Sample Teaching Plans: Civil Rights and the Black Student Movement

2021 NEH Project [1]
Students study types of social movements, stances on protest and injustice, and May 4. Employing a decision tree, they answer, “Where is that line for me? At what point should action be taken, if at all?”

American History Unit [2]
Multiple perspectives on the causes and consequences of May 4, so as to truly make each student able to connect events of the past to their lives today. Considerations include: invisibility of minorities, inflammatory rhetoric, media responsibilities, humanizing victims, power of youth movements. Interactions promoting historical thinking include the Stanford Lunchroom Fight simulation and students sharing exhibits created in the spirit of one of the 3 themes of the May 4 Visitors Center: Social Justice, Generation Gap, Vietnam War.

American Literature Unit [3]
As part of a Black history and culture curriculum, students consider “law and order yesterday and today.” They study manifestations of law and order in the Civil Rights era; the Orangeburg, Kent State & Jackson State shootings; contemporary police shootings; and presidential policy. Students conclude work with thoughts about ways to bridge the underlying divides.

American Literature - American Government Unit Plan [4]
Students begin with Vietnam War context, incl. the draft and hawks vs. doves, then experience the human side of history through The Things They Carried and the lives of Allison, Bill, Sandy, and Jeff and May 4. Students study context of the Civil Rights & Black Student Movements; compare Orangeburg & Kent and Jackson State; and view today through lasting results of Black United Students’ activism and new poetry reflecting African American experience.

And the Children will Lead Them - Youth Activism [5]
Students begin by considering Can young people change society? through examining youth activism in the Civil Rights Movement. Protests at Orangeburg, Kent State, and Jackson State prompt the question Is nonviolent protest an effective method for change? Discussion carries over to today’s movements. Writing assignments incl. letters to the editor, analysis of Tinker v. Des Moines, and creative work or Ted Talk/other presentation.

Clue: What/Who was the domestic enemy on May 4th? [6]
Employs SCIM-C for historical interpretation and Frayer model to define domestic enemy. Students consider how past movements shine light on resolving issues in today’s movements and take community action.

Creating Student Organizations [7]
Coursework preceding study of May 4 includes study of prominent civil rights figures, student organizations, and Orangeburg/Kent State/Jackson State. Students understand May 4 through small group creation of an advocacy organization with website relating mission statement; logo; poster; song (using current one with their issue); testimonial on an org event. Students also create speech as if one were addressing crowd at the Victory Bell during May 4 and consider dynamic between law enforcement and dissenters then & now.

Dissent, the First Amendment, and Social Change [8]
Plan for a collaborative semester-long course featuring a mock trial, readers theater, speakers, and choice of protest movement to research. Students share that work in a community storywalk, along with a documentary on their final community action project.

Do Something: Fanning the Flames of Teen Activism [9]
“If you think you’re too little to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito!” This African proverb inspires students to overcome their uncertainty about how to make change through learning what activism is; motivating examples; and developing an action plan for social change.

Is Dissent a Crime? [16]
Is dissent a crime? Students respond via blackout poetry from documents including Letter from a Birmingham Jail; US Supreme Court decisions on student free speech rights; quantified costs; cultural artifacts; current events; and evidence of the May 4 site & its educational installations.

Kent State [17]
For this history unit for an arts school, incorporates performing arts and potentially drama, students choose a perspective on day 1, such as protestor, guardsman, Black United Students member, governor, from which they will write their first monologue. Staying with that perspective, they will respond to other elements, incl. “Ohio”; thoughts from the mother of US soldier in the Vietnam War; the Guard’s statement of regret; memorial markers at Kent State. Students conclude with reflection on events of their lifetime.

Kent State Five Day Lesson Activity [18]
How are controversial historical events covered by textbooks and/or the media? Students gain knowledge through examining aspects of the Vietnam era: Why Vietnam?; the counterculture; “Ohio” and Laugh-In; and protests at Kent State, May 1–4, 1970. May 4 reveals a lack of communication, the substantial distance of students from those who shot them, and how media is used to sway opinion—as in portrayals within mainstream US textbook treatments of May 4 history.

Kent State Lesson Plans [20]
Perspectives of US personnel who served in Vietnam; repercussions of the war & May 4 in Iowa; civil rights; student speech rights; antiwar protest; Orangeburg/Kent State/Jackson State.

Kent State May 4 Unit [21]
As part of a human rights unit, students consider parallels between My Lai and May 4 (and possibly hear of the connection to later genocide in Cambodia). Unit concepts incl. choices have consequences. Students ease into study through costumed role playing and protest songs. Unit includes the pivotal Kent State Black student walkout November 1968.

Kent State Tragedy Time Capsule [23]
Students collaborate on a time capsule recounting the May 4 story. Highly visual, interactive contents include their original poem, art, interpretations, along with political speeches, audio, and realia such as clothing, protest signs, news articles.

Language Arts Choice Board Options [27] - created as collaboration with projects 40 and 50
The ELA component of a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach, this plan offers students a choice of 3 activities: a dramatic irony creative piece incorporating historical facts/events; analysis of 3 multimedia pieces treating the same topic; new activism plan featuring 3 strategies employed in the past by Kent State students. Students also learn the May 4 history, visit the site, and write a final reflection read by teachers of 4 subject areas.

Lessons May 4th [28]
May 4 Teaching Manual might well be the title for this plan that features 4 complete, themed lessons to use in succession (in the author’s case, as prelude to The Things They Carried) or individually. Each contains a range of sources, assignments, and tools (e.g., No, Low, and More tech options for particular activities). Lesson topics are: 1) Civil Rights Movement & Vietnam War; 2) dissent at Kent State ’60s–’70s; 3) Kent State as representative of protest at US colleges; 4) Kent State, May 1–4, 1970, “They had it coming.” Counterpoint: Nixon’s own appointees determined that the shootings were “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”

Making Meaning of May 4: Cause and Effect [31]
Context for this plan comes through study of earlier protests in US history, incl. those that became confrontational during the Civil Rights Movement. Key considerations for students are: issues leading to Kent State shootings; leadership decisions; were KSU antiwar protests justified? successful?; key truths; impact then and now. Sources incl. evidence of place; Ohio National Guard interviews; protest music.

May 4 1970 Kent State University [34]
Fire in the Heartland and other May 4 sources provide context of state politics, the Black Student Movement and Student Antiwar Movement. Students complete photo analysis and share their inquiry process and poems/chants they’ve created with the community, family, friends, and other students.

May 4th 1970 Unit Plan [37]
Builds upon preceding coverage of the Vietnam War and continues the theme expressed in the 1619 Project that “Black folks and African Americans have played a central role in making the US realize or attempt to realize its highest ideals: freedom, equality, democracy, equity.”

NEH Making Meaning of May 4 1970: Pedagogy Project [42]
Students see the lasting positive change resulting from student protest movements—with a few examples being the Voting Rights and Fair Housing Acts and diverse faculty across the country—while understanding that significant obstacles remain today to civil rights and many forms of equality. Sources incl.: The War at Home; The Fog of War; To Kill a Mockingbird. Topics incl.: draft—lottery/end; Dow Chemical protests; successes and failures; arrogance of power

NEH Workshop Lesson Plan [43]
Created for a school of the arts history class, and contextualizing May 4 within the Cold War and Vietnam War, this plan encourages students to explore subjects tied to their interest, such as poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa;
protest songs/album covers, posters, photographs, music. Study concludes with May 4 as a First Amendment story.

Nothing But Our Voices: Speaking Out Through Song [44]
Students understand social change and May 4 through study and their own creation of protest songs. Students react to/analyze music of Civil Rights, Black Student, and Antiwar Movements, including “Ohio,” written in response to May 4.

Pushing Their Buttons [46]
Students understand May 4 in the context of the Vietnam antiwar movement as displayed on protest buttons. Background and close readings of a succession of buttons reveal stakeholders, progression of the movement, persuasion techniques, and impact on the homefront. Students connect to today through design of a button for a cause each believes in.

Saving the World One Generation at a Time [49]
School year covers social movements by decade in the 20th century: Greatest/Silent Generation; through Baby Boomers, with a focus on civil rights, labor, student antiwar movements & May 4; culminating with key movements for Gen X, Y & Z. Concepts include patterns, good & evil, strain theory.

Sociology Lesson Plan [51]
In this sociological approach, students study the changing nature of society; individual and collective behavior; and social problems today. Students examine civil rights and sixties protests; Orangeburg/Kent State/Jackson State; and the times via documentaries and protest music, flyers, banners, and artwork and compose a creative work expressing their own social change agenda.

Students in the Anti-War Movement and the Long Sixties [54]
Primary documents from the long sixties ground students’ charting of the costs and benefits of student activism. Breakout groups develop action plans and defend their view of the most effective form of student activism.

The Power of Protest and Dissent [56]
Injustice and protest—individual and collective—in history and literature and today. Affirms young people can make a difference. Students research/write on different topics from an extensive menu and share new knowledge.

Vietnam Inquiry [60]
Stances on the Vietnam War—including MLK’s and Muhammad Ali’s—and the war’s impact on Americans, illustrated by draft lottery, The Things They Carried, the cost in lives, iconic war photos spurring protest, and May 4. Students reflect on how they would have responded.

Vietnam Through the Lenses of College Students: Kent State and Jackson State [61]
Students examine challenges, including racism, for US soldiers in the Vietnam War, paralleled by the rise of the student antiwar movement and Black Student Movement. They will feel the human side of history through recognition of the African American man awarded the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War. And they will compare and contrast the killings at Kent State and Jackson State, including media response.

Vietnam, Nixon, and the Protests Movement DBQ [62]
A DBQ-type project with sources illustrating long sixties sociopolitical divides (incl. Kent & Jackson State); document analysis; student reflection on what they would have done.

Youth Activism in American History: A Homeschool Unit Study for Middle School Students [66]
Through a breadth of multimedia sources this homeschool unit contextualizes May 4 within youth activism throughout American history to find meaning of use for movements today. Range of activities includes adopting perspective of person on site during May 4. Inquiry questions include What happens when needed sources don’t exist? And Why did guardsmen fire?