Civil Rights 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.

Looking to beef up your instruction on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s? Use an in-class experiment and a video lesson to take your instruction to a new high. Additional resources are also provided in terms of supplementary activities and related lessons.

Learning Objectives:

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

  • understand the implications of segregation
  • explain the key events of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s
  • compare and contrast the civil rights issues of the 1960s to those of modern society


1 to 1.5 hours


  • Photocopies of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech.

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Key Vocabulary

  • Segregation


  • Begin by dividing the students into groups based on hair color and explaining that the class will conduct an experiment. The light-haired students will be in one group and the dark-haired students in another.
  • Now explain to the students that the light-haired students will defer to the dark-haired students. They will eat only after the dark-haired students have eaten. They will use the restrooms only when the dark-haired students are finished. They will also have extra homework assignments and will have to clean up after the dark-haired students in the classroom. Finally, the dark-haired students get to chew gum in class and the light-haired students do not.
  • Ask the students how they feel about these changes in status based on hair color. Write their feelings on the board.
  • Now have the students view the video lesson The Civil Rights Movement During the 1960s, pausing at 1:53.
  • As a class, read MLK's I Have a Dream Speech, with students taking turns reading paragraphs out loud.
  • Next, have the students discuss the themes of MLK's speech in terms of the assigned classroom roles and the early events of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement mentioned in the video lesson. How must the African-American people have felt during this time? How does this compare to the feelings of the light-haired students in class? How would they feel if this experiment became a permanent change in society? Write their responses on the board.
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson for the class.
  • Announce that the classroom experiment will not actually take place, but was proposed as a method to recreate the senseless segregation of the 1960s.
  • Now have the students work in pairs to identify the elements of MLK's speech that have been resolved and those that are still problematic. They should mark up the photocopies of the speech with their comments and analysis.
  • Ask the pairs to take turns presenting their analyses to the class. Does the class agree with the analysis of the pair? If not, why? Did they overlook anything?

Discussion Questions

  • Have the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s been resolved?
  • What issues in modern times harken back to the Civil Rights Movement?


  • Ask students to create newspaper headlines depicting the key events of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Have students draft timelines representing the significant incidents of the Civil Rights Movement.

Related Lessons

The Civil Rights Movement During the 1950s

The Student Movement of the 1960s

The Women's Movement: Causes, Campaigns & Impacts on the US

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