Standard Lesson

Exploring Perspectives on Desegregation Using Brown Girl Dreaming

5 - 9
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute Sessions
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Designed to complement a fuller study of the Civil Rights Era and the process of desegregation in America, this lesson gives students an introduction to Jacqueline Woodson's verse memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.  Using the jigsaw collaboration model, student groups first read and discuss a poem about segregation/desegregation from the point of view of one of Woodson's family or community members.  Then, they meet in a second group to learn about each of the other poems to explore the diverse ways people in Woodson's life experienced crucial events of the period.

From Theory to Practice

In their introduction to the March 2009 Voices from the Middle themed issue on poetry study, editors Roxanne Henkin, Janis Harmon, Elizabeth Pate, and Honor Moorman argue that “poetry provides an emotional journey not often experienced with other literature” but suggest that students and teachers alike lose the focus on emotion in pursuit of correct, single interpretations (p. 7).  This lesson introduces students to high quality poetry in the context of the study of a broader topic among many other text types, encouraging students to come to the poems as texts they will already know something about and have a way to interpret.

This lesson is also built on assumptions that student talk is valuable and that students need time and space to develop ideas that go beyond simple responses, important conditions for effective talk outlined by Zwiers, O’Hara, & Pritchard (2014).

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).



  1. This lesson is designed to complement a fuller study of the Civil Rights era, and the process of desegregation in particular.  Consider using ReadWriteThink resources such as the following to introduce and develop students’ understanding of key figures, events, and perspectives.

  2. Obtain copies of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.  The collection of autobiographical poems addresses Woodson’s family relationships, life in different regions of the US, and developing identity as a writer. For this lesson, become familiar with six poems that deal with life in the era of desegregation in America:

    • “Second Daughter’s Second Day on Earth” (pp. 3-5)
    • “Greenville, South Carolina” (pp. 30-31)
    • “South Carolina at War” (pp. 72-73)
    • “The Training” (pp. 75-77)
    • “Miss Bell and the Marchers” (pp. 80-81)
    • “What Everybody Knows Now” (pp. 237-238)
  3. Determine how best to group students for the poem focus groups and the sharing groups; this lesson uses as its basis the Jigsaw Cooperative Learning Technique.
  4. Make a sufficient number of copies of the Poem Discussion Facilitation Guide for groups to use in Session One.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • apply their knowledge of the Civil Rights era to new related texts.
  • determine the point of view a character in a poem takes on a topic.
  • participate in a variety of collaborative conversations.

Session One

  1. Explain to students that they will be continuing to study literary representations of experiences and perspectives on desegregation in the Civil Rights Era.
  2. Read aloud “Second Daughter’s Second Day on Earth” (pp. 3-5) and ask students to pay attention to references to Civil Rights figures, events, and concepts.  Have student pairs list the references they noticed and the impact of the references on their own or collectively.
  3. Explain that the poem is one of the first in a collection of autobiographical poems called Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  Have students re-read the poem, this time silently and to themselves, focusing on the relationship between the speaker and the Civil Rights Figures (Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and James Baldwin).
  4. Ask student pairs to discuss what they noticed about the speaker’s attitudes toward the various Civil Rights figures.
  5. Conduct a final reading of the poem, this time asking the class to read it chorally (aloud together). Lead a brief discussion about what students gained from reading the poem multiple times and questions they still have about the text.  They should notice, for example, that Woodson sees each figure as contributing a different style of participation and that she looks forward to finding out which will be most like her own.
  6. Now explain that students will be given one poem from another part of the collection, each of which presents an important person in the author’s life and his or her experiences with and/or perspectives on the struggle for Civil Rights and desegregation in America.
  7. Post or project the list of selected poems (“Greenville, South Carolina,” “South Carolina at War,” “The Training,” “Miss Bell and the Marchers,” and “What Everybody Knows Now”) and explain that students will meet in groups and discuss the poem using the Poem Discussion Facilitation Guide.
  8. Distribute and discuss the Poem Discussion Facilitation Guide before assigning (or letting students choose) the poems to students.  Explain that after they discuss in their groups, they will meet with students who read the other poems to explore the different perspectives they provide.   They need, therefore, to participate actively in order to bring their expertise to students who will not be as familiar with their poem.  Encourage students to take notes during the conversation to use in the next session.
  9. Have students move into groups to read and discuss their poems.  Circulate the room as students discuss.
  10. To help students prepare for the next session, have each student share with the group what he or she will say first when meeting with students who are less familiar with the poem they just studied and discussed.

Session Two

  1. Give students a few minutes to review their poems and notes before sharing the expectations for the sharing groups.   Students from each poem focus group will (in the order of the poems in the book) read their poem aloud and then share some of their observations about the focal character and his or her perspectives on desegregation in America.  After all group representatives have shared, the groups should together discuss these questions, which can  be posted or projected at the front of the room:

    • What are the different perspectives offered on living in a desegregating America?
    • Who seems to have obviously similar or different points of view?
    • Based on the poems, what might account for those similarities and differences?
  2. Post, project, or announce the groupings, including as best as feasible one student per group who has read each of the poems.
  3. Circulate the room as students discuss, encouraging them to refer to the text and make strong connections between the poems.
  4. After students have had sufficient time to discuss, ask for a volunteer from each group to share a few insights from their conversation.
  5. To close, ask students to write reflectively in response to the following questions:

    • What did you learn by reading your poem multiple times?
    • What did you learn about the varying perspectives people might have held toward life in desegregating America?
    • How do these poems enhance or change your understanding of the Civil Rights movement and life in America at this time?


  • Invite students to use the Trading Card Creator to create a profile of the character in their poem and his or her experiences with desegregation.  Point out to students that they may not be able to complete all information requested.
  • Ask groups to prepare a short skit that represents the different characters discussing desegregation based on their points of view expressed in the poems.
  • Use students' familiarity with these poems to launch into a full study of Brown Girl Dreaming.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • As you listen to conversations, check that students are using references from the text to explain the perspective on integration.  Listen for students to address the complexity of attitudes being conveyed.
  • Students will write a reflection on the texts and their experiences reading them.

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