Social Sundays: A modern day project for teaching Civil Rights

The Civil Rights movement is an interesting era.  My students argue that we are in a new period of the movement or that the movement never ended.  For the purpose of this post, I’m referring to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. I’ve written about this era here and here. It is one of my favorite eras to explore with students in part because of its relevancy.  

A key theme in our study is an examination of where we are today.  We focus on three major groups that we have already discussed as part of our Civil Rights study: African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and women. Students can advocate for other groups such as gays, but they need to be prepared to do extra research to identify how rights changed or didn’t from the 1950s and 60s to today. 


In a divided country this can be a challenging issue so any statements have to be supported with facts.  For example, if students state that the group they studied is segregated against, they need to show evidence from the news or research.  The Pew Research Center and the Civil Rights Project out of UCLA are great source for evidence. This project also helps refresh students understanding of factual stories versus opinion pieces.  So much of what appears in the media and labeled news are actually opinions.  Students need to find factual sources. 

Part 1: select a population to investigate. Students work in groups of 2-3. If I have 2 groups who want to work on the same topic, that’s okay.  They may or may not come to the same conclusion.  Also, each group will generate its own set of evidence. 

Part 2: investigation and research. Each group creates a quick summary of the population they studied, the rights that were fought for for this population during the civil rights era, and the rights that were gained.  For example, a change for African-Americans during the civil rights era was the desegregation of schools through Brown v. Board of Education and the forced integration under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Students then look at the major rights being fought for during the Civil Rights era and investigate how the situation has changed or not for each of those areas today. 

Part 3: presentation of findings. 
Students need to answer the question: "how far have we come?" for their group using only facts to support their statements. Each group has 5 minutes to present. This is not a lot of time.   Groups can choose one issue and explore it in depth or give more of an overview for the class.  They can present in any format. I’ve had songs, news broadcasts, and slide shows of photos with narration, among the more creative choices.  In addition to the presentation each group includes a written report of their findings.  

Timing: we stretch this project over 2-3 weeks with approximately 6 days of in-class work.* 

  • Pre-day one: pass out the scope of the project. This gives students time to think about the population they would like to investigate which makes much better projects than when they are assigned a topic or choose a group too quickly. Before the next class, students email their topic selection and the names of two people they would like to work with.
    Anyone who chooses not to email will get put in a group of my choosing. 
  • Day 1: before class starts, I’ve made the groups. I try to give everyone one of the people they would like to work with, but it doesn’t always work out. Everyone gets the topic of their choice, unless they failed to email me by the deadline.   Once we are in groups, the investigation begins. 
  • Day 2-3: gathering evidence and developing analysis. 
  • Day 3-4: putting together presentation and written report 
  • Day 5: final practice on presentations first half. Presentations begin second half.  
  • Day 6: finish presentation.
  • Day 7: reports due and discussion.  I used to have reports due before the presentations, but I found that after taking questions from classmates, students had some changes they wanted to make on the written portion of the project.  Students are not required to incorporate class discussion into the report. 

The seven days are spread over two to three weeks.  Want the full project?  Find it here.

*I don’t assign homework, but some groups end up working at lunch or after school, usually because they are inspired or ambitious in their presentation. 

This is part of a series of posts for teaching 20th century U.S. History.  Topics in the series include:
The Cold War
The 1950s
The 1960s
The Civil Rights Movement




Social Sundays is a bi-monthly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.

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