Apartheid Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Teach about apartheid through the powerful words of Nelson Mandela. An engaging video lesson that points out key facts is followed by a moving small group project focusing on Mandela's letters. Should you decide to dig a bit deeper, suggestions for extra activities and related lessons are included.

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define 'segregation' and 'apartheid'
  • explain the societal implications of apartheid in South Africa
  • outline the key events of apartheid
  • analyze the significance of Nelson Mandela in terms of apartheid


1 hour


  • Photocopies of several of the letters written by Nelson Mandela while imprisoned on Robben Island

Curriculum Standards


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.


Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).


Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Key Vocabulary

  • Segregation
  • Apartheid


  • Begin by asking students what they know about the Civil Rights Movement in America? List some of their key points on the board, making sure to include a discussion on segregation.
  • Now ask students if they know what apartheid is. Again, write key points on the board.
  • Play the video lesson South Africa in the Apartheid Era, pausing at 3:15.
  • Have students use the key ideas listed on the board for the Civil Rights Movement in America and the apartheid in South Africa to compare and contrast the two. Once they have finished listing similarities and any differences between the two, discuss them as a class.
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson.


  • Divide students up into small groups, giving each group one of Mandela's letters.
  • Instruct the students to work together to summarize the content of the letter, paying close attention to comments related to the apartheid.
  • When all groups have finished summarizing their letters, have them present their findings to the class. Groups should present in chronological order based on the date of the letter they summarized.

Discussion Questions

  • What do Mandela's letters tell us about the struggle of the people in South Africa during the apartheid?
  • Could there have been an end to apartheid without Mandela?
  • Did the end of the apartheid ease race relations? How does this compare to racial issues in America?


  • Show one of the film adaptations of Nelson Mandela's life and imprisonment to the class. Have them analyze it for accuracy.
  • Ask students to create a timeline of key events leading up to, during, and following apartheid.

Related Lessons

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