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Lesson Plans

How teachers can discuss New Zealand, violent extremism and Islamophobia

March 17, 2019

Full Lesson




Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. Turn on “CC” closed-captions or click on the transcript here. You may also want to read NewsHour’s article, “Donate, organize or show up: How to help after the New Zealand massacre.”

For guidance on how to talk with students about traumatic events, white nationalism and Islamophobia, read over some of the teacher resources provided by PBS’ Colorín Colorado below, and use the ones that work best for you.


On Friday, 50 people were killed and another 50 wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the deadliest attack in the country’s history. Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, was the site of horrific carnage, as a gunman stormed the two Islamic places of worship during Friday prayers. Police arrested the alleged shooter who cited white nationalism and other mass killings as inspiration. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the shooting one of the country’s “darkest days.” Arden said the perpetrator was a licensed gun owner who had legally acquired the five guns. She said the country’s national gun laws will change but did not add specifics.

If time, dig deeper:

Before answering the discussion questions, you may wish to watch the following interview, “Why alleged New Zealand mosque killer represents a broader ‘social movement.’” You may want to turn on CC (closed captions) or follow along using the transcript(11m:30s)

Discussion questions: 

  • Essential question: Why do events like the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand continue to happen in the world today?
  • What do you know about the terms white nationalismIslamophobia and violent extremism?
    • White nationalism: Here is some background on white nationalism from the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Adherents of white nationalist groups believe that white identity should be the organizing principle of the countries that make up Western civilization. White nationalists advocate for policies to reverse changing demographics and the loss of an absolute, white majority. Ending non-white immigration, both legal and illegal, is frequently elevated over other racist projects, such as ending multiculturalism and miscegenation.” To learn more, scroll down to the “Background” section.
    • Why might it be important to learn about these terms and how they have played a role in U.S. and world history?
    • Islamophobia: Students often look for ways to change the world for the better. Read this article in The Conversation to let students know the good work that is underway to combat Islamophobia.
    • Violent extremism: According to USAID (United States Agency for International Development), “The FBI defines violent extremism as the ‘encouraging, condoning, justifying, or supporting the commission of a violent act to achieve political, ideological, religious, social, or economic goals,’ whilst USAID defines violent extremist activities as the ‘advocating, engaging in, preparing, or otherwise supporting ideologically motivated or justified violence to further social, economic or political objectives.’”
    • One thing to note: According to various governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including the Brennan Center for Justice, efforts aimed at Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) have existed for some time, often with dubious outcomes. The Center states, “And while purportedly aimed at rooting out all violent extremism, they [CVE] have previously focused only on Muslims, stigmatizing them as a suspect community.” Check out Brennan Center’s resource page designed for journalists, policy-makers, and the members of the public information about CVE programs to learn more.
    • Teacher’s note: To learn more, read the Anti-Defamation League’s “Moving from Safe Classrooms to Brave Classrooms.” ADL states, “Classroom guidelines established around a framework of safety don’t always help those who feel marginalized brave enough to express strong feelings and ideas. Learn how to create brave spaces instead of just safe ones.”
  • In recent years, racist, Islamophobic and other discriminatory acts have been on the rise in schools and universities. If time allows, take a look at NewsHour’s article “How teachers are trying to stop the spread of hate” to learn more.
    • How should schools teach about violent extremism?
    • What are the roles that classes like social studies and English can play in teaching about civil rights and discrimination?
    • Do you think schools should take more time to discuss current events and address Islamophobia and movements like white nationalism? Why or why not?
  • What should you do if you feel uncomfortable or worried about the events in Christchurch, New Zealand? Who could you talk with at your school or at home? Ask your teacher if you are not sure.
  • Prior to the shootings, the man charged with murder in the New Zealand attacks quoted a list of white nationalists who inspired him and also referenced President Donald Trump. The White House immediately denounced the connection.
    • Why does the reaction of the president of the United States to the events in New Zealand matter to so many people?
    • How has President Trump responded so far?
    • How do you think the President should respond to the shootings in New Zealand?
  • Media literacy: The news media play a significant role in how mass shootings are covered and discussed. Most news organizations choose not to use the shooter’s name or use it as little as possible, so as to not bring any more attention to the individual as needed. Watch NewsHour’s short segment, “The role of media and technology after terror attacks.” The gunman accused of the killings in New Zealand live-streamed the attack, emailed his manifesto to media outlets and shared his racist and hateful messages online. Two experts discuss changing technology and the media’s role and responsibilities with NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivsan.
    • Why is it important for media not to amplify messages of white nationalism as they cover events like Christchurch?
    • Read the following exchange and answer the question.

Hari Sreenivasan to Harvard University’s Joan Donovan: “I’ve also seen some critique last night saying, hey, you know what if this was a Muslim shooter and if he or she had put out a manifesto like this, the FBI and everyone else would go through every single paragraph, look at every possible inspiration whether it’s a video game, it’s a person, it’s a politician and lay the blame squarely at their feet. Are we giving this instance some sort of a double standard?

Joan Donovan: “I don’t think so. I’ve seen a lot of people trying to hold the language used by the Trump administration accountable for the way in which people are starting to understand Islamophobia, anti-Semitism as well is you know this word ‘invasion’ has come up more than a few times.

  • Do you think the shooting is being treated by journalists differently because the alleged shooter was white and not Muslim or a person of color?
  • Donovan states, “And the point about law enforcement or the FBI, we do know that the U.S. government is looking less and less at, you know, white nationalist groups in the U.S., and I think that’s a really big problem.”
  • How could you research more about this topic? Where would you look?

Additional NewsHour resources: 

  • “If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.” — Nancy Pelosi quoting Ronald Reagan this week (via PBS NewsHour’s Shields & Brooks)
  • Teachers: Use this uplifting Student Reporting Labs “New Americans” series with your students which contains more than 30 videos highlighting the struggles and triumphs of recent immigrant families. Stories include a conversation club in a Louisville, Kentucky public library that connects residents to new immigrants (see Extra’s lesson plan here); one Georgia middle school girl’s decision to wear the hijab; how music and sports ease the loneliness of arriving in a new country and much more. Use the Youtube videos for closed captions (click on SRL’s videos on Youtube and scroll back about two years. The first video in the series is “DACA student prepares for academic barriers,” and the rest of the segments follow.)

Nour Issa’s Muslim faith and choice to wear the hijab set her apart from many of her peers, but she’s still just a regular Georgia middle school student. “There’s nothing different about her,” says her friend, “I just think of her as Nour Issa, not Nour Issa the Muslim.” How could you show support for classmates and those in your community who may wear the hijab?

  • Check out these additional NewsHour resources:

Column: Why educators still need to talk about 9/11 — and Islamophobia by Rusul Alrubail

Stories of the victims of the New Zealand mosque attack

As New Zealand shooter appears in court, world rallies behind Muslim communities

What the New Zealand shootings tell us about the rise in hate crimes

After New Zealand massacre, Trump downplays white nationalism threat

  • How might empathy end up playing an important role in learning about the events in New Zealand? To learn more about ways to build empathy in your school or community, try this PBS interactive lesson: Design Apps That Help Others and Build Empathy.

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.