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November 11, 2020

Lesson Plan: Voter suppression then and now

Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

For a Google doc of this lesson, click here. 

Voter suppression tactics focus on making voting more difficult for specific groups of people. To what extent is voter suppression prevalent today and how does voter suppression today compare with voter suppression after Reconstruction?

Subject: Civics, Government, U.S. History

Grades: 9-12

Estimated time: 50-minutes, plus additional time to independently complete a one-pager.

Objectives: Students will:

  • Understand what voter suppression is.
  • Understand who is most affected by voter suppression.
  • Understand why voter suppression happened in the past and why it is happening now.


  1. Students should have a general understanding of the Reconstruction period. This lesson is most appropriate after students have learned about Reconstruction.
  2. Distribute “Student Handout #1—Voter Suppression, Then and Now Handout.” Engage students in a large-group discussion about the democratic participation of African Americans during the Reconstruction period. Ask them to consider the following questions:
    1. What were the causes of increased participation in political and civic life during the Reconstruction period?
    2. What effect might this increased participation have on many white Southerners?
    3. How did many white Southerners respond to increased African American participation in politics?
  3. Have students complete question #1: “Before you watch…”
  4. Show RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR | Reconstruction | Part 2, Hour 1 | Episode 3 (minute 25:50 to 27:10). 
  5. Have students complete question set #2: “As you watch….” Engage students in a whole group discussion or have them discuss their answers in pairs.
  6. Distribute “Student Handout #2 One-pager.” Explain to students what a one-pager is, go over the directions, and show them some one-pager examples.
  7. Have students complete question #3: “Before you listen…” Engage students in a whole group discussion or have them discuss their answers in pairs.
  8. Go over questions #4,  “As you listen….” and explain to students that they should take notes in the table as they listen to the podcast. This part of the lesson should be completed independently.
  9. Have students listen to the podcast, Why voter suppression continues and how the pandemic has made it worse, taking notes as they listen. Give students the opportunity to listen on their own time so that they can go at their own pace. You might consider having students listen to the podcast as homework or to listen with headphones during class time.
  10. Have students complete questions #5, “After you listen….” They should choose one of the two quotes from the podcast, that of Chris Hollins or Carol Anderson to develop a thesis statement. Their thesis statement should address the extent to which that quote represents continuity and/or change over time.
  11. Students are now ready to complete their one-pagers. When they are done, they can manually submit their one-pagers. Or, students can take and upload a photograph of their one-pagers to Google Classroom or add them to a shared Google Slides presentation. The latter option is especially well suited for remote learning.


Extension: Have your students write a change over time essay that responds to the prompt: To what extent, and in what ways, has voter suppression changed since Reconstruction?

Kory Loyola teaches high school AP U.S. History and Debate and Public Speaking and coaches Debate in New Jersey. She is a graduate of Rutgers College and has a Masters Degree in Education from the Rutgers University School of Graduate Education and a Masters Degree in History and Culture from Drew University.

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