Our students need to read about and research the Civil Rights Movement and Black History in our classes more than ever. Despite all the Black Lives Matter protests that have happened in the year 2020 our students still don’t know or understand the magnitude of the Civil Rights Movement. They don’t understand that the fight for social justice is far from over.
If you want to bring these conversations into your classroom easily here is the Civil Rights Movement Research Project I used and I’m going to tell you all about how it went in my classroom. Black History month is the perfect time to get started.
My Classroom Experience
In the spring of 2019, I was returning to school after my maternity leave and I was taking over a 5th/6th-grade classroom. The teacher was moving into an administrative role and I was taking over her room. She wasn’t ready to leave the classroom totally because she loved teaching so she was still going to come read with the students once a week.
Her book of choice was The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. She wasn’t going to assign extra work but rather she wanted to focus on having hard conversations with the students about race.
I love the book and the topics it makes easier to discuss in the classroom. She was right, the students really didn’t understand this part of history well. They didn’t understand the ugly stuff that was happening in the USA then or how it’s not over.
When Lesson Plans Come Naturally
My lesson came to me so quickly. I knew the students needed more background knowledge to help them get the most out of this book. I created a Civil Rights Movement Research Project to go along with their reading. Each student would pick a different topic from the list. They would research and write a five-paragraph paper on it. I had them write a paper because they hadn’t written many essays yet that year.
I felt that by having them research the information they would be more invested in the project and learn more than if I simply lectured on it.
One of my students really stood out to me during this research paper. I had some great conversations with him about race as he worked. He had the topic of Emmet Till.
Emmet Till was a 14-year-old boy who was murdered while visiting cousins in Mississippi. He was accused of whistling at and grabbing a lady while buying gum. The woman’s husband and half-brother showed up at his cousins’ house and brutally murdered him. The murderers were never convicted.
A Student Changed Forever
My student was shocked at the events of Emmet Till’s life. He couldn’t’ believe that this happened to someone.
Part of their assignment was to explain why this is relevant to today and how it changed history. He asked me how to do that part of the assignment. I told him he needed to look in the news for similar cases. I told him incidents like this still happened today. We talked about news coverage of police shootings and racial profiling.
He was shocked, upset, and disgusted that this was still a problem.
He set out to research more on his own about connections today. It didn’t take him long to find news stories reported when a person was killed because of the color of their skin.
This project changed who he was and how he thought. That is our goal as educators, to change our students and help them grow through learning.
I hope he had a better understanding of the protests happening in 2020 because of the research paper I made him write. I hope that he felt he could speak out against social injustice because he had something to say after learning and growing from this project.
What We Can Do As Teachers
You may already discuss the Civil Rights Movement in your class, but we need our students to connect to it and grow from it. It can change the future of our country. Getting students invested is an ever changing challenge. I find that when students are researching about a topic they learn and connect to it more.
Race can be a challenging topic and a little scary to discuss because we might not know all the politically correct answers. However, being honest with our students and challenging their thinking about race and social justice is important.
If you need a lesson plan to get you going you can find all of my Black History Month resources here.