The Lowdown


KQED's The Lowdown lesson plans provide suggestions for nonfiction analysis, writing/discussion prompts and multimedia projects to creatively integrate current events into core curriculum to encourage student civic engagement. More resources for teaching with the news can be found at KQED's The Lowdown

  • The Lowdown | Fake News Lesson Plan

    Fake news is no longer a matter of the occasional hoax. There is growing evidence that fake news has the power to shape public opinion and even sway elections. As more Americans get their news online, it is increasingly vital that students know how to verify sources and spot fake news or images, which often appear indistinguishable from a reliable source. This lesson asks students to analyze the consequences of fake news and build skills needed to question and verify what they view online.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | The Obama Years, A Retrospective Lesson Plan

    President Obama has inspired passionate reactions among admirers and detractors alike. He is also likely the only president most students remember being in office. The nation’s first African-American president, Obama was elected on an ambitious platform of change just as the country was sliding into the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. This lesson asks students to explore President Obama’s achievements and setbacks through an interactive timeline of events, and reflect on how his presidency has affected their own lives.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Lowdown | What Are Sanctuary Cities and How Are They Bracing for Trump’s Immigration Crackdown? Lesson Plan

    President Trump signed an executive order during his first month in office aimed at bolstering local immigration enforcement and punishing cities and counties—often referred to as “sanctuary cities”—that don’t fully comply with federal immigration authorities. In response, San Francisco filed a suit in federal court arguing that Trump’s executive order exceeds his constitutional power. This lesson will examine the history of sanctuary cities and ask students to look at arguments on both sides of the issue in light of recent developments.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | How 9/11 Changed America: Four Major Lasting Impacts Lesson Plan

    Students in middle and high school today have little or no personal memories of September 11, 2001. Yet the legacy of 9/11 continues to have a major impact on U.S. foreign and domestic policy and is a cultural touchstone referenced widely in the media. In this Lowdown lesson, students explore key aspects of the post-9/11 world and reflect on the ongoing legacy of one of the most significant moments in recent history.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | The Unfinished Business of the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement Lesson Plan

    The March on Washington is one of the most famous events of the Civil Rights Movement. Almost all of us have seen clips of Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream”speech. But the demonstration, formally called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, also had economic goals. This lesson explores those specific goals and asks students to analyze what’s changed since King’s momentous address more than 50 years ago.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Lowdown | Politics by Design: The Art of Political Logos Lesson Plan

    Logos haven’t always been used by political candidates or parties, but their use and presence has grown significantly in the last several decades. As candidates seek to stand out from one another in the election process and draw people to their campaigns, the logo has become a growing part of the candidate’s visual identity and brand. This lesson seeks to provide insight into the history and use of symbols and logos in the American political system, and how modern graphic designers play an ever expanding role in building the image of a politician or political party. 

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | How Good Are You at Detecting Bias? Lesson Plan

    Cognitive bias affects us all. Even though we can fact-check information using phones and computers, we still fall for fake news and cling to outdated opinions. Why? When our cognitive biases take control, our ability to make logical judgments is limited, and facts take a back seat to deeply held beliefs. Scientists theorize that some cognitive biases have evolutionary roots, helping us maintain social connections. This mattered in prehistoric times when being isolated meant almost certain death. These days, cognitive biases still influence our choices — not to mention politics and elections. In this lesson, students will learn about five of the most common types of cognitive bias and ways to recognize and respond to them.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | How Did North Korea Get Like This? A Brief History Lesson Plan

    Nearly 70 years ago, the Korean peninsula, once a unified nation, split into two distinct states. In the resulting Korean War (1950 – 1953), millions of people were killed. But the peninsula remained divided, separated by a cease-fire line known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). In the decades that followed, North Korea became an increasingly isolated, totalitarian state. Despite today being one of the poorest nations on earth, North Korea has developed a huge military and a nuclear arsenal, and has repeatedly threatened to attack the United States. This lesson explores the history of the Korean peninsula and how North Korea became the rogue state it is today.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | The Trials of Marvin Mutch Lesson Plan

    Marvin Mutch spent 41 years in prison for a crime he insists he didn’t commit. After a rocky start in prison, Mutch became a leader and mentor to his fellow inmates and an advocate for prison rights. Despite his exemplary behavior, he was denied parole for almost 30 years, in part because he refused to confess to the crime. In 2006, he was finally granted parole with help from the Northern California Innocence Project and glowing letters from prison officials. However, the parole board’s decision was overturned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a common practice at the time to deny parole to “lifers” like Mutch. In 2016, Mutch was finally released, following changes to the law that make it harder to deny parole to inmates no longer considered dangerous. Today, Mutch is adjusting to life in free society and continues his prison advocacy work. In this lesson, students will analyze and evaluate the case of Marvin Mutch.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | Do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes? Lesson Plan

    President Trump and other officials have characterized undocumented immigrants as a drain on the system, taking advantage of services but contributing little in return. In fact, undocumented immigrants pay billions in taxes each year, including into Social Security, a benefit that few end up receiving. In this lesson, students examine facts about the taxes undocumented immigrants pay and common debates about undocumented immigrants, including whether they place a strain on the economy or contribute to it.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | Coming to America: A History of Refugee Resettlement Lesson Plan

    Since World War II, U.S policy toward refugees has changed from decade to decade, often motivated by shifting international priorities and domestic concerns. Today, as the worst refugee crisis in recent history unfolds as a result of conflicts in the Middle East, President Trump has significantly reduced the number of refugees the U.S. will admit this year from 110,000 to 50,000. The administration has voiced fears that terrorists from war-torn nations would pose as refugees. Refugee advocates counter that refugees are so well-vetted that it is extremely unlikely a terrorist would be granted asylum.

    For additional discussion questions, use this interactive timeline.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | What Legal Rights Do Undocumented Immigrants Have? Lesson Plan

    With the exception of voting, traveling between states and running for president or Congress, the U.S. Constitution actually guarantees most of the same fundamental civil rights and liberties to everyone within the United States, citizens and non-citizens alike, including the estimated 11 million people living here unlawfully. Immigration advocates have long tried to make this clear to undocumented residents, many of whom are unaware that they have any legal protections at all. Given the Trump administration’s promise of aggressive immigration enforcement, immigration advocates are educating communities with “know your rights” trainings and workshops. In this lesson, students will examine rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and will write and create informational texts that communicate immigrants’ legal rights.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | Who Are California’s Undocumented Immigrants? A Cartoon Explainer

    As of 2016, nearly a quarter of the United States undocumented population lives in California. Who are California’s undocumented residents? Where do they come from? And what impact do they have on this state’s massive economy? Comic illustrator Andy Warner explains.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Lowdown | Police, Race and Unrest in America’s Cities Lesson Plan

    While the Summer of Love swept through San Francisco 50 years ago this summer, scores of inner-city neighborhoods across the country burned with rage. In the summer of 1967, more than 100 poor, largely black communities were rocked by violent incidents, erupting primarily in East Coast and Midwestern cities. In the immediate wake of the riots, President Johnson established a bipartisan task force: the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission. The 426-page report, published in March 1968, sold over two million copies. Decades later, after the Michael Brown shooting in 2014 and the unrest that followed, a new commission was formed to study a similar issue. Chaired by Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, the group was tasked with identifying the underlying causes of the unrest. Its final report, while much smaller in scope, bears some resemblance to the Kerner findings. In light of the current national debate about police violence in communities of color, students will evaluate the findings of the 1967 and 2014 commissions.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | The Power of Executive Action and What Trump Can Do after Taking Office Lesson Plan

    Faced with a gridlocked Congress, President Obama used executive actions during his presidency to craft policies like the Clean Power Plan and make it possible for children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country temporarily (DACA). Executive action is a powerful but fragile tool. What one president enacts, another can undo. This lesson explores the power of executive action and what policies and laws might change after President-elect Trump takes office in January 2017.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | What You Need to Know about Gentrification Lesson Plan

    Gentrification is a term used to describe the economic and cultural transition that often occurs when wealthier residents start to move into predominantly lower-income, urban neighborhoods. The shift typically pumps economic investment into the neighborhood, increasing its desirability and prompting rapid increases in rents and property values. While this boost in resources can result in improved safety and services, among a host of other positive changes, it also invariably alters the character and culture of an established community. In many instances, long-term residents in the neighborhood are priced out and forced to move to more affordable communities farther afield. In this lesson, students will analyze the effects of gentrification on neighborhoods and communities.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | Redistricting: How the Maps of Power Are Drawn Lesson Plan

    Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years after the census to make sure each district represents roughly the same number of people. It might seem like a boring, bureaucratic process, but it has a tremendous impact on the balance of power. Often, district lines are drawn to favor one political party over another in a process known as gerrymandering. When this happens, one political party dominates, making it almost impossible for the opposing party to be elected in that district. In this lesson, students explore the redistricting process and possible reforms to make redistricting less partisan.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | A Brief History of the First Earth Day and What We Can Learn From Its Success Lesson Plan

    Earth Day grew out of the environmental movement in the late 1960s in response to a series of environmental disasters that took lives, marred natural beauty and threatened animal species. An estimated 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day – April 22, 1970 – which consisted of a series of local events designed to raise awareness of pressing environmental concerns. Today, the environmental movement is experiencing a strong resurgence amid fears of climate change, rising sea levels and carbon emissions. Yet the issue has grown far more partisan and divisive than it was when Earth Day first began. In this Lowdown lesson, students will analyze the origins and history of Earth Day, as well as evaluate how political and public support for Earth Day has changed over time.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | How Big Is the Federal Budget and What Does It All Pay For? Lesson Plan

    The federal budgeting process has begun. The annual event has become a bitter showdown in recent decades, and this year promises to be no different following President Trump’s address to Congress on March 1. High on the administration’s budget priority list: increased military spending and cuts to other government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Despite partisan wrangling, the steps to passing a federal budget are clearly defined. This lesson explores the process and invites students to reflect on what their own federal budget priorities would be.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • The Lowdown | The Youth Activists Behind the Standing Rock Resistance Lesson Plan

    Indigenous youth were at the forefront of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Their decision to run thousands of miles to speak with officials in Washington, D.C. helped inspire thousands of other people to join the protest and bring widespread attention to issues related to environmental justice and American Indian land rights. A year later, Standing Rock youth reflect on the life-changing experience and transformative nature of standing up for what you believe, even in light of the Trump administration’s order to ultimately resume construction of the pipeline they fought so hard against. In this lesson, students will analyze how the experience of protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline affected the youth at the forefront of those protests.

    Grades: 6-13+

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