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        The Storm That Swept Mexico | Lesson Plan: Revolutionary Leaders

        “The oppression was tremendous. That’s why those of us who joined the Revolution in defense of the nation didn’t do it out of bravery or pride but out of necessity.”

        — Galo Pacheco Valle (Zapatista Veteran)

        When does working for social change become revolution? In this lesson, students will study key figures from the Mexican Revolution, including Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, and discuss what motivated them to take action and the broad range of ways that individuals stand up for their principles and beliefs. Using excerpts from the film The Storm that Swept Mexico as a guide, students will also consider how contemporary revolutionaries are harnessing the power of digital media to achieve their goals and will develop and implement their own strategies to work for social change.


        Lesson Summary

        About the Film

        The Storm That Swept Mexico tells the gripping story of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the first major political and social revolution of the 20th century. The Revolution not only changed the course of Mexican history, transforming economic and political power within the nation, but also profoundly impacted the relationships between Mexico, the U.S. and the rest of the world.

        Leading the initial wave of 20th century worldwide political and social upheavals, the Mexican Revolution was the first major revolution to be filmed. The Storm That Swept Mexico incorporates photographs and motion pictures from the earliest days of cinema. Much of this material has never been seen before by North American and international audiences.

        The first hour, “The Tiger is Unleashed,” charts the struggle by Francisco I. Madero and his followers to end the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, and traces the emergence of two remarkable rebel leaders: Emiliano Zapata and General Francisco “Pancho” Villa. But the Revolution was not merely an internal affair; it was an international event, profoundly influenced by U.S. and European foreign policy.

        The second hour, “The Legacy,” examines international influence on the Mexican Revolution, investigating the extraordinary plan, hatched in Germany, to seek Mexico’s support against the United States, if it was to enter World War I. In addition to the warfare, there was a cultural revolution as well. Beginning in the 1920s, and continuing through and beyond the 1940s, Mexican artists burst onto the international cultural stage, and Mexico City became the nexus of an indigenous art movement. Against this backdrop, the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas in many ways fulfills the promises of the revolution. But after Cárdenas’s extraordinary administration, politics regress, and in 1968, shortly before Mexico City is to host the Olympics, a new type of revolution explodes.

        Interviewing distinguished scholars from the disciplines of history, economics, literature, political science, women’s studies, and art history, The Storm That Swept Mexico explores the beliefs and conditions that led to the revolution, influenced the course of the conflict, and determined its consequences over the century that followed.


        • Producer/ Director: Raymond Telles
        • Producer/Archivist: Kenn Rabin


        Time Allotment

        90-120 minutes + Assignments

        Learning Objectives

        When does working for change become revolution? Students will analyze the term revolution in relation to reform, and by examining three key figures from the Mexican Revolution, discuss what motivates people to take action, and the broad range of ways in which individuals stand up for principles or beliefs. Students will:

        • Examine the concepts of reform and revolution, by reflecting on popular history and their own experiences
        • Compare and contrast the motivations, methods, and goals of three figures from the Mexican Revolution
        • Discuss what motivates individuals to take a stand, and the factors that shape the ways they choose to participate in bringing about social change




        Learning Activities


        The following Pre-Screening Activities are designed to prepare students to view The Storm that Swept Mexico: Revolutionary Leaders Film Module and introduce students to the ideas, themes and topics that will be explored in the Post-Screening Lesson.

        Activity 1: What do we stand for?

        Time: 25 mins

        You will need: white/blackboard, markers/chalk and pens and writing paper, and/or class journal

        Goal: Students will discuss the meaning of Rosa Parks’s quote and consider what would motivate them to take a stand.

        • Display the following quote from Rosa Parks and ask students to take 3 minutes to write about what the quote means to them: “Don’t give up your freedom and integrity. Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” –Rosa Parks
        • Ask for volunteers to discuss their response to the quote and as a class, consider the following:
        1. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?
        2. What does it mean to take a stand?
        3. Why do some people choose to take action to address a wrong, while others choose to stand by and watch?
        4. What do you believe in? Describe a time when it was difficult to maintain that belief. What was the obstacle? How did you deal with it?
        5. What are the challenges and risks involved when someone takes a stand?
        • Instruct students to think about a circumstance (in their school, their community, nationally, or globally) that they would like to change or improve, and ask them to write a brief journal entry using the following questions as a guide. (If time is limited, students can briefly discuss the following in small groups or with a partner.):
        1. What would you take a stand for?
        2. Why is this issue important to you?
        3. What steps would you take to accomplish these goals?
        4. Who would you work with?
        5. What challenges would you expect to encounter?
        • Ask students to keep their journal entry for reference during the following activities.


        Activity 2: You say you want a Revolution?

        Time: 25 mins

        You will need: white/blackboard, markers/chalk, and pens and writing paper 5

        Goal: Students will examine the concepts of revolution and reform, and will brainstorm working definitions for each term that the class will refer to and refine throughout the lesson.

        • Write the word “Revolution” on the board and give students one minute to list all the words and ideas they associate with that term.
        • When time is up, ask students to share their ideas and record their responses on the board. Consider what patterns, if any, emerge from the students’ responses and reflect on their results using some or all of the following questions as a guide:
        1. In what context is the term revolution used? (For example: politics, science, invention, art?)
        2. What makes an idea, an action, or an individual “revolutionary”?
        3. What examples of political revolution can you think of? What defines these events as “revolutionary?”
        4. Does revolution always mean war? What are some examples of political revolutions that occurred without armed struggle? (Suggestions: the 1986 People Power Revolution in Indonesia, the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the 2004 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, and the 2011 Egyptian Revolution)
        5. Are all movements that work to bring about social change “revolutionary movements?” For example, was the civil rights movement a revolutionary movement?
        6. How does revolution differ from reform?
        • Have a volunteer(s) look up the definitions for revolution and reform, and as a class, develop a working definition for each term that incorporates the feedback from the group discussion. These definitions can be revisited and revised throughout the lesson.
        • Complete the activity by asking students to consider the issue that they selected for their journal entry during Pre-Screening Activity 1. Based on the definitions they developed as a class for the terms revolution and reform, ask the students what course of action they feel would be necessary to bring about their own intended goals. Did the steps they identified in their journal entry call for reform or revolution?


        Activity 3 (Optional): The Revolution and the Revolutionaries

        Time: 15 mins

        You will need: Pen and paper  and The Storm that Swept Mexico Glossary, Computer and LCD projector

        Goal: To prepare students to view The Storm that Swept Mexico: Revolutionary Leaders Film Module, by introducing a summary of the history of the Mexican Revolution and reviewing key figures and terms referred to in the film module. (NOTE: If students have been introduced to aspects of the Mexican Revolution in class, you may adjust this activity as needed. Teachers can also provide this activity as a take-home assignment to be completed prior to the commencement of the Revolutionary Leaders Lesson Plan.) 

        • Provide students with a summary of the Mexican Revolution from one of the following links:
        1. EDSITEment, The Centennial of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920:
        2. The Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, 1910–40,
        • Working in pairs, instruct students to research the following terms:
        1. Key Figures: Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa Francisco, and Madero Porfirio Díaz
        2. Key Terms: Porfiriato, Industrialization, Hacienda System, Zapatista, Villista
        • Once the students have completed their research, ask for volunteers to share their results with the class. Instruct students to keep their notes and use them as a reference during the screening.



        Time: 15 minutes

        You will need: pen and paper, LCD projector or DVD player, and The Storm that Swept Mexico: Revolutionary Leaders Film Module

        • Read the summary for the film, The Storm that Swept Mexico, and explain to the students that they will be viewing the Revolutionary Leaders Video Module.
        • Using the Pre-Screening Activities as a guide, instruct students to take notes as they view the video and provide them with the following Discussion Questions:
        1. Who were the leaders that emerged during the early stages of the Revolution?
        2. According to the veterans of the Mexican Revolution who were interviewed for the film, what motivated them to join the revolutionary movement?
        3. What were they hoping to accomplish?
        4. Why did they choose the path of revolution rather than reform?



        Time: 60 minutes

        You will need: pen/paper, Student Handout A: Faces of the Revolution, Student Handout B: Research Worksheet, and computers with Internet access.

        Goal: Working in pairs and as a group, students will research three leaders from the Mexican Revolution and examine their motivations and opportunities, considering how their personal history influenced their political choices. Based on their research, students will consider what path they would have taken if they were faced with the choice of reform or revolution during the Mexican Revolution.

        • Review: Begin by discussing the screening of The Storm that Swept Mexico: Revolutionary Leaders Module and review the students’ responses to the video module Discussion Questions.

        1. Introduction

        • Instruct the class that they will be working in teams to research one of three key figures from the Mexican Revolution: Emiliano Zapata, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, or Francisco Madero. Through their research they will consider what motivated these figures to take a stand, what they hoped to accomplish, and whether they chose the path of revolution or reform.

        2. Research

        • Divide the class into pairs and assign each group one of the following research subjects: Emiliano Zapata, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, or Francisco Madero.
        • Provide each group with Student Handout A: Faces of the Revolution and Student Handout B: Research Worksheet. Instruct each team that they will work together to complete the worksheet using the Faces of the Revolution handout for reference and each student should complete her/his own worksheet.

        3. Group Discussion

        • Once the pairs have completed Student Handout B: Research Worksheet, shuffle the students to make 5-6 new groups with at least one representative for each research subject in each.
        • Each student in the group should share the information they gathered with their research team and work with the group to answer the following Discussion Questions:
        1. What common factors motivated these individuals to take a stand?
        2. Based on our definitions, was each of these figures a revolutionary or reformer? Were they trying to improve the system that existed or change it completely?
        3. How did their personal backgrounds influence their approach to social change?
        4. If you were living in Mexico before the Revolution, what path would you take? Would you join one of these leaders? If so, which one and why? If not, what path do you think you would choose?

        4. Class Reflection

        • As a class, review the Discussion Questions and ask the teams to share their answers.



        Culminating Activity


        Using the video module and previous activities as a guide, instruct students to write an essay based on one the following:

        • If your research subject were alive today, what circumstances in your school or community would he want to address and/or improve?
        1. What would his goals be?
        2. Whom would he work with to accomplish these goals?
        3. What steps might he take?
        4. What obstacles would he face in meeting his goals, and how might he overcome them?
        5. How would the school/community be different if he was successful in his efforts?
        6. What would the outcome look like?
        • Are there any circumstances that the Mexican Revolutionaries were working to change that we are still faced with today? If so, identify an issue and consider the following:
        1. What steps would you take to effect change?
        2. In what ways would your approach to the problem be similar or different from that of your research subject?
        3. What are the opportunities and resources available to you? How do your opportunities compare to those of your research subject?
        4. Do you think these challenges can be overcome by improving the system, or does the system need to be changed completely?
        5. What are the challenges and risks involved with either path?
        6. What would the outcome look like?



        • Use Teacher Handout A: Essay Assignment Rubric to assess student’s research. Share the rubric with students to guide their process.




        1. The revolution will be televised.

        The Mexican Revolution was the first revolution caught on film, and leaders such as Pancho Villa attempted to harness the power of mass media to further their cause. Have students consider the role that mass media plays in shaping major political events and how contemporary revolutionaries are harnessing the power of digital media to achieve their goals.

        • Have students examine how mass media such as film, photography, and print journalism were employed during the Mexican Revolution, on both sides of the conflict, to rally public support, share critical information, and shape the story of the struggle. Have them consider the following:
        1. What does the phrase “the battle for hearts and minds” mean and how does it relate to the use of mass media during the Mexican Revolution?
        2. What did individuals on both sides of the conflict hope to gain by using the media to achieve their goals?
        3. In what ways did those new media help further the revolutionaries’ cause?
        4. What were some of the pitfalls and negative outcomes that resulted from engaging the media in the struggle?
        • Instruct students to work in teams to identify contemporary revolutionary movements that are using mass media to bring about social change. Have them compare the goals, strategies, and challenges of today’s revolutionaries with their counterparts from the Mexican Revolution.
        • Complete the lesson by asking students to imagine that the digital technology and social media used by contemporary revolutionaries were available during the Mexican Revolution. Working in teams or individually, students should research an individual from the revolutionary period in Mexico and develop a “new media” campaign that reflects the goals, ideology, message and voice of their research subject.
        • Resources: In addition to the Faces of the Revolution page of the Storm that Swept Mexico website as a resource, students can also use the Revolutionary Women lesson plan as a source for selecting their research subject.  


        2. Who are we fighting for?

        A defining aspect of the Mexican Revolution was the struggle between the centrist and regionalist approach to governance, and as discussed in the Post Screening Lesson, each emerging leader’s goals and ideologies were shaped in part by the community with which they identified themselves. Students should consider how we define “our community” and how our allegiances inform our actions.

        • Have students brainstorm a list of all the communities they belong to and illustrate that list as a Community Web using a graphic organizer. Students can visually define their relationship to each community by placing the communities that are most important to them closer to the center and adjusting the size of the circles in relation to the size (or power) of the community. Review the results and discuss as a class. Ask students to consider how their relationship to each community informs their identity and the choices that they make.
        • Using the Revolutionary Women lesson plan for reference, have students research notable figures from the Revolution and examine how their political goals and priorities were also shaped by their allegiances to their social class, race, region, religion, gender, and political affiliation. Instruct students to create a Community Web for their research subject as well.
        • Compare the results from both activities and discuss the following:
        1. How do we define our communities?
        2. Do we choose our affiliations or are they sometimes defined for us? Can you give some examples?
        3. How do our alliances inform what we stand for?
        4. What is the benefit of standing up for our communities?
        5. What are the drawbacks of limiting our support to the communities we identify with most strongly?
        6. Is it important to stand up for the rights of individuals whom we do not identify as part of our community? Why or why not?
        • Complete the lesson by having students write a journal entry about the following: Although women were active in the Mexican Revolution, the majority of individuals in leadership positions were men. Using our research and discussion as a guide, consider how these leaders’ understanding of their “community” may have shaped their attitudes towards making women’s rights a primary goal of the Revolution.
        • NOTE: If time allows, you can also introduce and discuss Martin Niemöller’s famous quote “First they came for the socialists…” (


        3. The Water Wars

        Between January, 1999 and April, 2000, a series of protests took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia in response to the nation-wide privatization of Bolivia’s municipal water supply. This grass roots movement, known as the “Cochabamba Water Wars,” successfully challenged the multinational takeover of the country’s water supply and laid the foundation for the election of the current President of Bolivia, Evo Morales.

        • Instruct students to research the protests, and consider how a small local action was able to effect change on a national level. (A great jumping-off point for this conversation is the film Even the Rain
        • Have students return to their journal entry from Pre-Screening Activity 1 describing what they would take a stand for, and ask them to develop a plan to address and/or raise awareness about that issue that they will then put into action. Some suggestions could include:
        1. Research organizations or community groups who are addressing the issue, and become a volunteer
        2. Start a campaign at your school or in your community to raise awareness and inspire others to get involved
        3. Create a visual petition by asking members of the public who support your cause to have their photograph taken holding a poster that illustrates your message. Create a digital collage of the photographs and send them to your local representative.
        • Students should document their experience through journaling, photography and video and present a multimedia report of their work using PowerPoint or Prezi (


        4. Vote Democracy!

        Take the exploration of civic participation and the changing nature of democracy further by checking out ITVS’s Vote Democracy! collection at This collection includes four documentaries: An Unreasonable Man, Chicago 10, Iron Ladies of Liberia, and Please Vote for Me, and provides film modules, lesson plans, and activities that explore elections, gender, media literacy and democracy around the world.




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