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Lesson Plan:

For Teachers: What is a Hero?

Type: Assignment
Subjects: History, Social Studies
Grades: Grades 6-8
Duration: 2 lessons
Purpose: To explore and illustrate the notion of heroism
Summary: Students will discuss the meaning of the word “hero” and whether Dr. Norman Bethune deserves the title.

Before Exploring

Ask students for their own or a dictionary definition of the word "hero," and write the definitions on the board. Ask students to list the most important qualities of a hero and to explain why they are important. Then ask them to name people living today who they view as heroes. They should give reasons for their answers.

Have students copy the definitions and the list of heroic qualities into their notebooks. Explain that they will explore the life of a famous Canadian, Dr. Norman Bethune, and judge whether he can be considered a hero.

Outline the Opportunity

Direct students to the topic "Comrade" Bethune: A Controversial Hero on the CBC Digital Archives website. Divide the class into groups.

Each group will view the clip that corresponds with one of the following periods in Bethune's life: Bethune's early years and his struggle with tuberculosis ("Fear of being mediocre"), his work in Montreal ("Bethune's Montreal years"), his contributions during the Spanish Civil War ("Blood transfusions in Spain"); and his last years in China ("Heroism in China").

As they browse, have students answer the question: What were Bethune's most heroic acts during this period? They should give reasons for their answers.

Once they have finished, each group will prepare a visual display, collage, or artistic representation of the most heroic act Bethune performed during the period reviewed.

Revisit and Reflect

Have students present their displays to the class, explaining what Bethune is doing and why they consider it a heroic act. Hold a class discussion about which of Bethune's heroic acts were most significant and why.


Students can create a short, illustrated biographical comic book called "Canadian Hero" on the life and times of Dr. Norman Bethune. They should include various accomplishments and episodes in Bethune's life.