Lesson Plan: Stories from the Circle

The pedagogical materials on this site are designed to support teachers in integrating the Stories from the Circle project into their curriculum. They are aimed at high school social studies classes but can be modified to fit into other courses. Teachers can choose to use or adapt any combination of the activities below. 


In this lesson, students will encounter stories and perspectives on the Syracuse Columbus statue through the Stories from the Circle project. Stories from the Circle is an app designed to be used onsite at the downtown circle. You can also view a web-based virtual reality (VR) version of the project

The app does not stage a debate about whether to keep the statue up or take it down. The project team invited participants to contribute to public dialogue by sharing their views about what the statue and the downtown circle mean to them and what stories they want visitors to know more about. 

The project team strove to include the views of people with a wide range of perspectives and cultural backgrounds, reaching out to people who both supported and opposed removal. Many people declined our invitation to participate. We respect their choice not to participate, while we believe that their voices would have enriched the project. The stories incorporated into the project are from the participants who agreed to have their perspectives included in the app. There are many more perspectives and stories about the statue that are not included here.

Through this lesson, students will learn about fifteen people’s perspectives on the meanings of the statue and the circle where it is located. They will practice engaging in respectful dialogue about an issue that evokes varied opinions and carries emotional weight for many people.


At the end of this lesson, students will be able to: 

  • Understand varied perspectives on the Syracuse Columbus statue and the downtown circle, including the stories and histories they evoke.
  • Explain perspectives you agree/disagree with and why.
  • Articulate ideas you think local public monuments should express.


  • Stories from the Circle app: site-specific app to be used in field trip to the downtown circle. Available free from the App Store and Google Play for smartphone use (please note that the app requires internet access (data))
  • Transcript of audio clips and speaker bios in the app 
  • Vocabulary list (Provided as a resource to explain terms that might be unfamiliar to listeners)
  • Stories from the Circle website

Alignment to New York State Learning Standards

based on New York State Grades 9-12 Social Studies Framework (2017)

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies:

  • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships between the key details and ideas (Reading Standard 2).
  • Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence (Reading Standard 6). 
  • Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies between sources (Reading Standard 9).

Social Studies Practices:

  • Create meaningful and persuasive understandings of the past by fusing disparate and relevant evidence from primary and secondary sources and drawing connections to the present (A7).
  • Identify, compare, and evaluate multiple perspectives on a given historical experience (C2). 
  • Demonstrate respect for the rights of others in discussions and classroom debates; respectfully disagree with other viewpoints and provide evidence for a counterargument (F1).
  • Participate in activities that focus on a classroom, school, community, state, or national issue or problem (F2).


Optional introduction

Teachers might choose to start with the following activity on engaging in respectful dialogue

Prior to visiting the circle or the project website

The following topics can be discussed in small groups with full-class recap, as a write-and-share, or simply as a full-class discussion.

Functions of public statues (~10-15 minutes):

  1. What functions do public statues serve (what do they say or do)?
  2. Why do public statues matter?

Prior knowledge (~15-20 minutes): 

  1. What do you know about Columbus? 
  2. What do you know about the downtown statue and its history?
  3. Where did you learn the things you did?

Photos of the downtown statue:

Have students look at photos of the statue and brainstorm about what they see using the following brainstorming chart

Tour of the project

On-site tour:

Each participant should download the “Stories from the Circle” app (available free from the App Store and Google Play for smartphone use). Once you’re at the downtown circle, launch the app from the menu. Please note that the app requires internet access (data). The names and bios of interviewees, along with an image of the Haudenosaunee Tree of Peace and the interior of a longhouse, will be geolocated in the camera view of your phone. Users can walk in a circle around the statue and listen to each interviewee’s words when they get to that person’s name. Reflections can be explored in any order. If a name or image shows up on the street or in a location you cannot access, please turn off the app and restart it.

Virtual tour:

You can tour the project virtually through the Stories from the Circle website. Click the “WebVR” button to access the virtual tour. Use your mouse to “walk” up to each name and click on a name to hear that person’s reflections. Click and drag your mouse to see and hear the reflections of all fifteen participants, located in a circle around the statue. Reflections can be explored in any order.

Recording student impressions:

If desired, students can use the linked summary chart to write down the central idea of each audio clip in 1-2 sentences.

After using the app or listening to clips on the project website

Opening discussion (~10-15 minutes):

Give students ~3-5 minutes to write on scratch paper and then call on volunteers to share.

Question: What’s one fact or perspective from the app that stuck with you, or changed your view, and why did you connect with it?

Comprehension and analysis (~25 minutes):

Pick 3-4 clips from the app (click here for suggestions). Play the audio clips (which students will have heard already in a visit to the circle or the project website). Pass out speaker bios and clip transcripts.

Have students write individually for 10-15 minutes. Students can use the linked information-gathering chart if desired.


  1. In each clip:
    • What is (are) the speaker’s main point(s)? 
    • What aspects of the clip (e.g. claims, reasoning, evidence, language…) help you identify their point of view? 
    • What historical events or circumstances does the speaker call attention to? Why is it important to know about those histories?
  2. Pick 2 of the clips and identify 1-3 similarities between them. Consider the following guiding questions:
    • Do those similarities focus on the speakers’ main points? The examples they use? Events or circumstances they mention? Other? 
    • How do the speakers help you understand the complexities of the history behind the statue?
  3. Pick 2 of the clips and identify one or more difference(s) between them. 
    • Are those differences points of disagreement? Differences of emphasis? Other?
    • Do you agree more with one than the other? Why or why not? 
    • Are there statements in the clips that you relate to because of the ways they connect to your experiences, community, or views?

Recap: ask volunteers to share their responses. Ask students to comment on classmate responses they agree with and responses they didn’t think of.

Relating the material to your life and experiences (~15-25 minutes):

Think-pair-share: Ask students to think (or write) about the following questions individually, then share with a partner, then recap as a full class.


  1. Are there symbols or images that are important to you as representations of who you are, your culture, or your community? (You can think about any community that’s relevant to you. That could be the neighborhood you live in, the city of Syracuse, the place you were born, a religious or cultural community, a sports community, etc.)
  2. What stories or ideas do those symbols express? Why are they important to you? 

Your views on the downtown circle (~25 minutes):

Ask students in small groups to make mind maps or list ideas on chart paper. Students should take ~5 minutes per question. 


  1. In your opinion, what criteria should be used to decide whether to put up (or keep up) a public monument?
  2. What histories, stories, or ideas do you want people who come to the Syracuse downtown circle to know about? 
  3. If you were on a committee to make recommendations about the future of the downtown circle, what are some of the things you would want to see there?  

Come back together as a class and read out responses. Have students share their reasoning. Ask students how (if at all) the readings and the stories in the app changed their views or gave them new perspectives.

Individual writing assignment: Recommendation to the City of Syracuse about Heritage Park:

The City of Syracuse is striving to transform the downtown circle and the space across the street into what’s currently being referred to as a Heritage Park. In the words of the Heritage Park project, the goal is to develop “a larger heritage and education site that celebrates the contributions of our richly diverse communities and their resilience to oppression” (Heritage Park Syracuse website). There is a Heritage Park Advisory Commission tasked with making recommendations about what the park should contain. If you were on the Heritage Park Advisory Commission, what would you recommend including in the site? You don’t need to comment on the future of the Columbus statue itself. Instead, what histories or ideas would you want Heritage Park to reflect? What would you put at the site to express those ideas?

You should include reasons for your recommendation(s). Quote or paraphrase interview clips and/or background readings to support your suggestions and explain your reasoning. 

Oral communication assignment: Record your own contribution to “Stories from the Circle” to share with your class:

Teachers can have students do this activity using laptop/chromebook/smartphone video/audio recording or technology of their choice. Responses can be played for students in class or posted on a shared drive or LMS for students to listen to.

Instructions for students:

  1. Read the questions that the “Stories from the Circle” interviewees were asked.
  2. Choose one or two that you would like to respond to.
  3. Think about what you would like to say. Include reasons for your statements. 
  4. Record a response around 1-3 minutes long.