September 2021 (update)

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

Throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world have continued to “take it to the streets” to engage in all manners of social and political protest. In this lesson, students examine photographs of protests from various countries around the world, develop research questions and conduct research into specific protests, and analyze some of the similarities and differences regarding the causes of street protests and governmental responses to them. The lesson concludes with a class discussion on the meaning, purpose, and effectiveness of street protests in countries today.

Student-driven inquiry and research should play an essential role in today’s history and social studies classrooms. This lesson adapts the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) developed by the Right Question Institute to provide students a structured environment through which they can formulate research questions, undertake a process of refining the questions as a group, and then conduct research based upon the questions they developed on their own—with the teacher playing a supporting role throughout.


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 societies.


Handout 1: Brainstorming Questions
Handout 2: Filtering Your Questions
Handout 3: Three Key Questions
Handout 4: Investigating Key Questions
List of Suggested Media Sources
Slideshow: Question Formulation (all countries)
Slideshow: Question Formulation (individual countries): Algeria, Australia, Belarus, Colombia, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, United States (1), United States (2)

Note to Teachers

This lesson utilizes the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) developed by the Right Question Institute. Visit for more information and free resources.

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. 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 thirteen 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 during the pandemic) 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 ten minutes regarding 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.)
  • Not stop to answer the questions, discuss them, or judge them. 
  • Write down all of their questions word-for-word as they are asked. 
  • 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 Question 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: close-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 up the assignment again 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 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 the 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, if students use search engines it may help 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 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(s) that you have chosen. 

Next, ask each group to answer the focus question(s) on the board out loud. Students should answer the focus question(s) on the board, not read out their answers to each of their three questions that they researched. 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 note any similarities and differences with their findings. 

Finally, after each group has answered, ask students if they have identified any similarities or differences 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 similarities and differences 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 origins and causes of major street protests around the globe during the pandemic? 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 similarities and differences among recent global protests.

5. Student Reflection

Lead a class discussion so that students have the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned about protests around the globe during the pandemic. Ask students some of the following questions: Why do people choose to undertake street protests? How are street protests different from voting in elections, legislative deliberations, lobbying, etc.? What are some of the risks people face when they “take to the streets” in protest? How did the global pandemic add to those risks? What were some of the ways that governments around the world responded to street protests? What risks do governments face in determining how to respond to street protests? Can students identify any differences in government responses to protests depending on the type of protest or the type of government (i.e., democratic vs. undemocratic)? Why? How can media coverage of street protests affect how other people (at home or abroad) view protesters? Do students think street protests are going to increase or decrease in the future? Have students participated in any kind of street protest? If so, why? If not, why not? Do students think they will participate in street protests in the future? If so, why? If not, why not? Do students think street protests are effective in leading to change? Why or why not?

Special thanks to Michael Aoki Deruelle for his work in developing this lesson.

Another version of this lesson is also available: Taking It to the Streets: A Year of Global Protests.

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