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What Is Cancel Culture, and Does It Change Things for the Better?

Use this free lesson plan to help students think critically about resolving conflicts and seeking social change in the digital world.

Daniel Vargas Campos | June 24, 2022

Grades: 8-12

Subjects: Digital Citizenship, SEL, Media Literacy, Social Studies

What is cancel culture? A 2021 report from Pew Research Center found that the American public is deeply divided over how to define it. Some people view it as a way to hold a person or group of people accountable for a past misdeed. Others see it as an unfair judgment of someone's character, or even the practice of censoring people whose opinions we don't agree with.

One of the common threads among these varying definitions of "cancel culture" is the idea that it involves someone or something being publicly called out online. In this lesson, you can help students consider where they stand. Is "canceling" someone ever a good way to get a just outcome? Could it sometimes go too far?

Use these lesson activities to help your students think deeply about the impact of cancel culture -- both among peers and directed at people or institutions in power -- and explore positive strategies for resolving conflict and seeking accountability.

Learning objectives:

  • Define cancel culture and identify the benefits, drawbacks, and impacts of calling people out online.
  • Practice considering all dimensions of a conflict in order to determine the most effective tool or approach for addressing it.
  • Build support of others through positive strategies for conflict resolution, such as "calling in." 

This lesson deep dive has three independent parts. You can string them together, or pull them apart to complement other parts of your curriculum.

Quick Activity: Does Canceling Someone Help Them Change? (25 minutes)


Dilemma Discussion: Accidental Activist (45 minutes)


Media Creation: "Call In" and Build Support (time varies)

Note: All of these lessons are free, but you'll need to sign in (or create an account) to access the printable handouts.

Does Canceling Someone Help Them Change? 

Prep for teachers:

Activity steps:

1. Before showing the video, ask: What does it mean to "cancel" someone? What does it look like to "cancel" someone?

Explain that cancel culture is a complex topic that requires us to think critically about who is causing the harm, what their motive is, the degree of harm, and several other factors. This video and discussion focuses on peer-to-peer canceling.

2. Show the video Does Canceling Someone Help Them Change? and have students complete the "Call-Out Culture" handout as they watch. Refer to the teacher version of the handout as you guide the class discussion.

Pressing play on the YouTube video will set third-party cookies controlled by Google if you are logged in to Chrome. See Google's cookie information for details.

3. Explain that at the end of the video, Aviva says, "The internet is supposed to be a tool, not a weapon." Ask: What does she mean by that, and how does it relate to conflict resolution and call-out culture?

4. Refer to Part 2 of the "Call-Out Culture" student handout and read aloud the quote by Loretta J. Ross to introduce the concept of "call-in culture." Then have students complete the reflection question and share out as time permits. 

Accidental Activist

Prep for teachers: 

Activity Steps:

1. Say: "Calling out" people on social media who've done harmful things can be complicated. On one hand, it can be a way of holding someone accountable and stopping them from continuing the harm. But on the other hand, publicly shaming someone in this way often doesn't help them change or learn, and can also shut down the opportunity for open dialogue about the issue. Deciding whether "calling out" is the right or wrong thing to do may depend a lot on the actual circumstances.

If you haven't already taught the Quick Activity with your class, we recommend first showing the video Does Canceling Someone Help Them Change? so students can gain a deeper understanding of the concept of cancel culture. 

2. Distribute the "Accidental Activist" student handout and explain to students that they'll be using the "Feelings & Options" thinking routine to consider whether calling out someone or something online is an effective way to seek social change.

"Feelings & Options" is a thinking routine that supports communication, empathy, and thoughtful decision-making for digital dilemmas in social life. Learn more about teaching with dilemmas and thinking routines. 

3. After reading the dilemma as a class, have students work in pairs or groups to discuss and complete the questions that follow. Use the teacher version of the "Accidental Activist" handout for detailed facilitation guidance and suggestions for an enriching discussion.

4. With students still in pairs or groups, have them discuss one or more of the scenarios in Part 2 of the handout. Then bring the class back together and have each group share out and discuss how their perspectives may have changed.

Call-In & Build Support

Prep for teachers:

Activity steps:

1. Distribute the "Call-In & Build Support" project handout and read through the directions as a class. Ensure that students have a good working understanding of "call-in" culture, including what it might look and sound like in practice. 

2. Allow students to brainstorm ideas for written or visual work before creating. 

3. Share student work with the class or in any forum you find appropriate.

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.