activism, whether it has effected any change, and whether they would be willing to take similar action, and if so, what kind of change they would want to achieve.

Provide students with the article, the link to the wiki site, above, and organize them into groups where they will complete the following worksheet.


Read the article aloud, or have each member of your group read it silently. Discuss these questions and note consensus on answers, as well as disagreement on answers. Be prepared to report orally for the latter part of class.

  • Why would the author describe the student walkout as a “nascent youth movement?”
  • How many schools were involved in the walkout, and what was the significance of the 17 minutes of silence?
  • What is a movement, do you think? When does a protest, or demonstration, or walkout, become a movement?
  • What did members of your group think about the walkouts? How many would have participated, if they could have, and why?
  • Student protests are not new. From your experience, name any other student movements and their causes in North America.

Go to this link:

  • How does this website define student activism? Copy the definition into your notes.
  • Review the list of student activist movements by country. How many countries are listed? Are you surprised to see so many?
  • Name two causes that took Canadian students to the streets over the years. What was the main goal or purpose of each?
  • Scan the history of protests and note any that strike one or more of your group members as particularly surprising or interesting.
  • Take a few minutes to scan the section, headed “United States.”
  • What was the largest student strike in American history? What kind of violence precipitated the action?


  • What do each of you think about student activism? Do you think it’s an important freedom in a healthy democracy, or is it merely a public nuisance or danger? Are you more likely to become involved in a movement, and if so, what causes would you tend to support and why?
  • Do you think the student walkout in the US in March, 2018, will have an effect on changing gun laws in the US? Why or why not?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students present oral reports from their groups and discuss their findings with the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe the purpose and outcome, so far, of the nation-wide student walk-out and demonstration following the tragedy at high school in Parkland, Florida; they can name and describe one or two historical cases of mass student activism.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report to class on any news of the student movement started at Parkland, as well as any other instance of student activism reported in the media.