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Lesson Plans

Classroom resource: Three ways to teach the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

January 6, 2021

Full Lesson



Directions: Watch the video, read the summary below and answer the discussion questions. To read a transcript of the video, click hereYou can also access Pear Deck slides based on the lesson here and here. We will continue to update links to relevant stories and resources at the bottom of the page.

Summary: The nation on Wednesday witnessed a grave breach of its democratic traditions. For the first time in American history, supporters of the losing presidential candidate forcibly disrupted the official counting of electoral votes.

  • A violent pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress formally counted electoral votes. Earlier in the day, Trump spoke at a rally where he urged supporters to march to the Capitol to demand that the results be overthrown.
  • Some Republicans in both chambers declared that they would object to the counting of some states where Trump lost his closest races to Biden. But before individuals forcefully entered the building, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a  rebuke to the idea that Congress could or should attempt to overthrow the election.
  • After rioters forcefully entered the building, Trump tweeted a recorded message telling people to “go home now,” while writing to them “we love you; you’re very special” and repeating false claims about the election.
  • One woman who was shot inside the Capitol died. Four others died as well, including a Capitol Police officer who was injured after the Capitol was breached and died of his injuries on January 7. His death is being investigated as a homicide.
  • Lawmakers were evacuated to secure locations around the Capitol. Later Wednesday night, they resumed the constitutionally mandated count, and Biden’s victory was confirmed in the early morning hours of January 7.

UPDATE: While Congress has confirmed Joe Biden’s election as president, many questions linger about the assault on the U.S. Capitol and about what price President Trump might pay for his encouragement of the assault, as well as what failures led to inadequate security at the Capitol building.

ACTIVITY ONE: Class discussion

Warm up questions: 

  1. What events took place on Wednesday at the Capitol building?
  2. Who was involved in the insurrection? Who was affected as a result of the safety breach?
  3. Why did Trump supporters seek to forcefully disrupt the counting of the electoral votes?
  4. When and where did the insurrection take place?
  5. How have politicians reacted to the breach and President Trump’s initial encouragement of the attack?

Focus questions:

  1. Why are the events at the U.S. Capitol being referred to as an insurrection rather than a protest? How would you describe the event?
  2. What changes do you think the assault should lead to, and what do you think are the biggest open questions to seek to resolve?
  3. If you were a lawmaker in Congress right now, how would you address your constituents about the events at the Capitol?

ACTIVITY TWO: Media Literacy

Several different U.S. departments and law enforcement agencies were sent to Washington D.C. including the National Guard during Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, which were overall very peaceful. Contrast this with Wednesday’s insurrection at the nation’s Capitol in which individuals stormed the halls of Congress, and the National Guard was initially held back.

  • Take a look at the two photos below (captions are below but read those after), one from a Black Lives Matter protest in 2016, and the other from today’s storming of the Capitol. What do you notice? Who is in the photo? What events are taking place? Why do you think the photographer took the picture? What questions do you have?

Caption for photo #1: A supporter of President Donald Trump being walked down the steps of the Capitol during the insurrection in Washington D.C. Jan. 6, 2021. Courtesy: CNN (screenshot)

Caption for photo #2: Lone activist Ieshia Evans stands her ground while offering her hands for arrest as she is charged by riot police during a protest against police brutality outside the Baton Rouge Police Department in Louisiana, July 2016. Evans, a 28-year-old Pennsylvania nurse and mother of one, traveled to Baton Rouge to protest against the shooting of Alton Sterling. Sterling was a 37-year-old black man and father of five, who was shot at close range by two white police officers. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

ACTIVITY THREE: Trump and Biden’s comments 

Directions: Read the summary, watch the videos of President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden and answer the discussion questions below. 

President Donald Trump released a video Wednesday, calling for his angry supporters to go home after thousands gathered outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., with some breaching the building and using force against law enforcement.

In his message, Trump repeated false claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election before asking his supporters for peace.

“You have to go home now, we have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order,” Trump said. “We love you. You’re very special,” he continued.

President-elect Joe Biden said: “To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, the floor of the United States Senate…It’s not protest, it’s insurrection. The world is watching. Like so many other Americans, I am genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long the beacon of light and hope of democracy has come to such a dark moment.”

Biden went on to say America will endure and prevail and that he plans on restoring democracy, honor and the rule of law.

Discussion questions:

  1. What do you think of President Trump’s statement, which he released via social media? Did he sufficiently condemn the violence, and in the proper manner?
  2. What do you think of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube’s decision to delete Trump’s statement? Did Twitter act appropriately by locking Trump’s account for 12-hours?
  3. Did Trump’s debunked reiteration of a “fraudulent election” help or hurt efforts to diffuse the unrest? Similarly, what do you think of Trump telling those who forced themselves in the nation’s Capitol, “We love you. You’re very special”? How does this juxtapose with what the President has said of Black Lives Matter protestors?
  4. How does President-elect Joe Biden’s address, citing the “unprecedented assault” on the Capitol, compare to the remarks by President Trump?
  5. In his address, Biden called upon Trump to make a formal national address to condemn the mob attacking the capital. Was Biden justified to make this request, and should Trump have listened? Do you think Trump should make a formal address condemning those who breached security at the Capitol?

Additional resources: 

If you have time, you can also watch this video of NewsHour hosts and reporters discussing in detail all they saw on January 6:

High school teacher David Cutler contributed to this lesson.