Civil Rights Lesson Plans

Civil rights lesson plans can help students delve into history, music, law, and literature. There are a multitude of options.

By Daniella Garran

civil rights movement lesson plans


While many students are aware of social injustice around the world today, fewer and fewer students know about the struggle for social justice in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement was a watershed era in American history. This subject matter can also be taught in conjunction with Black History Month (February) activities, or during a study of the Constitution.

There are many ways to incorporate a study of the Civil Rights Movement into different curricula. Civics teachers can certainly approach the unit from a legal perspective with a close study of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Another interesting angle for civics teachers is to focus on the relevant Supreme Court cases such as Brown vs. the Board of Education, Plessy vs. Ferguson, and Dred Scott vs. Sanford.

There is a great deal of literature which language arts teachers can use to teach the Civil Rights Movement. Mildred Taylor's "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" is a perennial favorite of middle school teachers and Melba Beals' "Warriors Don't Cry" looks at one girl's experience during the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Teachers may choose to have students write brief biographical sketches or monologues about those most involved with the Civil Rights Movement such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall and Ralph Abernathy.

Social studies teachers have a plethora of content which can be incorporated into a study of the Civil Rights era. One focus for teachers can certainly be the art and music that was influenced and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Many songs including "This Little Light of Mine" and "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" which can be found on the Smithsonian Institution website. It may also be beneficial to explore monuments and memorials commemorating the movement, such as Maya Lin's Civil Rights Memorial. Additionally, many excellent videos are available including PBS' "Eyes on the Prize" and Teaching Tolerance's "The Children's March."

A wonderful way to assess students' understanding of the issues surrounding discrimination is to have students write and illustrate a children's book. Drawing on students' knowledge of favorite children's literature like "The Rainbow Fish" by Marcus Pfister, students can tell the story of the dangers of prejudice, segregation and discrimination, while emphasizing the importance of acceptance and understanding. What follows are more Civil Rights lesson plans and activities.

Civil Rights Lesson Plans:

Civil Rights

A study of primary documents is critical to students' understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. This lesson provides an excellent foundation for understanding the laws and documents associated with the Civil Rights Movement. Students become familiar with the Jim Crow laws, the Fourteenth Amendment, and a host of other relevant documents and concepts.

Learning About the Civil Rights Movement Through Photography

This lesson examines a different kind of primary source, photographs and music. Students develop an understanding of how the music of this era reflected the experiences of African Americans. In addition, students learn to analyze photographs and to consider the subject matter, the original use of the photo, and the role of the person taking the photo. This lesson will provides an excellent frame of reference, and an opportunity to acquire content knowledge for students.

Ordinary People, Ordinary Places: The Civil Rights Movement

For teachers seeking opportunities for more independent research, this lesson offers students a chance to research individual people and events that were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement. Students will also gain a sense of the Movement’s chronology while working on their independent research skills.

Human Rights and Civil Rights

In conjunction with the show "Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey," PBS created this lesson which focuses on civil rights as well as human rights. Students are introduced to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and consider what rights should be afforded to all humans. This lesson might be best taught at the end of a Civil Rights unit so that students can apply what they have learned about the Civil Rights Movement to the modern times.