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HomeClassroom ResourcesLesson Plans

Lesson Plan

Examining the Legacy of the American Civil Rights Era

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Examining the Legacy of the American Civil Rights Era

Grades 11 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions (plus additional time for viewing Legacy: Black and White in America, optional)
Lesson Author

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Session Five

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will:

  • develop an understanding of the American Civil Rights movement through research and talk with peers.
  • compare and contrast the American racial divide as presented in a work of literature and in contemporary society.
  • take on a historical persona to respond to Black Boy in the context of an understanding of the contemporary American racial divide.

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Session One

  1. Introduce the lesson by asking students to recall the specific ways in which Richard Wright describes the black/white divide in his autobiography Black Boy. Ask students to consider what characteristics, aspirations, and attitudes can belong to a black American in the world of Wright’s childhood and adolescence?  To a white American?  Give students time to think and write on this topic.
  2. Have students form small groups to discuss their initial impressions.  Encourage students to return to the text to find specific examples and situations related to their observations.  Share with students Selected Scenes from Black Boy if necessary.
  3. Ask students to share their insights with the class as you record their ideas on the board, an overhead, or chart paper.
  4. Then have students reflect informally about how life in America now—several decades beyond the Civil Rights Era—is similar to and different from the world in Black Boy.  Distribute the American Then - America Now chart to challenge students to think about what might be worse, what might be about the same, and what might be better for young Richard Wright now.
  5. Give students time to record their thinking the chart, using ideas from the earlier discussion and any of their own new observations.
  6. Collect their charts and select some contrasting responses to write on a blank copy of the chart. Keep responses anonymous and prepare the chart for projection on an overhead or other means.

 

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Session Two

  1. Project the collection of responses on the America Then-America Now Chart and ask students to comment on the varied views held by their classmates.  As students are discussing, challenge them to agree upon definitions of key concepts such as racism, segregation, discrimination, desegregation, integration, and equality.
  2. Point out that the specific social and political actions known collectively as the Civil Rights movement are largely responsible for shifts from life in Richard Wright’s childhood and adolescence to now.
  3. Inform students that they should think about these varied responses, as well as the many situations Wright depicts in his autobiography, as they research three aspects of the American Civil Rights movement: 
    • What was promised?
    • What was achieved?
    • What is still politically and socially elusive?
  4. Based on what you know about your students, decide whether or not they are capable of going directly to the research and response phase.  If you think it would be useful, you may wish to model thoughtful responses to one of the web sites as students observe.
  5. Direct students to the Civil Rights Era websites and allow students to search and browse the resources for answers to the three overarching questions, using the Analyzing the Civil Rights Era chart to record their findings.
  6. As students are researching, circulate among them, answering questions and encouraging depth of responses.
  7. At the end of the session, have students in groups of three share their findings.
  8. For the next session, ask students to begin synthesizing their understanding by writing a paragraph that captures what they learned from their research and conversations with classmates.
  9. If you opt to show the documentary Legacy: Black and White in America, do so after this session.  Ask students to focus on the same three questions as they view and take notes on the film.

 

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Session Three

  1. Begin this session by having several students read the paragraphs they wrote.  Facilitate a conversation about the goals and accomplishments associated with the Civil Rights movement.  You may wish to consult resources from the Facing History, Facing Ourselves collection on Civil Rights to help shape the discussion.
  2. Explain to students that in this session, they will explore one of three contemporary events that will inform their understanding of the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.
  3. Direct students to the collection of websites on the election of Barack Obama, the Gates/Crowley incident, and the case of the Jena Six.
  4. Using the Contemporary Event Research chart have each student in the groups from the previous session investigate one of the three contemporary events (either you or the students will need to decide who researches which event).  Let students know that they will share what they learned with their group members in the next session.
  5. Give students time to research the websites and thoroughly answer their research questions.

 

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Session Four

  1. Ask students to reconvene their groups of three and participate in a focused comparative historical analysis.  Considering key events from Black Boy and the Civil Rights Era, the information and perspectives from the documentary (optional), and each of the events they researched in the previous session, have them respond to these Comparative Historical Analysis Questions:
    • How do these events illuminate the current state of the racial divide in America?
    • How do these events change your own attitudes or assumptions about race?
    • What are the lessons to be learned from each of these events on their own, and taken as a whole?
  2. After students have time to share their own thoughts, ask a volunteer from each group to share three key ideas from their group’s discussion.
  3. Record these thoughts on the board, an overhead, or chart paper.
  4. For the next session, students should write a brief reflection that explains what they learned from their research and conversations with the group and full class.  The content of these reflections will vary highly based on the inquiry nature of the lesson, but encourage students to continue to clarify their current understanding of the black-white divide in America and to assess their own assumptions about race, identity, and opportunity in America.

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Session Five

  1. Begin the session by asking a few students to read their reflective writing.
  2. Then return to students their observations about Black Boy on the America Then – America Now Chart from Session One.
  3. In light of the learning and conversations from Sessions Two, Three, and Four, have them review their observations and respond to the novel in one of the following ways:
    • Assuming the persona of Richard Wright, write to the American citizens of the present about the most pressing aspect of the racial divide.  Suggest solutions for bridging that divide.
    • Assuming the persona of a citizen of the present (you may choose the citizen’s racial and class identity), write a letter to Richard Wright explaining why or why not he should be hopeful about the future (the citizen’s present).
    • Assuming the identity of Barack Obama, Professor Gates, Officer Crowley, or one of the Jena Six, explain how the events of Black Boy help shape your understanding of the contemporary racial divide.
  4. In addition to writing a response to the novel, ask students to write a reflection on what they learned through this lesson.  Encourage them to comment on what frustrated and angered them, in addition to what new insights they gained and what viewpoints were confirmed.

 

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EXTENSIONS

  • Though this lesson focuses specifically on the black-white racial divide, students can examine other divisions that have a legacy of social and political movements associated with them.  Possible topics include the women’s rights movement, the Mexican immigration controversy, and the movement for gay marriage rights.
  • Students can compare the portrayals of post-slavery/pre-Civil Rights movement America by reading an additional text from the list of works by an African-American author to further enhance the impact of this lesson.
  • Encourage students to identify a particular instance of the black-white racial divide in their school or community. After interviewing students or community members, have them write a newspaper article or letter to the editor addressing the issue.

 

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Provide feedback to students’ response to the novel.  The nature of the assignment makes objective evaluation, as with a rubric, complicated.  Provide comments that assess students’ ability to take on the persona they chose, their insight into the novel, and their ability to apply what they learned through their own research and that of their peers.

 

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