Mark Twain at desk Teacher Resources Student Resources


  • Invitation to inquiry
  • Open minds
  • Stimulate curiosity


Civil rights leader
Martin Luther King Jr.

Image source: World Book Online

Mary Wollstonecraft

Womens' rights leader
Mary Wollstonecraft

Image source: World Book Online


One of the most important ways that a society advances is through social change. Consider what our own country would be like if Martin Luther King Jr. had not taken a stand on civil rights, or if Mary Wollstonecraft had not written on the issue of women's suffrage. As you encounter social issues affecting your community, country and world, and are exposed to different viewpoints on those issues, your own perspectives and opinions may change. Some issues will evoke feelings strong enough that you feel compelled to "take a stand." However, arguing for social change is no easy task. American author and humorist Mark Twain noted that courage is needed to take a stand for social change:

mark twain “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
-- Mark Twain

Discuss: How does this quote relate to our daily lives? What is the personal responsibility that individuals take for improving the world?

Social commentary is an opinion expressed on social issues. After viewing and listening to the video examples below, discuss: Why might expressing opinions through social commentary take courage?

  • "Mark Twain on Lies and Slavery" (stop at 8:22 mark) NOTE: Teacher credentials are required for students to view YouTube videos on the BCPS network.
  • Video clip from the stage show "Mark Twain Tonight" starring actor Hal Holbrook, whose one-man performance as Mark Twain has become one of the most successful productions in the history of American theater:

Mark Twain video

Throughout history, many writers have been activists for social change.  They have used their writing to hold up a mirror to the face of society, pointing out injustices that others may have ignored or accepted. In the days before the mass media of radio, television, and the Internet, social commentary was often expressed using the written word-- in essays, letters, newspaper editorials, and literature. 

In this performance-based assessment, you will use the guided inquiry process to explore the essential questions:

How can writers serve as agents of change in society?

You will conduct brief research and use the writing process to "take a stand" on a current social issue. Then, you will use media design and production skills and tools to present your argument to your inquiry community. Review the expectations for this project in the Student Resource packet for Unit 2-Performance Based Assessment 2:

Click on the Immerse tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Build background knowledge
  • Connect to content
  • Discover interesting ideas


One of the most famous writers of social commentary was American author and humorist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.  He often expressed his opinions on the controversial issues of his time such as slavery, the hypocrisy of certain religious institutions, political corruption, and imperialism.  

Twain’s views, while not always popular, used humor to reach a large audience and caused people to take a closer look at established practices and social institutions.  Use the resources below to discover and discuss how Twain expressed his opinions and used humor, particularly satire, in his social commentary.

Click on the Explore tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Explore interesting ideas
  • Look around
  • Dip in
Now that you have discovered how Mark Twain used his writing as social commentary, it’s time for you to do the same. First, you will need to identify and research a current social issue affecting your community or the world. The issue you select should be appropriate for school and approved by your teacher or library media specialist. If you wish to work in a group, you must work on the same topic as your potential partners. You may continue to examine the social issue which you first explored as the basis for an original screenplay in Unit One, or select a new social issue for this project.

Use the resources under the Explore tab on the Student Resources page to explore some contemporary social issues and select one as a topic for this research project.

When you have finished exploring these resources and selected a social issue for further research, click on the Identify tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Pause and ponder
  • Decide direction
  • Identify inquiry question

Based on your exploration of social issues impacting your community or world, select an issue for further research. Record your topic selection in Part A on the research organizer Day 1: Topics are Chosen, and Research is Studiously Conducted.

Keep in mind the essential questions for this inquiry as you research the social issue you have chosen:

How can writers serve as agents of change in society?

You will use digital content from the Student Resources page and Part B on your research organizer to record information in response to these inquiry questions:

  1. What are the problems presented by this issue? What are some possible solutions?
  2. What is your opinion on this issue? What evidence supports your viewpoint?
  3. What would the opposition say? How could you refute opposing arguments?

Click on the Gather tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Gather important information
  • Go broad (search)
  • Go deep (read)
"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”
-- Mark Twain

Use the Student Resources page to locate reliable sources of information about your chosen social issue. Read, view, and listen to consider different viewpoints, develop an informed opinion, and gather evidence to support your argument.

When you have finished gathering information from the Student Resources, return to this Home page and click on the Create tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Reflect on learning
  • Go beyond facts to make meaning
  • Create to communicate

Image source:

Mahatma Gandhi, a human rights leader in India, once said:

"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” 

His quote has been simplified as the slogan:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

You don’t have to be famous to express your views and act as an agent of social change. You don't even have to be an adult. You simply need to be passionate and informed about an issue, and able to express and support your views in ways that others can understand. 

Analyze your research notes to reflect on your new learning about a social issue.
Write an argument that supports your opinion about what should be done in regard to this social issue to complete Part C on your research organizer (p. 7) . Use at least one cited source that supports your view.

Synthesize your research findings by creating a product to effectively communicate your social commentary. Review the guidelines for the Visual and Performance Project Choices.

Select an Individual or Group Project format to complete Part A on the project planning sheet Day Two: Student Groups Are Formed, and Much Time is Spent in Planning.

Individual Projects
  • Multimedia slide show/ PowerPoint
  • Website or Wiki
  • Poster or online poster
  • Comic strip
  • Diary of a created character
  • Speech or monologue
Group Projects
  • Website or Wiki
  • Poster or online poster
  • Comic strip
  • Dramatic skit
  • News Editorial (live or pre-recorded)
  • Podcast (live or pre-recorded)

Plan how you will work to complete your project, using these questions as a guide:

  1. What project/presentation format will you use?
    What can be learned from models of this format?
  2. What high-tech or low-tech tools could you use to create a project in this format?
    How might technology either help or hinder your progress?
  3. What do you need to make? What written aspect do you need to produce?
  4. What group roles should be assigned?
  5. What are your first steps?

Collaborate with your group members or work individually to create your project:

  1. Use the resources under the CREATE tab on the Student Resources page for help with creating a product using your chosen media format and tools. You will find tutorials and models for each project format on this page.
  2. Use ideas and information from all group members' research notes and argument paragraphs as you create your project.
  3. Use the bulleted list of project format guidelines as a "checklist" to track your progress.
  4. Reflect on your progress so far to complete Parts A and B on the reflection sheet Last Days – “We Have to Hurry!”.
  5. Refer to the Social Commentary Scoring Rubric to be sure you are safisfying the performance criteria for this project.
  6. When you have finished your project, complete Part C on the reflection sheet Last Days – “We Have to Hurry!”

Click on the Share tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Learn from each other
  • Share your learning
  • Tell your story
Now it is time for you to share your social commentary about a contemporary issue with your inquiry community. Your teacher or library media specialist may also have you publish your social commentary for a wider audience.

As an audience member during the class presentations, respect presenters by giving them your undivided attention.

Take notes on the Social Commentary Presentation Feedback form as individuals and groups present their social commentary.

  • When responding to presentations with your feedback, remember that it is important to offer suggestions for improvement when listing a (-). It is equally important to provide a reason why a particular aspect of a presentation was very successful when listing a (+). Simply stating that something was 'good' or 'bad' is not as helpful as explaining why.

Click on the Evaluate tab above to continue your inquiry ...


  • Evaluate the achievement of learning goals
  • Reflect on content
  • Reflect on process





Baltimore County Public Library

After you present your social commentary, consider the feedback and comments you receive from audience members. Think about how you can use this feedback to improve future media products you produce.

The scoring tools listed below may be used by you and your teacher to evaluate your research process and your final project/presentation. You can use these assessments throughout your inquiry process to plan, make decisions, monitor your progress, reflect, self-evaluate achievement of your learning goals.

Research Process Assessments:
Final Project/Presentation Assessment:

Extend your learning:

  • Search your DESTINY school library catalog or the BCPL Kids Catalog to locate books in print or eBook format about the social issue you researched, or about other social issues that interest you.
  • Use your learning from this unit and research experience to participate in a Philosophical Chairs exercise or an informal discussion based on this question:
Mark Twain If Mark Twain were alive today, what modern social issues do you think he might want to change or challenge through written social commentary?

Guided Inquiry Design model, resources and icons are from Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K.,  & Caspari, A.K. (2012).  Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara, CA:  Libraries Unlimited. Used with permission.

Webpage background image: Photo of pages from "A Family Sketch," an unpublished chapter of Mark Twain's autobiography.

jQuery YouTube video