Review by Jennifer Sitkin, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2014

Facing History and Ourselves

A wealth of resources explore racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
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Pros: These resources promote honest discussion and awareness of the dangers of discrimination and prejudice.

Cons: Use of these resources may be most effective when combined with some of the associated professional development programs.

Bottom Line: These valuable materials empower students to understand and address difficult ethical choices -- past and present.

The site has an extensive collection of powerful curricula that teachers can use as-is or adapt to their students' needs. Lessons tend to be one to two hours long and units can last a few weeks, so teachers should take time to plan and think about the best ways to integrate these materials into their classroom. Most lessons are designed for whole-class instruction, but supplementary materials can be used for independent research and review.

Due to the sensitive nature of the topics covered, it's important to create a safe environment that nurtures respect for multiple perspectives and open discussion. If possible, teachers should attend one of the professional development sessions, not only to learn about any new content, but also to pick up some instructional strategies associated with the program.

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Facing History and Ourselves is a free website with resources for teaching about and combating hatred and bigotry. The website has free lesson plans, units, resource collections, videos, and podcasts, and the materials here are interdisciplinary as well as Common Core-aligned. For example, the social studies unit, Choices in Little Rock, explores civic choices and includes supplementary writing strategies and prompts.

Educators receive immediate access to most of the materials after they create an online profile. There are curricula on a variety of topics, including the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, Civil Rights, Darfur, and Bullying. Facing History also offers a number of professional development opportunities for educators, including webinars, workshops, and after-school classes. A fee is associated with most of the professional development programs; however, some free webinars are available and financial assistance is offered.

Facing History and Ourselves offers engaging curriculum resources that are intended to help students become socially responsible adults. Studies have shown that these materials are effective in reducing prejudice, encouraging tolerance, increasing knowledge, and improving academic skills. As an example, Facing History’s core unit on the Holocaust, Decision-Making in Times of Injustice, begins with students creating a class contract to foster a respectful environment. The unit continues with an examination of the choices made by those living in Germany during the WWII era. As students study the history, an emphasis is placed on helping them build personal connections, as seen with the "Where I'm From" poetry activity.

Overall, the site is well-organized and easy to navigate, and support for teachers is extensive. Introductions explain the rationale for each lesson, and there are detailed procedures, links to relevant materials, and extension activities. In all, students can certainly benefit from participating in these powerful lessons.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Encourages students to examine complex historical events and consider how they can make a difference in the world. Built into every lesson is a strategy to access prior knowledge and make personal connections to the content.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Materials help students develop academic and social-emotional skills. Students are challenged and supported as they grapple with controversial issues and the complex nature of human behavior.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Educators who attend (paid) professional development sessions are provided with one-on-one support as they implement the curriculum. FAQ pages help users navigate the site and use the materials.

Common Sense Reviewer
Jennifer Sitkin Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 3 reviews) (3 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Kristin A. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Fox Ridge Middle School
Aurora, United States
Great lessons that inspire deep thinking for students about social justice.
Great social justice site, engages students because it definitely plays on the theme of fairness and justice that are so important to kids. Some difficult themes especially with regard to civil rights issues, but so important. They also do a great job of addressing bystander vs. upstander issues today, connecting them with historical lessons.
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