February 2020 

NOTE: A newer version of this lesson is now also available: Taking it to the Streets: Global Protests during the Pandemic.

We recommend that this lesson be completed over two days in order to provide enough time for its important elements of research and discussion.


Students will:

  • Examine photographs of protests from around the world;
  • Develop and refine research questions about the photographs using the Question Formulation Technique;
  • Conduct research in multiple news/media outlets about global current events;
  • Analyze the origins and causes of protest movements and identify similarities, differences, and patterns;
  • Consider the role and significance of street protests within democracies.


Handout 1: Brainstorming Questions

Handout 2: Filtering Your Questions

Handout 3: Three Key Questions

Handout 4: Investigating Key Questions

Handout 5: “Protests in Every Corner of the Globe”

List of Suggested Media Sources

Slideshow: Question Formulation (all countries)

Slideshow: Question Formulation (individual countries): Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, France, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, Russia, Spain/Catalonia, United States

Note to Teachers

This lesson utilizes the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) developed by the Right Question Institute. The objective of QFT is to provide students with a single source (or set of sources) from which they will develop their own set of research questions—and then pursue the answers to those questions—with only limited interventions from the teacher in the process. This methodology seeks to teach students “how to formulate and use questions, drive their own inquiries, and apply question formulation skills in their everyday lives.” [Andrew P. Minigan, Sarah Westbrook, Dan Rothstein, and Luz Santana, Stimulating and Sustaining Inquiry with Students’ Questions, Social Education 81 (5), 2017, p. 268-272.]

Putting students in charge of their own inquiry has its potential pitfalls and some teachers may initially feel uncomfortable with the seeming lack of “control” they have over the lesson. In order to provide the best opportunity for students to succeed with the QFT process, this lesson provides step-by-step instructions by which students brainstorm questions, sort and filter those questions, and then choose their “top” questions to conduct research into media/news sources covering the material. We highly recommend that you follow the process step-by-step as laid out here in the lesson plan so as to allow the Question Formulation Technique to work as designed in the classroom.

In the Classroom

1. Introduction: Brainstorming Questions

Divide the class into groups of three or four students each. Assign each group the photos of one of the fourteen countries in the slideshow. Distribute Handout 1: Brainstorming Questions to each group. 

Note: This lesson includes fourteen sets of photos—we recommend that you choose the number of photo sets based on your classroom size so that there are three or four students in each group. You are also encouraged to choose sets from various regions around the globe so as to be as representative as possible.

Each of the sets of photos have the location and date on them—but nothing else. Do not provide students with any of the other handouts until they reach those steps in the lesson. Do not even mention the “topic” (global protest movements in 2019) to the students, as QFT asks you to avoid providing any initial context or background for the students so that they are developing questions truly on their own.

Explain to students that their first task as a group is to read the directions on Handout 1: Brainstorming Questions, look closely through their set of photos, and then brainstorm (and record on the handout) as many questions as they can over the next 10 minutes about what they want to know about the people and activities contained in the images. One person in each group should write down the questions on the handout as they are asked.

Emphasize to the students that they:

  • Should ask as many questions as they possibly can during this time. (All questions are good questions. The more questions the better.)
  • Should not stop to answer the questions, discuss them, or judge them. 
  • Should write down all of their questions word-for-word as they are asked. 
  • Should change any statement to a question—in other words, everything they write down on the handout should end in a question mark.

2. Filtering Questions

Next, distribute one copy each of Handout 2: Filtering Your Questions and Handout 3: Three Key Questions to each group.

Explain to the students that now that they have brainstormed a long list of questions, they will work together to sort the list into two different types of questions: closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. One person in each group (someone different from the person who recorded the questions) should be in charge of this step of the process. 

You may want to emphasize to students the differences between the two types of questions in order to reinforce the descriptions provided on the handout. You also may want to reiterate to students that they should discuss the advantages and disadvantages between the two types of questions. Make sure each group is sorting the questions into the two categories properly and provide any necessary assistance as they try to revise two or three closed-ended questions into open-ended questions.

After students have sorted, discussed, and revised their questions, they should prioritize three of their open-ended questions that they would like to discover answers to as a group.

Tell students that they will conduct research on media/news sites to find the answers to their questions and to help them explain to the rest of the class what is happening in their photos. They should also record these questions on Handout 3: Three Key Questions. Keeping in mind the student-centric focus of this assignment, offer guidance to any group that needs it for choosing questions that will best help them in their research process.

Collect Handout 3: Three Key Questions from each group. As students begin their next step, you may want to read quickly through these questions to help you identify groups that may need more guidance/coaching/support during the research process.

Note: The next step presumes that students have access to the internet in their classrooms in order to conduct research. If that is not the case, the following step could be assigned as either an individual homework assignment (each student answering one question on their own at home, with the group meeting again briefly during the following class session to share their answers) or completed later during a scheduled session in a computer lab. If you choose to do Part 3 this way, you can still pick the assignment back up beginning with Part 4 during your next class session.

3. Investigating Key Questions

Distribute one copy of Handout 4: Investigating Key Questions to each group. One student from each group (someone different from the first two steps) should be put in charge of recording the answers to their questions on the handout.

Review the instructions with the class. Explain to students that they will now conduct online research via media sources (see List of Suggested Media Sources for recommendations) to help them answer their three prioritized questions. Make sure students have enough time to conduct research, as this step may include some “trial and error” as they seek out answers to their questions. Depending on the length of your class session, you may want to split up this block of research time over the last part of one class and beginning part of the next.

Students are asked to find news articles from at least three different sources. Encourage students to seek out both U.S. and international sources—for relevant sites to choose from, see List of Suggested Media Sources.

You also may want to encourage students to think about how they want to conduct searches through online media sites in order to be most effective. For instance, it would be to their advantage to include the name of media sources in quotation marks in the search bar (such as the “New York Times”), locations and dates of the images, and key terms from their questions. You may also choose to direct students to specific media sources and have them utilize the search function on those sites, rather than have them utilize search engine results. Finally, remind students that, along with answering their questions, they may want to write down other things they learn during their research process that they think are important in the “Additional Key Information” section of the handout.

While students are conducting research, you should read through the groups’ Handout 3: Three Key Questions and identify common themes or questions, as Part 4 of the assignment involves you leading a class discussion about the research the students have completed. Ideally, the majority of the groups would have chosen to pursue questions that seek to answer “why” the protesters in their photos were protesting. You may want to choose one or two examples of strong “why” questions from the handouts to use as the “focus question(s)” for Part 4’s discussion.

4. Analyzing Patterns in the Protests

After the students have completed their research and filled out Handout 4: Investigating Key Questions, keep them in their groups but call the class back together.

Now that they have all done research into their photos, explain to students that the next part of the lesson will be to discuss as a class some of their findings. Write one or two of the common “why” questions that you chose from Handout 3: Three Key Questions on the board to use as a “focus question” for this discussion. You may want to give the groups a few minutes to discuss among themselves how they might want to share their findings based on the “focus question” that you have chosen. The students should answer the focus question on the board, not read out their answers to each of their three questions that they researched.

Next, ask each group to answer the focus question on the board out loud. As each group provides its answer to the focus question, you should be filling up the board with short, condensed reasons for the origins and causes of the protests. As students listen to other groups’ answers and watch you record responses on the board, you should ask them to pay attention to similarities and differences between their findings. 

Finally, after each group has answered, you should ask students if they have identified any similarities between their own research and that of the other groups. Try to put these groups “into conversation with one another” and have them discuss some of the overlaps between their findings. Then, ask students to identify overall patterns based on what you have written on the board—in other words, what were some of the primary reasons for why there were major street protests around the globe in 2019? Ideally, the object of the discussion here is to go from identifying the individual causes of specific protests to building an understanding of some of the general causes for the global protest wave.

5. Students Reflect on “Protests in Every Corner of the Globe”

Distribute one copy of Handout 5: “Protests in Every Corner of the Globe” to each student. 

If there is time in your class session, you may do this part of the lesson as an in-class writing assignment. Otherwise, this would work best as a homework assignment.

Explain to students that now that they have conducted research into their questions, shared their answers to the “focus question,” and had a class-wide discussion about the patterns of global protests in 2019, the next step is to reflect upon the broader meaning and purpose of the protest movements about which they have learned.

Tell the students that they should read the excerpted article and follow the directions. Students are tasked with writing a 1-page reflection on the global protest wave and its broader meanings—you should encourage them to draw from both the excerpted reading and the research that they conducted and discussed as a class in framing their responses.

Extra Challenges

EC #1: Have students edit their own slideshow of protest images by adding short quotes from their own reflection responses in Part 5 to photos that they think represent the ideas in their quote. Combine and edit these slideshows into a single class-wide photo slideshow, titling it “Students Reflect on the Global Protest Wave of 2019.” Play it in class and discuss the meaning and purpose behind protests, what the students learned about the significance of protests in 2019, and/or what they think might happen regarding protests around the world in the future.

EC #2: Have students use their phones to film short videos of their classmates reflecting on the 2019 global protest wave, the commonalities shared by protesters, and/or the meaning and significance of protesting in a democracy. Tell students the videos should be thirty seconds or less in length. Using video editing software, combine the videos together along with a slideshow of some of the photos from protests around the globe. Play that video in class, and lead a discussion about the meaning and purpose of protests in a democracy.

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