Reflecting on 2020: A Closing Activity

Posted by Erez Zobary on December 14, 2020

Looking for a closing activity before the holiday break?

We have all felt the overwhelming impact of 2020 in our own ways. As stated in a viral tweet made in April by Damian Barr (@Damian_Barr), “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.” Each of us has uniquely been affected by this unprecedented moment in history.

15887487985eb261fe22781 (1)Image credits: © Barbara Kelley via Wall Street Journal 


Reflecting on this reality for students, I wanted to end this year with a lesson that would validate the range of students’ experiences, and unpack and reflect on 2020 in a meaningful way and in a way that would meet the curricular needs of my ENG3U1 class. As I was considering different approaches, my friend sent me Google’s new video Year in Search 2020. While I acknowledge the inherent biases in the algorithms that power Google search, the video still sparked possibilities for authentic personal and collective reflection. The content left me feeling both emotional and hopeful, and I felt the video would provide an engaging opportunity for my students to look back and forward.  The goal of the discussion will be to leave students with a source of strength in community for the coming year.


How does this activity anchor to an ELA classroom? 

  • It equips students to be reflective of the kind of stories we tell ourselves
  • It unpacks visual content through media literacy skills 
  • It explores how questions and dialogue within a community can encourage and bring connection 
  • It helps to bring to the forefront reasons why we - and generations of authors before and after us - write and create
  • It gives an opportunity for students to write and create something that is meaningful and find relief and release in the act of writing and creating 

This is my mini-lesson to end 2020 with my students on Friday December 18 during our virtual class:

PART 1: Minds On: What were some of our ‘Whys’ of 2020?

The purpose here is to raise questions that connect to their experiences this year, not to answer the questions right now. Ask students to share the following answers anonymously on Mentimeter and remind them that responses must be classroom appropriate. All questions will be taken seriously, whether they are funny or serious.

    1. What do you imagine is your most searched “why” question on Google? If you don’t have one, what ‘why’ question are you wondering right now? (i.e. why is the sky blue?)
    2. What is a question that you wish Google had the answer to? 

      Note: A free version of Mentimeter does not allow you to create more than 2 questions or screen responses, but a paid version will. Before asking students these questions, be sure you have had a chance to build community and contract for brave space.

PART 2: Watch Google Year In Search 2020 using Close Viewing Protocol

Let students know you will be viewing a video together that surfaces some of the questions that have brought us together. Introduce Google’s 2020 Year in Search video and watch it twice as a class by sharing screen or projecting on the board: 


Round #1:

The first time you play the video, ask students to share their immediate reactions and connections to the video.  As students respond to and share the images that they most connected to, encourage the class to voice common points of connection verbally or using “thumbs up” and “heart” tools in a virtual setting.

  • What is the feeling and message you are walking away with?
  • What image/moment most evoked that emotional reaction?


Round #2: 

Video analysis through Small Groups Practice Focused Viewing

Have each student or small group take notes based on only one of the following lenses to focus their viewing of the film. Each lens includes “questions” to ask oneself.

  • Sound: Focus on the music in the film as well as the sound effects. What do you notice? What stands out to you?
  • Editing: Focus on the way that the search terms, photos, and video are edited together. What choices did the filmmaker make in terms of scenes or parts to show, represent, or emphasize?
  • Images: Focus on the visual experience; do not pay attention to the audio but simply take note of the images that are featured. What do you notice? What choices did the filmmaker make? What is the impact of these choices?
  • Storyline/Facts: How is the story unfolding? What are the methods of development and literary devices used? What are the objective, historical facts that are portrayed in this video?
  • Human Behavior: How do you see the range of human behavior represented in this film? Where do you see the tools we have for resilience and healing?


PART 3: Reflecting (Think-Pair-Share)

Go through the following questions with students and provide example responses. Then, give them 10 minutes to discuss the following questions:

In-person: In pairs/ Virtual: In 2 person breakout groups 

  • As we reflect on the power of the arts and texts to provide comfort, connection or hope, what images, sounds, places, experiences, people and stories would you include in your “Year in Search 2020” video to help you through challenging moments?
  • What are some of the questions we can ask ourselves and/or our communities to bring us connection, hope, strength and resilience

Gather back as a class and give time for students to share their group reflections.


PART 4: Closing Remarks

Thank students for sharing and being vulnerable today. At the close of the video, the narrator states, “so until we get to every answer, we are still searching,” while the choir sings, “we gonna get it together somehow.” As a philosopher, Hannah Arendt’s work was to ask questions.  In her collection of essays, Men in Dark Times, she shares this insight about her journey to answer some of the most difficult questions raised in moments of trauma and hardship:

However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows... We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”

Ask students to share by unmuting or in the chat:

  • What does Hannah Arendt’s quote mean to you?
  • Are the answers to some questions unGoogleable?
  • How does Arendt suggest we arrive at the answers to unGoogleable questions?


As I look forward to the new year with the students I teach, I will look at the “Why” questions they posed and use the English classroom to discuss different truths, consider the world around us and invite students to bring their experiences to the table.  In the next year, my promise to students is that we will be in community together. We will take time to figure out our ‘why’ as individuals and as a classroom community. And we will search, and get it, together, somehow. 

PART 5: (Optional) Closing Activity: FutureMe

Ask students to write a future letter to themselves on FutureMe using the personal and/or collective questions surfaced today; what are your ‘why’ questions? What are the stories/questions that are giving you hope? 

Set the send date to December 31 2021 and next year recieve an email that acts as a time capsule of how you are feeling and what you are thinking about in December 2020.

Screen Shot 2020-12-14 at 4.22.08 PM


Call To Action

For more resources that help students reflect on the tools that Facing History offers to ignite conversations and learning on hope, strength and resilience during history’s most challenging moments, explore these and other resources:

Topics: English Language Arts, English Classroom, reflection, English, Holiday lesson, pandemic


This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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