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9-12: Experiences of the Civil Rights Movement: A Roundtable Project

by Kathleen Caldwell, Learn NC

This activity allows students to participate in a roundtable discussion by taking on the persona of someone who lived and experienced the Civil Rights Movement. By participating in a role playing simulation, students are more able to achieve higher-level thinking skills and, as a result, hopefully be able to think more critically about the Civil Rights Era.

A lesson plan for Grades 11–12 African American History and United States History


1. The students will interview people who witnessed the civil rights movement firsthand and summarize their discussion.

2. The students will participate in a simulation to experience the thoughts and emotions of the era.

3. The students will create a persona of a person who is affected by the Civil Rights Movement, either for or against, and will use information from research, class discussions, and their interviews to help build their character’s personality.

4. The students will write reflective summaries of their experiences.

Time required for lesson: 1 week


Gottheimer, Josh. Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches. BasicCivitas Books., 2003. (Collection of speeches on Civil Rights, useful but not mandatory)

Technology resources

1. Computer with Internet access

2. Tape recorder and tape

3. Video recorder and video tape

4. CD player


1. Students need to identify key people and their roles in the Civil Rights Movement by completing the Major Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement chart.

2. Students will practice for their interview by interviewing a classmate and a teacher that they do not know. (In smaller schools, it can be a teacher or an administrator that they do know.)


1. Students will draw slips of paper from a hat that has the name, contact information, and age of someone from the community who has agreed to be interviewed for this project. Contacts have been previously obtained via volunteer surveys that teacher can send out to the community at the beginning of year and through family resources.

2. Students will have one week to interview their person and to submit a transcript of the interview to the teacher. Interviews can either be done by the students on their own or students can arrange to meet people at the school, either before or after hours. The transcript should include all pertinent information, answers to the standard interview questions and any other questions and answers that were given.

3. Students will use their interviews to help develop a character that lived during the Civil Rights era (Character Development).

4. Students will read two primary sources, either speeches or other documents, about one of the following major events that occurred during the Civil Rights Movement:

> 1. Major Topics:

  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • Murder of Medgar Evers
  • Little Rock Central High Integration
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Black Panther Party
  • Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

> 2. Afterwards, students will write a summary detailing, comparing, and contrasting the events that occurred. They will also include how their character would react to these events.

5. Once research and development is complete, students will participate in a roundtable discussion, as their characters, and will interact and answer questions about the events.

  • Teacher will act as moderator for the roundtable. Establish groundrules for discussion (e.g. what will and will not be considered appropriate). “Role-play” will be defined so students will understand the difference between a character and real person in terms of thoughts/feelings/actions. Maturity will be stressed.
  • Students will give an “introduction” to their characters the day before the roundtable, and will then have the opportunity to write 3 questions for any of the other characters. Questions can be divided in any way feasible.
  • Day of Roundtable: Moderator should have all students introduce their characters/personas and then have one person begin asking questions. Once all questions have been asked/answered or discussion has concluded, the moderator should facilitate a summary or processing of the activity. Allow students to express their thoughts and feelings about what they just did,etc.

6. Students will conclude the activity by writing a letter to a friend overseas that describes the events they lived through and how it has changed the way people live today.


1. Rubrics for primary source paper, roundtable, and summative paper

2. Participation in roundtable

3. Summative quiz

Supplemental information

1. Visit to local museum/archives to perform research

2. Interview relatives who lived during the Civil Rights Movement

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