- Gain insight into African American history from slavery to the civil rights movement
- Learn about individual people who shaped history by reading their biographies and researching the age in which they lived
- Understand the causes and effects of the civil rights movement in America
- Build nonfiction literacy skills as they read web-based articles for details and use a time line to obtain information
- Apply critical thinking skills to answer questions regarding controversial events related to the civil rights movement
- Hone writing skills through brief essay submissions or grade-appropriate research papers
- Black History in America Activities
- Rosa Parks: How I Fought for Civil Rights
- Internet access for all students (or small groups of students)
- Writing paper and pencils
- Drafting an Outline Worksheet
- Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer printable
- Copy class sets of the Drafting an Outline Worksheet and the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer printable.
Part I: Consider What It Means to Break the Law
Before you introduce students to Rosa Parks, have them consider the following question:
Are people ever justified in breaking the law?
Have students consider circumstances where they think it might be alright to break the law.
Part II: Meet Rosa Parks
Step 1: Send students to Rosa Parks' profile in the Culture and Change: Black History in America activity and have them read the following articles: Sitting Down, Arrested, Boycott, Dr. King's Speech, Boycott Works, Nonviolence, and Court Ruling.
Step 2: Break students into groups and have them discuss why Rosa Parks was justified in breaking the law. Each group should write a brief paragraph explaining their reasons.
Step 3: Have students consider what Rosa Parks could have done instead of breaking the law. Would these actions have resulted in the same outcome?
Step 4: Ask students to think about what they would have done if they were Rosa Parks. Explain that each student will be writing an imagined account of the afternoon on that Montgomery bus, as well as the events that followed. Students should write their essays from the perspective of Rosa Park, the bus driver, or another passenger (black or white) who was on the bus that day.
Step 5: Have students return to their individual desks. Hand out the Drafting an Outline Worksheets. Help students complete their outlines if necessary.
Step 6: Provide time for students to shape their outline into a first-person essay. Their account should include what they (the persons whose personas they are adopting) felt as these historic events unfolded. Students should write a first draft and a revised draft.
Part III: Explore the Civil Rights Movement
Step 1: Hand out the Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer printable.
Step 2: In the box on the right, have students write in "Civil Rights Movement." Ask students to define the civil rights movement based on the following criteria:
- Was it violent or nonviolent?
- Was it lead by rich, powerful people or simple, everyday people?
- Was it successful or unsuccessful?
- What have been the repercussions of the civil rights movement?
Step 3: Have students use the information they learned in the profile of Rosa Parks to enter at least six causes that led up to the civil rights movement.
Step 4: Have students imagine what could have happened if...
- Rosa Parks had given up her seat.
- The Supreme Court hadn't ruled that segregation laws were unconstitutional.
- Civil rights leaders had launched a violent protest.
Part IV: Wrap Up
Step 1: Have the class again consider the question you posed at the beginning of the lesson:
Are people ever justified in breaking the law?
Step 2: Ask students to discuss the ways Rosa Parks and other participants in the civil rights movement broke the law. Were these people justified? Why or why not? Have students use examples from the cause/effect worksheet to support their arguments.
Step 3: Drawing on the essays they wrote, have students consider how people on both sides of the movement felt about the civil rights leaders breaking the law.
Additional Discussion Questions
- Rosa Parks risked her life for an idea — the right to equal access to public transportation. Would you be willing to take a similar risk for something that you believed in? If so, explain.
- What would you have been most worried about on the first day of the bus boycott?
- What do you think of using nonviolence to solve civil rights issues? Use specific examples of nonviolence and reasons for your responses.
Have students write a newspaper article (imagining it is 1955) covering the events of Rosa Parks' arrest and the bus boycott.
Read about the history of jazz. Have students consider these questions:
- How might the popularity of black music and musicians affected the civil rights movement?
- What barriers or prejudices do you think jazz musicians faced?
4th Edition Standards and Benchmarks
United States History
- Understands the development of the civil rights movement
Biography Genre Study Grades 3-7
Biographies can introduce students to a whole new world of historical figures and different eras. Studying them can also inspire students as they read about people who overcame problems, faced obstacles and criticism, but persevered to succeed.