Lesson Rating 
PrintThree to Four Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • examine the life of Ida B. Wells and identify three philanthropic contributions she made and three personal characteristics that made her successful.
  • identify the events in a person's life that contributed to her decision to take private action for public good.
  • identify at least one core democratic value on which Ida B. Wells based her beliefs.
  • The video: Ida B. Wells, A Passion for Justice
  • Worksheet for Video: Ida B. Wells, a Passion for Justice (see Handout One)

PBS Video: Ida B. Wells, A Passion for Justice. Available at Amazon on VHS (ASIN: B001RIS26S) or see the following website for ordering DVD version:  http://newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0166


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Explain to the students that there is a belief that whatever happens to you early in life will affect your actions for the rest of your life. For example, people who lived during the Great Depression were frugal all their lives while people who grew up in a time of prosperity spent money easily because they believed they would be able to get what they needed without great difficulty. Ask students to close their eyes and form a mental image of any previous event or situation in their lives that they believe will make an impression on their future behavior. Ask one or two volunteers to share their experience.

  2. Before the first session: Preview the hour-long documentary, noting three to five natural breaks where the tape can be stopped for discussion. (Do not attempt to show the tape in one full class period.) At the same time, refer to the video worksheet and divide the questions into segments matching the natural breaks you have selected in the videotape.

  3. Explain to the class that Ida B. Wells was someone whose entire life was affected by what happened early in her life. Also explain that the tape will be seen in segments and discussed throughout. Distribute Worksheet for Video: Ida B. Wells, a Passion for Justice (see Handout One) and draw students' attention to only those questions related to the first segment. Preview the questions for that segment so that students will have a focus for the segment. If you wish, assign specific questions so each student will remain alert for his/her information. Show the first video segment of Ida B. Wells, A Passion for Justice. Discuss the questions for that segment.

  4. Continue with each segment of the tape and worksheet until finished.

  5. Divide students into two equal groups (modified fishbowl technique). Group A will be in the inner circle and each person will have a partner from group B sitting directly behind him or her. Group A participants will be the only ones who are permitted to talk at this time. Write the following general focus question on the chalkboard which Group A will use to begin discussion:

    FOCUS QUESTION: When an individual is willing to take private action for public good, what social conditions can be the force that pushes him/her into action to realize his or her full potential as a leader?

    The discussion is entirely student-directed and teacher participation should be minimal. Group B members are each assigned to evaluate their partners. Group B members may pass notes for possible discussion topics to the person in front of them. Time allotted: 10 minutes per group; after the first 10 minutes, the two groups switch.

    If student discussion lags or the teacher wishes to provide idea-starters for the groups, any of the following questions may be used:

  6. What incidents in this person's childhood contributed to her involvement in activities for the common good?

  7. What pivotal moment or moments in this person's life compelled her to take action that would benefit others?

  8. What personal characteristics did she demonstrate that would make her an effective leader regardless of the time period in which she lived?

  9. What was her contribution as an individual in bettering society?

  10. What were the main examples of how this person took private action for the common good of her society?

  11. What can we learn from her?

  12. What core democratic values did this person base her beliefs upon?


During the course of the lesson, each student will evaluate another student and receive an evaluation. During the course of the unit, the teacher should also score each student at least once. A short quiz based on the discussion questions can be given as well.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give examples from history of how intolerance of ideas, religion, and minorities contributed to social disintegration.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.10 Discuss the results of private citizen voluntary action intended for the common good on public policy changes.
      2. Benchmark HS.12 Explain why private action is important to the protection of minority voices.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe how civil-society organizations developed throughout the history of the nation and world.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.