The Journey to Civil Rights
Introduce students to the faces and significant events of the Civil Rights movement with this lesson incorporating reading, research, charting, and expository writing.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
About this book
Students will be introduced to significant figures and events of the Civil Rights movement as they create a Civil Rights timeline.
The students will:
- Explore details of the Civil Rights movement
- Research and discuss significant historical figures and events of the Civil Rights movement
- Sequence these significant events into a timeline
- Learn two new vocabulary terms, "segregation" and "supremacy"
- Write a five-sentence paragraph describing the events found on their Civil Rights Timeline
- The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. You may substitute your own title about a significant event during the Civil Rights movement.
- A timeline to model
- Timeline Graphic Organizer (PDF)
- Five index cards
- A variety of books to use for research about the Civil Rights movement. See my booklist for suggestions.
- Five sheets of poster board
- Colored pencils, crayons
- Glue sticks
Set Up and Prepare
1. For Day 2, find a timeline that shows dates, pictures/photographs, and events for kids to model. For creative timeline ideas, check out Super Social Studies! Quick & Easy Activities, Games, and Manipulatives by Camille Cooper, Shirley Lee, Liz Van Tine, Barbara White.
2. Divide students into five groups for research and timeline activities.
3. Make five copies of the Timeline Graphic Organizer (PDF), one per group.
4. Schedule computer time for each group for two days.
5. Find a few child-friendly websites that will help the students discover information and photos about the following five Civil Rights events. (Scholastic's Culture and Change: Black History in America is a great starting point.) Using five index cards, write one of the following dates/events and a corresponding website on each card. Each group will use the index card for research purposes on Days 2-3.
- 1954: Brown v. Board of Education
- 1955: Montgomery bus boycott
- 1963: March on Washington
- 1965: Voting Rights Act
- 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated
Step 1: Assess prior knowledge and ask students what we celebrate during the month of February. (Answer: Black History Month) Encourage students to think of various activities which are held throughout the school, city, and country. Why do we celebrate Black History Month? Explain to students that over the next few days, they will study an important era in black history that will help them better understand and appreciate historical events that helped shape our country's future.
Step 2: Write the word "segregation" on the board. Have the class say and spell the word. Explain that "segregration" means an attempt to separate and isolate races in every area of life and achieve supremacy. Have the class recite the word and its definition. Next, write the word "supremacy" under the definition for segregation and explain that it means supreme authority or power.
Step 3: Help students recall both the snowflake and similarities/differences activities completed during Lesson One. Briefly discuss the biography Let's Read About...Rosa Parks by Courtney Baker, which was read during the lesson. Rosa Parks was told to move from her seat on the bus because of the color of her skin. Her rights as an individual were not respected. This was an example of segregation. People who were not respectful wanted to keep blacks and whites separated.
Step 4: Introduce The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and explain to students that today they will learn about a little girl who played a very important role in the Civil Rights movement. To help students grasp the concept of segregation, provide additional examples. Suggestion: Imagine that you and a friend have planned a special Saturday afternoon at your favorite video arcade. As you arrive at the entrance, you are told that only children who have brown hair and brown eyes are allowed inside. You happen to have black hair and brown eyes, therefore, you cannot play inside. This would be considered segregation — someone is separating you and keeping you from doing what you would like to do because of the color of your hair and eyes. How would you feel? Ask the students if they have any other examples to share.
Step 5: Read The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. Periodically stop and ask the following questions while reading:
- How do you think Ruby felt the night before starting her new school?
- Do you think it was fair that black and white children had to attend separate schools?
- If you were Ruby Bridges, would you have been as brave? Why or why not?
- What would schools be like today if Ruby Bridges never existed?
Share with the students that they will be learning about more important figures from the Civil Rights movement throughout the week.
Day 2: Research
Step 1: Explain to students that today they will begin to research important facts and people associated with the Civil Rights movement. They will work together to create a Civil Rights movement timeline, after researching specifc events in small groups. Show the timeline you chose as a model and discuss its purpose. Point out the dates, events, and pictures displayed.
Step 2: Now share the events and dates that students will research: 1954, Brown v. Board of Education; 1955, Montgomery bus boycott; 1963, March on Washington; 1965, Voting Rights Act; 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. assasinated. Explain that each represents an important moment in the Civil Rights movement.
Step 3: Display the Timeline Graphic Organizer (PDF) and distribute copies to each group. Explain that it provides them with a framework to use while they conduct their research. Model by writing the dates on your timeline: 1954, 1955, 1963, 1965, and 1968. Be sure to space out each year so that specific dates can be added and information recorded.
Step 4: Distribute an index card to each group with the pre-selected dates/events and websites to research for timelines. Also remind them that all information gathered during research should be recorded on the Timeline Graphic Organizer (PDF) to help create the final product.
Step 5: Let each group begin their research. Encourage students to also search for graphics that can be printed, cut, and pasted onto the final timeline to help illustrate the text.
Day 3: Continue to Research
Step 1: While one group works in the computer center, encourage other groups to continue their research using the books you have provided. See my booklist for suggestions. Give a brief "book talk" about the information students will find in each book.
Days 4-5: Final Timeline
Step 1: Once all groups have completed the research phase, inform students that now each group will contribute to the final timeline featuring all of the dates/events researched. Give each group a piece of poster board and ask them to transfer their research onto the board. Remind them to include the dates, events, photos, and other creative additions. Offer crayons, glue, markers, and other materials needed.
Step 2: Encourage students to work together as a team, assigning tasks to each member to work efficiently.
Step 3: When finished, display the final timeline on your bulletin board.
Day 6: Summaries
Step 1: To conclude their research projects, ask students to write a six-sentence paragraph describing each event included in their group timeline. Remind them that a paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. Example: "The Civil Rights movement was an important event in American history."
Step 2: Now explain that the next few sentences should provide details of the dates/events included on the timeline. Example: "On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled…." Write your examples from Step 1 and 2 on the board to model for students. Ask students to complete the paragraph independently.
Supporting All Learners
Allow students who are having difficulty writing their paragraph to pair with a peer coach.
- Complete Civil Rights timeline in small group.
- Complete Civil Rights paragraph.
- Were students able to research effectively?
- Were students able to complete their timelines with important historical facts?
- Observe the students' comprehension skills as well as their ability to work cooperatively in their group.
- Evaluate each timeline and their descriptive paragraph.