Kari Tally, Jerry Price, Washington OSPI OER Project, Barbara Soots
U.S. History, Political Science
Material Type:
Teaching/Learning Strategy
Upper Primary, Middle School, High School, Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division, Adult Education
  • Civics
  • Constitution
  • Executive Branch
  • Legislative Branch
  • Separation of Powers
  • Wa-sel
  • Wa-social-studies
  • Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • We the People
    Creative Commons Attribution

    Education Standards

    Engaging Students Regarding Events at U.S. Capitol

    Engaging Students Regarding Events at U.S. Capitol


    At OSPI, part of our mission is to prepare students for civic engagement throughout their lives. We believe our schools must engage and empower students, from an early age, with opportunities to participate in civil conversations, examples of effective civic engagement, and tools to find peaceful solutions to community problems.

    OSPI’s Social Studies and Social-Emotional Learning teams have put together resources for educators, families, and students to help with these difficult conversations.


    E Pluribus Unum. I am heartsick at the distressing events of January 6, 2021, the day when electoral votes were to be counted and recorded for posterity in the US Capitol, “The People’s House,” signaling, as they have since our founding, the peaceful transfer of power in the Executive branch. As I watch the footage, I reflect on the many trips I took with my 8th Graders to both our State Capitol and the United States Capitol. Prior to our tour we would discuss the history and function of the Legislative branch, and how citizens can participate in government through voting in free and fair elections, running for office, peaceful protest, and the petition of grievances. I think of our recent partnership with the Civic Learning Council to film a rich and meaningful conversation between Representative Ybarra and Senator Liias about the importance of engaging in civil conversation with those we disagree with, whether in the legislature or the classroom, for an educator training in February.

    OSPI’s mission statement declares, “The goal of Washington's K–12 education system is to prepare every student for postsecondary pathways, careers, and civic engagement.” It is clear that we must, early and often, provide our students with tools for civic engagement, opportunities to participate in civil conversation with those they disagree with, and the ability to enact peaceful resolution to community problems.

    Jerry Price
    OSPI Social Studies Program Supervisor


    OSPI’s Social Studies Standards, at all grade levels, clearly support discussion of recent events at the US Capitol including but not limited to:

    C1: Understands the key ideals and principles of the United States, including those in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and other foundational documents.

    C1.5.4 Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic issues.

    C2: Understands the purposes, organization, and function of governments, laws, and political systems.

    C2.6-8. 5 Evaluate the effectiveness of the system of checks and balances in the United States based on an event.

    C4: Understands Civic Involvement.

    C4.9-10.3 Describe the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the applica­tion of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitution­al rights, and human rights.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    This Q&A was created by the  D.C. Public Schools Social Studies team to help navigate questions that may arise following recent events at the U.S. Capitol. Slight edits have been made to reflect changes to the situation since their development.

    • What was Congress scheduled to do on January 6th?

    Congress held a joint session with members from the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to count and officially certify the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. Vice President Mike Pence presides over the joint session as certificates with the electoral votes from each state are opened in alphabetical order (by state name) and announced. Members can object to the returns from any state if they submit their objection in writing with approval from at least one member of the House and Senate. If an objection is made, members will separate into each chamber and debate the objection for up to two hours. An objection must be accepted by majority vote of both houses in order for votes from the contested state to be excluded. If one of the candidates receives a majority of electoral votes (i.e., at least 270 votes), the Vice President declares that person the winner. Based on the certified results of the state electoral votes, Democrat Joe Biden received 306 votes and Republican Donald Trump 232 votes.

    Sources: Election Day to Inauguration Day Graphic (Street Law, Inc.), What Pence And Congress Can And Can't Do About The Election (NPR article), The 1876 election was the most divisive in U.S. history. Here’s how Congress responded. (National Geographic)

    • Will the election outcome change because of the assault on the U.S Capitol?

    No, there is no procedure to change the outcomes of a free and fair election. By 8:10pm on January 6th, the U.S. Capitol had been cleared by security and lawmakers reentered the building to continue the process of certifying the election as described above. Once Joe Biden’s election is certified by Congress, he will be inaugurated on Wednesday, January 20th at noon.

    Source: Live Updates from evening of January 6th (Associated Press)

    • When is President elect Biden supposed to take office?

    The Constitution of the United States established March 4 as Inauguration Day in order to allow enough time after Election Day for officials to gather election returns and for newly-elected candidates to travel to the capital. With modern advances in communication and transportation, the lengthy transition period proved unnecessary and legislators pressed for change. The date was moved to January 20 with the passage of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.

    Source: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inauguration (Library of Congress)

    • What is the difference between a legal protest and what happened yesterday?

    As the nation’s capital, Washington, DC has long been the site for many of our nation’s largest protests and assemblies. While many of these events have been peaceful (e.g., featuring speakers, live music, and marching through the streets), there have been times when violence has erupted. However, until yesterday, acts of violence have rarely been waged around or within the U.S. Capitol Building. 

    Source: Eleven Times When Americans Have Marched in Protest on Washington (Smithsonian Magazine)

    • Why is this an unusual event in the U.S.?  Has this ever happened before?

    Today's takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a mob supporting President Trump is unprecedented. But America’s seat of government has endured bombings, a presidential assassination attempt, and even its destruction by foreign forces. There have also been attacks from inside—including a near-fatal attack on one lawmaker by another. The sources linked below provide some details on previous events of violence in and around the U.S. Capitol. 

    Sources: The U.S. Capitol’s turbulent history of bombings, assassination attempts, and violence (National Geographic), ‘Nothing less than a miracle’: The Constitution and the peaceful transition of power (National Constitution Center), Obama, Bush and Clinton deride US Capitol breach in pointed statements (CNN)

    • How did the people who attacked the U.S. Capitol differ from peaceful protestors? How did the racial makeup of the group affect the response to their actions?

    The mob of rioters who stormed past Capitol police barricades and into the U.S. Capitol on January 6th consisted of the largely white supporters of Donald Trump. Civil rights leaders blasted law enforcement agencies for their slow and initially passive response to rioters at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, noting the massive show of police force in place for Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year over police killings of unarmed Black men and women.

    Sources: Jan. 6th Insurrection Lesson (Mikva Challenge), 'Double standard': Black lawmakers and activists decry police response to attack on US Capitol (USA Today), Police gave more leeway to Trump supporters than to BLM protesters in Capitol insurrection (the Grio)  Note: The Grio source has inappropriate language in the second embedded Tweet.

    • How should I talk to students about the violence at the Capitol?

    Consider the age of your students and allow students space to express their feelings. Clarify key facts about the events for yourself, but be prepared to acknowledge that we do not currently have all the information about what happened yesterday. See the sources below for additional and more specific guidance.

    Sources: Guidance for Discussing Events with Students (DCPS Student Supports Team), How to talk to your kids about the chaos at the Capitol (National Geographic), Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers (National Association of School Psychologists), An age-by-age guide on how to talk about difficult topics with your children (Motherly and Common Sense Media)

    Additional Resources from Reputable Organizations

    Attribution and License


    Capitol image by Phillip Roulain from Pixabay 

    FAQ adapted from D.C. Public Schools. Used with permission.

    The Washington Social Studies Learning Standards by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction are available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


    Except where otherwise noted, this resource list by Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, is available under a Creative Commons Attribution License. All logos and trademarks are property of their respective owners. Sections used under fair use doctrine (17 U.S.C. § 107) are marked.