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Reading and Writing About Civil Rights

There are a variety of ways educators can honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and many other Civil Rights leaders. With meaningful literature, guided discussions, and thought-provoking writing prompts, teachers and students can honor the changemakers of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as thoughtfully examine racism, prejudice, and progress in our country. Here are a few resources for numerous activities in the classroom that will get students reading, writing, thinking, and talking.

Elementary Learning

For elementary students, the best way to get them writing is to start with reading. Sparking ideas for Writers Workshop or leading a class discussion are more successful when started with a read aloud. Family Education has a list of the top 15 books for Black History Month that are colorful, thoughtful, and poignant. Colours of Us features a list of fourteen children’s books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that are worth adding permanently to the classroom library. After a class discussion on the books, when students are primed and ready to write, teachers can take a look at Journal Buddies 53 Black History Month Writing Ideas for in or out-of-class writing prompts.

Middle and High School

Go on a Civil Rights Road Trip in the classroom and virtually visit sites around the country that are significant to the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to numerous other resources, Teaching Tolerance offers this robust lesson plan for students in middle and high school that includes essential questions, activities connected to geography and history, and printable postcards to encourage students to write about what they have learned along the way.

Teaching writing means teaching thinking, so offering students meaningful opportunities to write, discuss, and reflect allows them to think more deeply about the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders. Thoughtful Learning has four dynamic writing activities with mini-lessons for middle and high school students that cover everything from writing a poem on what Black History means to them or a performance arts review of a song or dance from the Harlem Renaissance.

Turnitin Revision Assistant has an expansive prompt library where teachers can assign meaningful essays on a variety of topics. After reading a standards-aligned text excerpt, students then write an essay response and receive immediate feedback on their writing. A Proclamation About Rosa Parks (Grade 6) features a speech made by former President Barack Obama on the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks. In Grades 7 and 8, America Singing asks students to analyze Walt Whitman’s poem, “I Hear America Singing” and compare it to Langston Hughes’ piece, “I, Too, Sing America.” In Civil Rights (Grades 9 - 10) students will read passages from the 1960s on improving the economic conditions of African Americans.

On Martin Luther King Day or on any day of the year, reading, writing, and talking about Civil Rights in the classroom are important and powerful. Educators and students alike will benefit from the poignant discussions and new ideas that can blossom from purposeful activities.

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