Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lesson Plans

Classroom resource: Dr. Yohuru Williams on using history to teach the Capitol Riots

January 4, 2021


Full Lesson



Educators: This lesson is based on NewsHour Classroom’s Zoom on Jan. 7th, 2021, the day after the riot at the Capitol, as a guide to help educators teach about the day’s events. Note: It is more suited to older high school students. You may also wish to watch the full Zoom in which Dr. Williams discusses teaching about the attack at greater length.

Dr. Williams is the head of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and author and editor of numerous books, including “Teaching U.S. History Beyond the Textbook : Six Investigative Strategies, Grades 5-12.” He is a scholar of civil rights and the Black Power movement, an education activist and frequent public commentator, including with History Channel’s Sound Smart series.

Directions: First, watch Dr. Williams talk about his work as a history teacher in Washington D.C. Ask your students: How did Dr. Williams’ use the Preamble in his classes to discuss gender equality and the Black Panthers? How do you think Dr. Williams would use the Preamble to discuss the attack on the U.S. Capitol building?

Now watch the main video clip of Dr. Williams discussing the use of primary sources in teaching about the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Then answer the discussion questions below.

Warm up questions: 

  1. What is Dr. Williams purpose in looking to history to process the riot at the U.S. Capitol?
  2. Who are the individuals Dr. Williams discusses in this video clip?
  3. Why do you think Dr. Williams chose to feature these individuals from history?
  4. When and where did the events Dr. Williams describes take place?
  5. How do Little Rock’s Melba Pattillo Beals and Jackie Robinson connect to the insurrection at the Capitol building?

Focus questions:

  1. Why is it important to understand the facts about the attack on the Capitol?
  2. What is a primary source? How could primary sources be helpful in understanding the mob at the Capitol?
  3. Why do many historians like Dr. Williams support learning about the past in order to understand the present? What does it mean to put an event like the insurrection at the Capitol in historical context?
  4. What types of conversations has your school had on the events of Jan. 6th? Do you think your school should be teaching about the riot at the Capitol more? Explain.

Media literacy: Dr. Williams spoke alongside author Kenneth C. Davis on a NewsHour Classroom Zoom held on Jan. 7, 2021, for educators, school staff and students, just one day after the riot at the U.S. Capitol building. It’s always a good idea to learn about the individuals featured in all forms of media, including this resource. You can learn more about Dr. Williams’s work at the Racial Justice Initiative here.

  • How do you think Dr. Williams’s work on racial justice issues informs his work?

Media literacy extension: Watch this clip from Dr. Williams describing the 1970s TV show Archie Bunker and Langston Hughes’ poem Let America Be America Again. How did this sitcom and poem influence Dr. Williams’ view of American history? Do you agree that we have the power to improve our society and change the world for the better?

Additional Resources:

  • For our lesson on the events and their immediate aftermath, click here.
  • If you are a teacher and would like some ideas on broad approaches to guiding your students toward civic engagement in this moment, click here.
  • This Classroom lesson explores the connection between white privilege and the response to the attack on the Capitol. This lesson takes a look back at some past insurrections in the U.S., beginning in the 18th century.
  • You can also use this lesson based on conversation between David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart to start a discussion on future consequences of the January 6 attack.