Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

"Taking a Stand for Voting Rights: Six States, Six Stories, One Goal"


This unit, written by 2009 National History Teacher of the Year Nathan McAlister, is one of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Teaching Civics through History (TCTH) resources, designed to align with the Common Core State Standards. These units were developed to provide students with foundational knowledge of the historical roots of issues their communities and the nation are facing while building their literacy, research, and critical thinking skills. 

Flyer in Spanish pertaining to voting in California

The unit focuses on how individuals in six different states attempted to expand access to the vote for different groups—African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and women. Through the analysis of documents written by and about individuals who challenged their states laws about access to the vote, students will learn how individuals have reshaped voting rights across the United States. The unit continues with secondary source analysis on the role of states today, supported by our partners at AllSides, and culminates in a civic engagement project, supported by ten $500 Voting Rights Prizes to be awarded to outstanding student entries.

This unit can be used in a linear or modular format as teachers see fit, and can be used in conjunction with the Institute’s first TCTH unit on voting rights, The Development and Evolution of Voting Rights in US History.

Taking a Stand for Voting Rights cover

Download the full unit here, or access the individual lessons and modules below:

Lesson 1: An Introduction to Voting and the US Constitution

In this lesson, students will read and select important phrases from a scholarly introduction to how voting was incorporated into the US Constitution and how access to the vote has changed. They may also examine related clauses in the US Constitution of 1787; the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They will restate the provisions in these documents in their own words to ensure comprehension of how control of access to the polls has changed over the past two centuries. 

Lesson 2: Taking a Stand

This lesson is composed of six modules and a culminating connected activity. Each module focuses on how individuals and groups took a stand to expand the right to vote in a specific state (Arizona, California, Kansas, New Jersey, Louisiana, and New York) among members of a particular group (African Americans, American Indians, and women) between 1859 and 1964. Students will read and assess primary source documents, from letters, flyers, and newspaper articles to press releases and court decisions. They will complete activity sheets to help them understand the actions taken by these individuals and groups. They will then use their critical thinking skills to evaluate how the actions of those individuals and groups could have impacted voting rights across the United States. You may decide to use all six modules or a selection of them based on the time available and the needs of your students.

Taking a Stand overview

Lesson 3: AllSides: State- and Federal-Level Voting Rights Today

In this lesson, students will read and assess current news articles on state and federal voting rights issues facing American society today, building on the historical knowledge, document analysis, and critical thinking skills they gained in the previous lessons. Articles are curated by AllSides.com, which  identifies articles written from right, center, and left viewpoints. Use the widget below to access the latest national articles, or click to the linked landing page (at the bottom of the widget) to view articles state-by-state.

Lesson 4: Civic Engagement Project

The final component of this TCTH voting rights unit is the design, development, and evaluation of a student civic engagement project building on the historical knowledge, document and article analysis, and critical thinking skills they gained in the previous lessons. Students will select one voting rights–related issue of interest to investigate more deeply.

For additional guidance on assigning a successful civic engagement project, visit our main TCTH page.


The Right to Vote Resource Suite


Read scholarly perspectives on the history of voting rights through essays geared to high school students

Lesson Plans

Learn how individuals and groups attempted to expand access to the vote in "Taking a Stand for Voting Rights: Six States, Six Stories, One Goal."

Digital Exhibitions

Explore our four-part digital exhibition on the history of voting rights, which includes audiovisual elements and interactive maps