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60-90 minutes
  • Civil Rights
  • Journalism
  • Politics
  • 6-12

(Note: For more support, see expanded procedure in downloadable lesson plan.)

  1. In advance, review the sample worksheet at the end of the lesson plan. You may wish to distribute it to students, as well.
  2. As a class, discuss what they know about the civil rights movement by answer the reporter’s questions (who, what, when, where, why and how).
  3. Then give them 10-15 minutes to browse the NewseumED interactive “Making a Change” timeline for additional ideas or answers.
  4. Expand upon the earlier list of civil rights knowledge with information from the timeline.
  5. Once students run out of ideas come up with a list of what they still don’t know about the civil rights movement. Craft six to eight compelling questions.
  6. Break students into groups. Each group will be responsible for answering one of the questions.
  7. The groups will create a hypothesis for their question and use the timeline to complete the worksheet to the answer the question.

  • Knowns and Unknowns worksheet (download), one per student
  • Internet access
  • Civil Rights Glossary (download, optional)


Discuss their findings as a class. Prompts include:

  • What evidence or prior knowledge did you consider when forming your hypothesis?
  • Did you have to change your hypothesis? Why or why not?
  • Which hypotheses/evidence are the strongest? Why?
  • Which hypotheses/evidence are less satisfying? Why? What could be done to strengthen them?
  • If multiple groups considered the same question, compare and contrast their hypotheses and evidence. Can you settle on a single answer to that question?
  • If you were going to dig further into this question and look for more support for your hypothesis, what sources and methods would you use? (Other reference resources, research techniques, etc.)

Debating Civil Rights History: Choose one compelling question about the civil rights movement that your students find interesting and that connects to your curriculum. As a class, come up with two opposing hypotheses to answer the question. Divide the class in two and have each half gather evidence to support one of the hypotheses. Then have a class debate in which representatives from each side take turns presenting their evidence, allowing the opportunity for the opposing side to respond to each argument. At the end of the debate, try to reach a class consensus as to which hypothesis is correct. Or, if it proves impossible to reach a consensus, discuss why this is the case.


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