Ordinary Students Can Make an Extraordinary Impact

Oftentimes, we hear the names Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, or Nelson Mandela and we envision people who are unbelievably courageous and almost superhuman. The truth is, they were regular people, just like us. Ordinary people who made extraordinary choices that resulted in powerful changes! As educators, we have the rare opportunity to teach students that they too are capable of making an extraordinary impact in this world by being socially aware. Here is a lesson to help you get started…

Elementary Lesson


Introduce the concept to students by first asking them if they know who Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, or Nelson Mandela were. Share pictures of them so students get familiar with them and know who is who.

After giving students an opportunity to raise their hands and share their understanding of who these individuals are, use the following script: 

“These people were leaders in our history who helped many people by standing up for what was right, speaking out against things that were harmful and hurtful to society, and caring about others more than they cared about themselves. We consider them heroes. These individuals, and many more, were being socially aware, which is defined as “the ability to pay attention to the experiences and needs of others.” These individuals were regular people who made very brave, courageous choices to help others (and themselves) in their times of need.”

Next, read this short article to the class about more recent groups and people who pulled together to make a difference (social awareness) after a tragic event in Texas.

After reading the article out loud to the class (some terms may need to be defined or simplified along the way, as you read), have students answer these two questions as a whole class: 

  1. What is one thing that an “ordinary person” in this story did to make a big difference for the people in Texas who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey? 
  2. What are two things you can do this semester to make our classroom, school, or community a better place for all? 
  3. Why does it matter if your actions only benefit you vs. the entire group? 

Finally, for classroom accountability, have students fill out the My Social Awareness Pledge worksheet. For students who choose to participate, their pledges can be hung around the classroom. Pledges can be moved from one part of the classroom to another part of the classroom after the act is completed, and students can see their “everyday” ways of being socially aware! 

Secondary Lesson


As a whole class, ask students to identify via whole-class discussion 3-4 people who were very prominent in Black History and explain why they believe they made history or what they were known for. Have pictures ready of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, etc. to help engage the conversation.

After 5-10 minutes of whole-class discussion, use the following script to transition to the next activity: “Now that we’ve discussed some very famous people in Black History and why we believe they’ve come to be famous, imagine a classroom 40 years from now, full of high school students just like you all. They are discussing prominent people in history who made a positive impact. A couple of students actually mention YOU.

Now answer the following questions in 2-3 paragraphs or a short essay. 

  1. What did the students say you did?
  2. Why was it important enough to be historical? 

This is an opportunity to think deeply and creatively about the areas of society they may want to be known for or make a positive impact on!

After completing the assignment, have students break up into small groups of 4 to 5 and read their historical essays to one another in a circle. Then have students share ONE word for what it was like for them to participate in this activity.

Teacher Tips

Provide students with opportunities to collaborate and work together on common goals - this also helps to build social awareness; however, don’t stop there. When the projects are complete, give students time to reflect by journaling about the process involved with working with their partners or groups of peers. Use prompts to guide students with their thinking. Here are a few examples:

  • How did you feel about working with your peers on this project? Please explain.
  • What were the advantages of working with your group on this project?
  • What challenges did your group experience while working on this project? How were those challenges overcome?