When I first started teaching a civil rights unit, my goal was to have my students write an essay for the Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers Essay Contest. This writing activity has grown into a multigenre thematic unit because my students are so engaged in the topics of baseball and civil rights. Jackie is famous for breaking the color barrier in baseball; however, he is also renowned for overcoming the barriers in his life by remaining faithful to his values: courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment, and excellence.
I based my unit on Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005). We explore all types of literature in our quest to answer the essential question: How can our values help us to overcome barriers in our lives? Below is a list of my resources and a brief description of how I utilize them in the classroom.
My units are a continual work in progress. Each year, as materials come across my desk, I build on my list to further address the needs and interests of my students. Please feel free to download a printable version of my unit curriculum map, "Breaking Barriers With Values."
Prepare your classroom for a Civil Rights unit by adding posters defining Robinson's values to your word wall and hanging up a Breaking Barriers promotional poster. Create a classroom library display of Civil Rights and baseball books. You may be interested in the Scholastic Book Wizard booklist Civil Rights Heroes and Sheroes, which offers the opportunity to explore biographical texts. And download the student handout "Values and Barriers: Jackie’s Nine Values," which includes a values bookmark.
I introduce the unit by assessing my students for prior knowledge. After writing a list of Civil Rights terms on the board, I ask my students to think about these words for one minute and then write down anything they know about the words or topics. (The "Civil Rights: Before You Can Say Jackie Robinson" learning experience created by the Baseball Hall of Fame identifies a list of Civil Rights and baseball terms.) My 6th graders write about one word or multiple words from the terms on the board. They can write in a paragraph or make a list. The choice is up to them. After three minutes we share what we know or think we know.
Generally, the discussion focuses on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby ending slavery. I usually have to clarify that ending slavery did not mean that all men were created equal. I show them a collage of signs that exemplify the Jim Crow laws, and ask them if they can come up with a definition for the laws. Be prepared. This is one of those days when the students are sincerely interested in engaging in a discussion. The discussion generally takes the rest of the class. For tips on discussing race-related issues in the classroom, see "It’s Not So Black and White" from Scholastic Instructor.
The anchor text to which all other pieces of literature must connect is Jackie’s Nine, a memoir by Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter. Each group reads one chapter, each of which is based on one value, and presents on their chapter. At the end of the thematic unit, all the students write an essay for the Breaking Barriers Essay Contest sponsored by the Major League Baseball Association. Scholastic has wonderful lesson plans to guide you through this part of the unit. In the essay, students write an essay about a barrier that they have overcome by using one or more of the values discussed in Jackie's Nine. Students will also select one assignment that interests them from a choice board.
The assignment choice board is designed to support the multiple intelligences of my students and further the connection to the Civil Rights Movement. Providing students with choices often motivates them to take responsibility for their learning. Below is a list of the assignments:
The resources below, meant to support the anchor text, Jackie's Nine, are organized by genres. I don’t necessarily teach every piece of literature listed. However, I do select at least one piece of literature from each genre, basing my choice on the reading levels and interests of my students.
Below is a list of nonfiction articles on Civil Rights. I use them to teach electronic text reading skills, or I use them as read alouds in my classroom. They were selected because of the range of reading levels. Articles are important for teaching nonfiction text structures. I use them to teach electronic text features and to generate debates or opinion-based writing.
For the review, my students will reflect on Reverend Jackson’s quote, "A champion wins a world series or an Olympic event and is hoisted on the shoulders of teammates and fans. A hero carries the people on his shoulders" (Jackie’s Nine, "Introduction"). They will decide if Jackie is a champion or a hero and use details from any two or more sources to defend their point of view. Sources may include: