Occupy Wall Street

Teachers' Edition: Grades 9-12 (Lesson Plans)

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This lesson is envisioned as a two-day undertaking, with the HNN fact sheet, new articles, and various links with video clips used on the first day, and Internet research and writing for the second day.

Common Core Standards:
Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies Grades 9–12: standards 1–4, and 6–9
Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies Grades 9–12: standards 1–9

HNN backgrounder (assigned for first day), The New Progressive Movement article by Jeffrey Sachs, active reading chart, terms sheet


  • Knowledge of how the movement came to be, who participates in the movement, what generates the movement, and Occupy Wall Streeter’s basic critique of the political economy
  • Comprehend the history of “common man” or populist public protests, and compare and contrast past protests with the current OWS movement
  • Evaluate and debate a position on whether a populist protest needs to be through a political power group to be effective in influencing public policy
  • Day One:

  • Introduction (Bell Ringer):
  • Do a semantic map with the term “Occupy Wall Street” and write student responses on the board.
    What are the slogans of Occupy Wall Street protesters? How effective are they in summing up the goals of the movement?
    Who are the primary participants in the movement? Is this the most effective group to bring about public awareness?
    How does the use of social media help or hinder the protest movement?

    Introduce the following concepts to help students with the HNN backgrounder: Indignants Movement; income inequality; Citizen’s United (2010); consensus-based democracy; Liberals, Far Left; Conservatives; social justice

  • Have students view clips from various news outlets covering the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and consider the questions below while viewing.

  • CBS News (link)

  • How do these news agencies view the protesters and the movement?
  • Are they biased?  Explain.
  • Can you identify the different political group that would support this opinion (i.e. Liberal, Far Left, Conservative)
  • To what extent are the protesters able to rely on fair reporting?
  • What strategies would best help them to get out their concerns through the media?
  • Have students actively read the opinion article The New Progressive Movement. Have students consider the following questions while actively reading the article, and then share out responses:
  • How does the author support the claim that the Occupy Wall Street movement might be marking the start of a new era in America?
  • To what extent are his assertions controversial?
  • How are our current conditions similar or different to the past “ages of inequality”?
  • What does the author suggest the movement adopt to be effective? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • HOMEWORK: Students should research the influence of past populist protest movements throughout history (such as those described in the HNN Backgrounder – Shay’s Rebellion, Coxey’s Army, Bonus Army), and the influence of each movement on public policy. They should cite the various factors that either helped or hindered these movements and compare these findings with the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
  • Students should then prepare a position paper (4 paragraphs – 2 pages double spaced) that responds to the following prompt:

  • To what extent does a populist protest need to be through a political power group to be effective in influencing public policy?

    Day Two:

    The objective of this exercise is to experience consensus based decision-making.

  • Break the class up into groups, and have students share their personal analysis from their position papers.
  • After all have shared their position, each group should work toward a consensus position that all members of the group agree on.
  • The group will then share their position with the rest of the class, allow for questions, and when all have presented their group position, discuss and debate so as to build a consensus amongst the whole class on the homework question.
  • Consensus Based Decision Making (CBDM) Framework:

  • After each group comes to a consensus, a group representative, elected by the group, presents the group’s collective “proposal,” or position, on the question, with a thorough warrant (explains and proves).
  • Then the class is allowed to ask questions for clarification. This part should not be a discussion on the merits or failings of the position, but rather the goal of “clarifying the position” to ensure that everyone in the class understands what is being asserted.
  • Each group presents in this manner, and after all groups have presented, the floor then opens for discussion and debate. It is at this point that the ideas either fail or are pushed forward during the discussion.
  • Once the analysis reaches a point where a “significant” portion of the assembly agrees, then it is time to move forward, and affirm the consensus of the body.
  • Debriefing: Have students share their experience in trying to build consensus. Assess what it would take as a citizenry to make such a forum happen. How effective would this be as a means of establishing a national protest movement?

    Summary Question: How does the Occupy Wall Street movement’s strengths lie in its weaknesses?

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