Civil Rights Movement Gallery Walk Ideas

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

When teaching the Civil Rights Movement, you might be looking for ways to keep students as engaged as possible in the material. This lesson offers gallery walk ideas you can use to enliven your instruction.

Using Gallery Walks

Are you incorporating a study of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s into your social studies or literature instruction? If so, you have a marvelous opportunity to teach students about one of the major social justice movements from history. However, you're probably thinking about how to keep your students focused on the major concepts behind the Civil Rights Movement while still learning about the important people, places and times associated with the period.

One great way to keep your Civil Rights Movement study innovative is to use gallery walks. This instructional strategy allows students to circulate around your classroom, looking at particular documents and images and answering questions individually or in groups. There are many different ways to organize a gallery walk; the suggestions below are designed to deepen your students' understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

Key Documents and Events Gallery Walk

The Civil Rights Movement comprises many important events as well as key documents from the 1950s and 1960s, which might range from newspaper articles about particular marches to transcripts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches or maps showing where actions and speeches occurred. One way to have your students do a gallery walk related to the Civil Rights Movement is to select a series of 5-10 documents you want your students to look at or read. These might all be associated with one or represent different events. Kinds of documents can include:

  • speech transcripts or excerpts
  • photographs of boycotts or marches
  • newspaper articles from different parts of the country
  • political cartoons from the Civil Rights Movement
  • maps of the places where key events took place

After posting these in different areas in your classroom, put the same 3-5 questions next to each document. Some possibilities for questions are:

  • What does this document teach you about the Civil Rights Movement?
  • Who is the intended audience for this document and how can you tell?
  • What questions does this document raise for you about the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What feelings does this document evoke for you and why?
  • How do you think the audience responded to this document initially and why?

Students can circulate alone or with partners, view the documents and answer the questions.

Key Figures Gallery Walk

Another way to approach the Civil Rights Movement is by teaching students more about the key figures involved. To plan this gallery walk, hang portraits or photographs of key figures around your classroom. For instance, you might include images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruby Bridges, Bayard Rustin and more. Under each image, write a brief caption describing the person in question. As students circulate, they can respond to the following questions:

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