Teaching About January 6, 2021: Resources for Classroom Conversations Surrounding the Capitol Siege
January 12, 2021
Blog has been updated for 2022
As we mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol siege on January 6, 2021, questions and conversations will undoubtedly arise in classrooms across the country. We know that as students ask about what happened, educators will skillfully meet them where they are. To support educators, we have curated some discussion tips and teaching resources.
Preparing for a Classroom Discussion
If you choose to facilitate a discussion with students, here are some recommendations for how you might prepare for the conversation using an inquiry approach—encouraging your students to learn by asking questions and seeking answers both inside and outside of the classroom.
- Ask students what they know or what questions they might have about what happened on January 6, 2021. Students experience our constitutional democracy in different ways, which means each classroom conversation will be unique and depth of prior knowledge or understanding will be different for every student.
- Ask students how they would characterize the events, present what happened, and encourage them to make their own evaluations. Depending on your classroom climate and age appropriateness, you might facilitate this portion as a group discussion or offer students the ability to process personally through journaling.
- Help students trace the impact of significant events in our nation's history to today. Take historical events such as Shay’s Rebellion, the Boston Tea Party, John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry. These events can be used to discuss January 6. For example, we can ask students, “What makes a rebellion? Why was Shays referred to as a rebellion, and why is the Boston Tea Party referred to as a Tea Party or John Brown’s Raid as a raid? How or why were those nouns chosen? Who gets to decide what we call or how we characterize major events?” And this can lead to the question, “What was January 6?”
- Use this opportunity to instill the importance of building civic knowledge and skills with your students. Thoughtfully reflecting on events, like January 6, can empower students to want to learn how they can solve future civic issues by engaging across differences with respect, empathy, and sensitivity, and to see the important role they play in sustaining the future of our constitutional democracy.
Our Chief Education Officer, Emma Humphries, contributed some of these ideas to NPR's 8 ways teachers are talking about Jan. 6 in their classrooms.
Resources for Teaching About the Events of January 6
All of iCivics resources are designed to help students understand how current events tie back to civics and how our system of government and its institutions should work. Here are some resources we recommend:
- Lessons and activities on the Constitution and teaching resources on the electoral process and executive branch.
- Printable infographic and a teacher’s guide on the Peaceful Transfer of Power.
- Lessons to support teaching about news literacy and misinformation.
- iCivics games that cover topics such as voting, presidential campaigns, the electoral process, news literacy, and how the three branches of government work.
To take the dialogue further, here are additional resources from our partners:
- Resources on the peaceful transfer of power from the Bill of Rights Institute.
- Resources on the Constitution and the Election from the National Constitution Center.
- A compilation of resources on the Foundations of Democracy and Government offered by Share My Lesson.
- A teaching strategy from Facing History and Ourselves.
Watch a New PBS Documentary, Preserving Democracy: Pursuing a More Perfect Union
iCivics Executive Director Louise Dubé and Educator Network member Mary Ellen Wessel and her students were featured in the new PBS documentary, discussing the role of civic education in engaging and fostering an informed citizenry. The documentary premieres on January 6 on the one-year anniversary of the Capitol siege, and reflects on the historical context of the democratic system, progress and threats to democracy at home and abroad, and lessons learned from our nation’s origin to the present day.
Check your local listings for air times. You can also see an excerpt of the segment on civic education on last weekend’s episode of PBS NewsHour (beginning at 11:39).