Rebels with a cause: Disruptive teens who changed history

March 12, 2018

John Lennon, Mary Shelley, and Serena Williams

The following activities are created with middle school to high school language arts or social studies classrooms in mind and work best when paired with Britannica School. Contact your school librarian to see if your institution already has access, or claim your own Britannica School Free Trial.

Many of today’s trending teens use social media to affect change, so it’s a great time to introduce your middle to high school students to some other leaders who juggled puberty with power structures.

Upstarts to get you started

Alexander the Great

Tutored by Aristotle himself, Alexander became king of his father’s empire at the age of 20. Within a few short years, he’d expanded his rule across most of the known world from Asia to Europe. Besides being one of history’s greatest military leaders, his conquests created the cultural links possible for the flourishing of the civilizations and empires that followed.

Mary Shelley

The English Romantic writer Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is remembered primarily for her classic Gothic novel Frankenstein. The book—written when Shelley was only 19—gave birth to not only what was to become one of the Western world’s best-known monsters, but some give her credit for inventing the genre of science fiction.

Little Rock Nine

Nine African American high school students challenged racial segregation in the public schools of Little Rock, Arkansas. They became the center of the struggle to desegregate public schools in the United States, especially in the South.

Ryan White

Born with hemophilia, White became a national symbol of the AIDS epidemic when he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. The stigmatization White faced after being diagnosed with AIDS, and his family’s subsequent fight against that discrimination, made him a spokesman for fair treatment for HIV/AIDS sufferers and served to educate the public about the disease.

Malala Yousafzai

While a teenager, the Pakistani activist spoke out publicly against the Taliban’s prohibition on the education of girls. Yousafzai gained global attention when she survived an assassination attempt at age 15. In 2014, she became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.


Activities

Using the following two graphic organizers, students can explore the motivations and personalities of their historical peers by imagining how they’d interact with the modern world.

Both documents can be either printed or filled out electronically.

Graphic Organizer: Text Thread

Compose a text conversation between yourself and a famous teen.

Graphic Organizer: Profiled

Select a figure from history and compose their hypothetical social media profile.


More profiles to explore


WATCH: Jenn and Kelli explain this activity live!

Our educators break down how to use these resources in your classroom


Extra Credit

Here’s some extra reading we love about the impact of young people on the world.


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