Using Facing History and Ourselves Resources and Pedagogy to teach the Grade 12 Secondary School Literacy Course

Posted by Lesa Smith on March 22, 2016

Having been an LTO (Long term occasional teacher) in the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) for several years I have taught a variety of courses with little prep time available; Facing History saved me more than a few times with their resources (and of course other teachers' contributions to this very blog). I'm delighted to be able to share some of my experience using and adapting Facing History and Ourselves resources and pedagogy in my classroom.

I think we can all agree that teaching OLC4O (Grade 12 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course) presents challenges. My first time through the course I found it difficult to keep students (and myself!) engaged. There are a lot of requirements to meet, and the suggested methods focus on using old OSSLT materials, and well, my students didn't know what a snowmobile was let alone have an interest in analyzing a text about one. So before I taught the course again I made it my mission to find new and interesting content that did more than just meet the requirements.

Connecting to materials

We all know that the best lesson any teacher delivers is one where students connect and see meaning in their lives. The genesis for this unit was conversations I was having with students in and out of class around racial profiling, #BlackLivesMatter, and their personal experiences. What I took from these conversations resulted in a unit that allowed students to meet curriculum requirements for the literacy course, but more importantly to become more socially and politically aware and active.

Meeting requirements

I use this handy chart to plot and plan the OLC4O course for myself and my students. It outlines everything needed from start to finish.


Info text 5 minimum summary 1 minimum
Narrative text 2 minimum info paragraph 1 minimum
Graphic text 4 minimum opinion piece 2 minimum
news report 2 minimum
Read text and respond to questions addressing 3 facets:
  • directly-stated info
  • indirectly stated info
  • making connections

(can be verbal or written answers)

250-300 word selection and write a summary
record and organize info gathered about a topic to an assigned class activity and construct an information paragraph
self-assessment write assessment of growth in reading and writing skills throughout the course, based on review of the contents of their portfolio


This unit meets many of those requirements using timely and engaging materials that encourages students to engage with social and political ideas. Here are some of the resources I have used and how I've used them:


The key part of this unit is that it can continue to be tweaked; there is always something that can be changed to fit with current events. Consider #OscarsSoWhite or Chris Rock's opening monologue, Beyoncé's new video "Formation" and her SuperBowl performance, or Kendrick Lamar's Grammy performance of "The Blacker the Berry" not to mention news coverage of local events such as the "Neptune Four."

A novel study using Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird would be a natural next unit for the topic, or even her newest novel Go Set a Watchman Check out for more lesson plans and ideas.

Next Steps:

What culturally and socially responsive texts have you used to engage students in current events?

How could you adapt this outline to meet the requirements of other English courses?


Topics: Film, Choosing to Participate, Human Rights, Facing History Resources, News, Identity, Facing History and Ourselves, current events, Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, Literature Circles, Lesson Ideas, In the news, English Classroom, Social Justice, Literature, Personal history, English


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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