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Critical Classroom Conversations

Connect. Support. Inspire.

Issues concerning social justice are more than just topics for speeches or for debate rounds. They affect students, teachers, families, and communities daily. Increasingly, some are choosing violence instead of dialogue in relation to these topics. As an educator, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure how to foster these vulnerable yet critical classroom conversations. Thank you for committing to doing so! Below are some resources to support you as you prepare and engage in this critical dialogue.

Seven students sit in a circle to engage in conversation

Set shared expectations. Grow together.

Solutions and paths to those solutions may be up for debate, but lived experiences are not. In these critical conversations, your students may want to share personal insights on these social justice issues. These personal insights often come from a place of lived experience. Using these stories allows us to view social justice issues through a critical lens. When having these critical conversations, some students may become uncomfortable. Although you want these conversations to be respectful, please be aware of any ground rules that may limit students from traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised communities from sharing their stories. Please also be aware that students may not feel comfortable sharing their lived experiences—that is okay. 

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This collection of resources was compiled through numerous media outlets and academic organizations. If you have a question or concern about a resource featured here, or have material you think we should include, please contact us. 


Choose a Topic of Conversation


Juneteenth: Why We Celebrate
The 2021 National Tournament celebrated Juneteenth with this educational and informative breakdown of why Juneteenth is such a special holiday.

History of Juneteenth
An eight-minute mini-documentary on the history of Juneteenth from NextGen America.
This website is an educational resource with Juneteenth related information, activities, and supplies. It also features a database of Juneteenth events, both in the U.S. and internationally.

So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?
A New York Times article that provides a brief guide to the history, celebration, and importance of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth: The Growth of an African American Holiday (1865- )
Historian Dr. Quintard Taylor describes the origins and evolution of the Juneteenth holiday since 1865.

Activists Are Pushing to Make Juneteenth a National Holiday. Here’s the History Behind Their Fight
A Time article that covers the origins of the holiday and the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Five myths about Juneteenth
A 2020 Washington Post article delving into five common misperceptions of Juneteenth.

Why all Americans should honor Juneteenth
A seven-minute video from Vox explaining the history and significance of the holiday.

What Juneteenth Tells Us About the Value of Black Life in America
A nine-minute video from the Washington Post featuring reporter Nicole Ellis visiting Galveston, Texas.

This 2016 documentary, directed by Ava DuVernay, is an important insight into where Black Americans find themselves today, in their post-Emancipation reflections. There may be freedom from enslavement on plantations, but many are facing a similar and all too familiar plight in prisons.

School Shootings

Ways to Discuss School Shootings With Students…
A well-structured lesson, including short readings, a short video, and discussion/writing prompts for students. Published after a school shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, and widely applicable to school shootings nationwide. 

Anxiety Over School Shootings
A medium-length article about natural emotional responses to school shootings. Would be useful to aid in seeking student feedback about approaches to discussing school shootings and specific student needs in response to school shootings.

Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
A short article about the range of emotions most often felt, in the wake of a school shooting. Allows educators to discuss with students that both educators and students should consider these healthy approaches.

Students, Families, and Educators Should Lead the Way on the Gun Crisis
A short- to medium-length article written by a middle school student and her mother, following tragic school shootings. While published during a previous Presidential administration, this would work well to foster a discussion or written responses about potential policy solutions to gun violence as well as ways to communicate with local policy-makers.

Police Violence

Educators Tackle Tough Conversations About Race and Violence—This Time Virtually
A long-length and in-depth article about educators discussing police brutality and racial injustice, but in a virtual space due to COVID-19. Would work well if broken up into parts, during whole class discussion or for annotation.

Teens Talk About Encounters with Police Violence and Injustice
A well-structured lesson, including short readings, multiple short videos, and discussion/writing prompts for students.

Preparing for a Conversation About Policing and Racial Injustice
A medium- to long-length article for educators to prepare discussions or written responses to events related to police brutality and racial injustice. Includes multiple different slideshows, specific activities, and embedded links to other articles.

Q&A: How To Talk To Kids About Black Lives And Police Violence
A medium-length article in which an educator discusses the importance of discussing police violence with students and how teachers can foster those conversations. Would function well as a whole-class read and discussion or an individual read and response activity.

In Solidarity: Mourning Daunte Wright
Shared by the Minnesota Urban Debate League, a short statement memorializing Daunte Wright; also includes linked resources for discussion or possible written response activities.

Toolkit for Talking About Racism and Police Violence with Students
This toolkit offers strategies for how educators can engage in this reflection and strengthen their practice. Most of this information would be most fitted for preparing a unit or discussion.

Education Minnesota Resources
Education Minnesota has compiled the following lists of resources for educators and parents to help children and adolescents cope and process these and other traumatic events. The list is extensive and, if planned in advance, could create a standalone unit.


A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus
A medium- to long-length article for educators to use, as they continue to navigate teaching during a global pandemic. Included at the end of the article are additional resources, some of which would work well in a unit or for choice reading before a class discussion or written response assignment.

Supporting Students’ Mental Health During COVID
A medium-length article for educators, emphasizing the importance of restructuring curriculum during this time of crisis. Also included are a few suggested activities to help address students’ needs during this crisis.

The Pandemic Will Affect Students’ Mental Health for Years to Come. How Schools Can Help.
A medium- to long-length article, including graphics, perfect for a discussion about the intersection of student needs and the expectations of leaders in education.

Novel Coronavirus: What’s the Real Story?
A lesson in which students will generate and prioritize questions about the novel COVID-19 and evaluate scientific and/or technical information from multiple authoritative sources, assessing the evidence and usefulness of each source for answering their prioritized questions. 

How Teachers Are Talking to Students About the Coronavirus
A medium-length article discussing how teachers of all grade levels are meeting the challenge of discussing COVID-19 with students. Would work well as a whole-class read and discussion to compare and contrast how students have been involved in that discussion so far and what they are thinking.

Anti-Asian Hate and Violence

For Additional Resources and to Report Incidents of Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate, Consider Stop AAPI Hate at

Responding to Anti-Asian Violence and Georgia Shootings
A short article for educators including important historical framing as well as lived experiences and realities of folks of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander descent. Would work well as a part of a larger history unit or also as a smaller, more specific and dedicated mini-unit.

After Atlanta: Teaching About Asian American Identity and History
A short article for educators and a list of linked external literature. Would work well as a part of a larger history unit or also as a smaller, more specific and dedicated mini-unit.

FBI Under Pressure to Tackle Anti-Asian Hate Crime in Wake of Atlanta Shootings
A medium-length article uncovering the underreported issue of anti-Asian hate crimes, with relevant context from the most recent in Atlanta, Georgia, in March of 2021. Would work well as a part of a larger history unit or also as a smaller, more specific and dedicated mini-unit.

How to Help Fight Anti-Asian Violence
A medium-length article including historical and personal accounts about anti-Asian violence, including potential actions for support. Would work well towards the end of a discussion or unit about the overall issue.

Coronavirus and Infectious Racism
Background information and lesson materials for a small unit centered on anti-Asian rhetoric and action. Activities sharpen critical thinking, discussion, writing, and research skills.

#MinneAsianStories: Power of Me
A group of Asian Americans in Minnesota share their personal stories and lived experiences about being Asian in the United States. These stories help provide insight into the lifelong burden many Asians and Asian Americans feel. This can be extremely helpful in a classroom without any Asian American students who feel comfortable sharing this deeply personal information.

NPR Reading List on Anti-Asian Hate and Violence
A list of ten articles which contribute to the conversation about anti-Asian attacks and where our society can go from here. Could be useful as a choice reading assignment with open discussion or written response to hearing articles other students chose and summarized.

U.S. Capitol Attack

Teach MLK in Connection with the Attack on the U.S. Capitol
Multiple literature-based resources to discuss the attack on the U.S. Capitol in the context of American History. Useful for in-class discussions or written responses leading up to and around Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

How to Talk to Children About the Insurrection, Other Difficult Issues
A short audio feature from NPR about how educators and guardians can talk to students and children about the insurrection at the United States Capitol.

When Bad Things are Happening
Teaching Tolerance’s guide to reacting to a crisis with a classroom discussion. Their recommendations build on the Psychological First Aid (PFA) framework, developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Resources for Teachers in the Days After the Capitol Attack
A compilation of resources from a former classroom teacher who is now the Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at Swarthmore College and a co-founder and core member of the Philly Children’s Movement.

Current Events in Your Classroom
Facing History and Ourselves uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. This is their current events learning page with resources intended to foster thoughtful conversations.

How to Teach the U.S. Capitol Attack: Dozens of Resources to Get You Started
Education Week assembled a preliminary list of resources from experts, practicing educators, and national organizations to help with teaching recent events. 

Race and Racism

Why Hugging Out Racism in Education Just Won’t Cut It
A TED Talk in which an educator discusses the importance of candor and uncomfortability as a key component of antiracism, inclusion, and progress.

What is Critical Race Theory, and Why is It Under Attack?
A medium- to long-length article discussing the academic origins and assertions of Critical Race Theory. Not political in nature; informative, historical, and written in a way that is accessible to be discussed by students.

Let’s Talk: Discussing Race, Racism, and Other Difficult Topics With Students
An e-book that includes classroom-ready resources for discussion and/or writing prompts. Written in a manner that prepares teachers for small units; also includes links to other articles.

Unlearning: Kindness, Color Blindness, and Racism
A medium- to long-length article that addresses the “good/bad binary” often created in uncomfortable conversations about race and racism. Includes crucial information about unlearning commonplace ideologies like color blindness to create space for antiracism instead.

Rostrum, Volume 90, Issue 1, Page 14: A Primer for Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom
A medium-length article published by three speech and debate educators; addresses the need for uncomfortable conversations about race as well as provides a framework for how to do so.

Being an Ally

A Litmus Test for Performative Allyship
A medium-length article from the student perspective about investigating and reflecting upon allyship and intentions. Could be useful as assigned reading, in-class reading, and even as a model for structures of student writing.

Allyship in Academia/Education
A medium-length article encouraging an assessment of allyship in education and academia. Could be useful for a discussion about any specific kind of group allyship or allyship in general. 

Don’t Say Nothing
A medium-length article for educators before initiating conversations about current events, often including issues surrounding race. Can also be used to foster a discussion or written response to attain student opinion on how and when those in education should approach discussing current events.

“No, I Am Not OK.” Thanks for Asking.
A medium-length article from the standpoint of a person of color reflecting traumatic events. This article offers insight into how allies can offer support and empathy in ways that avoid invasiveness. Would work well to start a discussion especially in a classroom where not many voices want to share.

Black Lives Matter Mindful Meditation
A short-length description and then 18-minute mindfulness activity that speaks to the unique thoughts, feelings, and attitudes white people may experience in their journey toward anti-racism. The creator’s intention is to offer an opportunity to mindfully reflect with guidance from a Black person in a way that attends to the cognitive, affective, and physiological parts of the person listening.


Civility and Policing Emotions

Creating Space to Talk About Race in Your School
Tips on how you can help make race conversations normal, constructive, and successful from the National Education Association, in collaboration with Race Forward.

Stop Tone Policing
A medium-length article on the importance of preventing tone policing in classrooms and informal conversations. Could be a useful homework assignment or short class read to begin conversations.

Civility Through the Lens of Race: Courageous and Compassionate Conversations
A medium-length article on the intersectional impact of civility in education. Could be a useful written response assignment or reading for in-class discussion.

Questions to Ask Yourself in Tough Conversations
A medium-length article from a youth civic leadership and engagement organization, with guidance for framing classroom discussions. Could be a useful in-class assignment ahead of class discussions.

Teresa Bejan: Is Civility a Sham?
A short, informative, and persuasive TED Talk from an author whose work focuses on the often harmful limitations of civility.


Interrupting White Feminism
A landing page with multiple literature-based resources including articles and a PowerPoint presentation from a webinar. Could be useful for a unit or mini-unit on feminism and intersectional feminism.

Juliette Hampton Morgan: A White Woman Who Understood
A medium-long length article about feminism, including aspects of white privilege with a short biography story about Juliette Hampton Morgan. Includes discussion questions at the end. Could be useful for a multi-day or entire class lesson.

White Supremacy

White Supremacy Culture: Characteristics
A few excerpts from a workbook about dismantling racism. Medium-length article that includes discussion questions at the end. Could be useful for discussion or assessing written responses.

You and White Supremacy: A Challenge to Educators
A medium-long length article about a challenge in which educators interrogate their white privilege and how it shapes their classrooms. Could be useful for a discussion about the role whiteness plays in education.


Teachers Share Resources for Addressing Charlottesville Hate Rally in the Classroom
Education Week

#CharlottesvilleCurriculum Helps Educators Respond to Tragic Events
International Literacy Association

Resources for Educators to Use in the Wake of Charlottesville

As Confederate Monuments Come Down, Teachers Wrestle With Class Discussion
Education Week

Yes, Race and Politics Belong in the Classroom: Ten Tips for Teachers to Engage Students in Difficult Conversations
Education Week

There is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times

The First Thing Teachers Should Do When School Starts is Talk About Hatred in America. Here’s Help.
A Washington Post Article with many teacher resources for lesson planning. 

Walking the Talk: Examining Privilege and Race in a Ninth-Grade Classroom
(PDF Download)

On “Person-First Language”: It’s Time to Actually Put the Person First
Radical Copy Editor

The First Amendment Doesn’t Guarantee You the Rights You Think It Does
CNN Article

Ten Things Every White Teacher Needs to Know When Talking About Race
Truth for Editors Podcast

Teaching About Race, Racism and Police Violence: Resources for Educators and Parents
The Washington Post

School Leaders: Amid Tragedy, Take Care to Teach Moral Courage
Education Week

When Tragedy Strikes, Internet Resources Can Enrich ‘Teachable Moments’
Rostrum (Volume 90, Issue 1)

Tough Conversations: A Primer for Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom
(Rostrum, Volume 90, Issue 1. PDF Download)

Politics In the Classroom: How Much is Too Much?

Five-Minute Film Festival: Talking About Race and Stereotypes

Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject

When Tragic Events Enter the Classroom: A Teacher’s Dilemma
Education Week

Women’s History Month: 6 Lesson Plan Resources for Teachers

Creating a Welcoming Environment for ELLs and Immigrant Students: Strategies and Resources
Colorin Colorado

Decision Making in Times of Injustice Unit
Facing History and Ourselves

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn
Facing History and Ourselves

Websites for Lesson Plans for Gender Representation (Grades 9-12)

The Color Line – Teaching Activity
Zinn Education Project

Living Through Trauma

Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher Needs to Know
A medium-length article about the complex and often unknown nature of students who have experienced trauma. Experiencing trauma affects the ways and the extent to which students can learn; using this article as individual reading for a written response could allow students to voice difficult thoughts and also allow teachers to adjust the ways they support students.

Resources to Support Children’s Emotional Well-Being Amid Anti-Black Racism, Racial Violence, and Trauma
Medium-length article about the lived experiences and likely untold trauma that many of our students carry. Useful to help prepare discussion questions before a class discussion or (private) short, written responses.

Responding to Trauma in your Classroom
This PD Café will help you learn how to recognize the signs of trauma, better understand the causes of trauma, and take steps to establish social and emotional safety in your classroom. This guidance would be helpful at a staff meeting or department meeting, to create a uniform and unified approach to responding to trauma.


We encourage all community members, especially those having critical conversations with students, to consider the words they use. Simply put, words matter. One valuable resource we use at the NSDA is the Conscious Style Guide. Learn more about the words you choose by checking out their website.

Join us in making speech and debate a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive activity.