ASK A TEACHER: How do you teach about the 1992 LA Riots?

Posted by Mary Hendra on April 24, 2012

In honor of the 20-year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, we are hosting a student contest for artwork, poetry, essays, performance, or short films which explore the lessons we can learn from 1992 to build a more compassionate community today. Here read how several teachers have taught about this critical event in local history:


5 years ago my AP US history students chose this as their last unit and it was a wonderful experience for them as well as me. We went through the entire study guide [Facing History’s study guide for Twilight LA, available here] in small groups and had many robust discussions. They also explored the history of ‘riots’ and citizen ‘rebellions’ and we created compare and contrast charts. Students interviewed family, neighbors and teachers about their memories of the 1992 ‘riots’ as well as Watts. We read about and discussed various types of memorials from tombstones to murals to roadside memorials to music to poetry to big monuments. The final project was student choice but it came in a form of a letter from the Mayor asking them to create a Memorial. It could have been a poem, a song, a video montage, a series of ‘on the street’ interviews, or a design. They had to provide an explanation for their memorial, explain how they wanted their memorial shared and/or where the memorial should be located. [Note: photos of some of Merri’s students’ work is included in the discussion forum for this year’s student contest. Click here to see them. Additional resources for a memorial project can be found here.]

Merri Weir teaches at Carson High School

This year, my 12th grade Cultural Diversity class is doing a whole project on the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots. We have already worked our way through the entire Facing History ‘Twilight Los Angeles’ resource and had many conversations about Los Angeles history, who the city really ‘belongs’ to, whether or not people continue to feel disenfranchised in 2012 to the same degree, and whether or not our ever increasing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic city has the power to set the tone for race relations for the entire nation. (This history class is an elective and I am very fortunate to have students who want nothing more than to have these very conversations!)

The students are now in the process of memorizing scenes from Anna Deavere Smith's ‘Twilight Los Angeles’ which they will perform for our school community. They are also working on a gallery exhibit to showcase the 20th anniversary of the Riots and interestingly enough, the thing they're having the most difficulty with is deciding what story they want to tell. Now that they've seen ‘Twilight Los Angeles’ and read all the resources, if they understand anything- it's that there is no single narrative explaining what happened during those fateful days. Watching my students struggle with this challenge is truly inspiring. Most of all, they wish to create an exhibit that will spark dialogue and promote conversations about implications for today. [Click here to read more about Stephanie’s students’ exhibit as it has unfolded.]

Stephanie Carrillo teaches at Crossroads High School


  • To download the study guide for Twilight LA, click here
  • To view the film, Twilight LA, on PBS' website, click here.

Topics: Los Angeles, Student Work, A View from the Classroom

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