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This lesson on “passing” is part of a discrimination unit on strategies people used and still use to obtain equal rights and equal access to benefits


Language Arts, Social Studies  


9, 10, 11, 12  

Title – Passing: Its Real Connections to History
By – Paige Fennell
Primary Subject – Social Studies
Secondary Subjects – Language Arts
Grade Level – 9-12
Time – One class period

South Carolina Social Studies Academic Standards:

      USHC-9: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the social, economic, and political events that impacted the United States during the Cold War.

      Indicator-9.5: Explain the movements for racial and gender equity and civil liberties, including their initial strategies, landmark court cases and legislation, the roles of key civil rights advocates, and the influence of the civil rights movement on other groups seeking ethnic and gender equity. (H, P)

National Council for the Social Studies Curriculum Standards:

    NCCS I: Culture

    • Students will contemplate the culture that contributed to the various viewpoints related to passing
    • Students will examine the factors that have shaped public perception about different racial groups

    NCCS V: Individuals, Groups and Institutions

    • Students will contemplate the institutions that advocated for and against discrimination
    • Students will consider the social values of the groups prominent during this era

    NCCS VI: Power, Authority and Governance

    • Students will analyze the authority of the government and its impact on different communities
    • Students will review the power of the individual in determining how they portray themselves

    NCCS X: Civil Ideas and Practices

    • Students will compare and discuss the different notions of self that each group held
    • Students will consider the various public policies in place during this time period

Lesson Description:

  • This lesson will be part of a larger unit discussing discrimination and strategies that people used to escape practices that restricted their freedom.
  • Students will examine passages from Walter Mosley’s Little Scarlet and a clip from the film Imitation of Life concerned with passing.
  • They will discuss why minorities, particularly blacks, felt the need to conceal their true identity to attain benefits that were given to others.
  • Students will also explore discriminatory practices today that may cause a person to pass for a variety of reasons.


  • Excerpt from Little Scarlet (pages 269-271) 
  • Projector with screen or SMARTboard

Teacher Preparation:

  1. Gather the movie clip and copies of the Little Scarlet excerpt.
  2. Review the information that you will be discussing with students, especially as it relates to the social environment during the 1960’s concerning Jim Crow and other discriminatory practices.
  3. Check the equipment and make sure the internet connection is working.
  4. Arrange the students’ seats/desks so that the room is split into four groups.


Teacher Activities           Student Activities           Assessments
  • Direct students as they come into the classroom to sit at one of the four clusters of desks. Instruct them to pull out their notes from the previous class.
  • The instructor will then review past lectures that deal with discrimination and Jim Crow segregation, segueing into a discussion on passing and its ramifications.
Students will review their notes on past lectures and engage in a discussion about passing and the impact that it has on society. Classroom discussion
  • Inform the students of the purpose of this lesson : to explore how people have tried to oppose discrimination through passing and its lasting effects on current society.
  • Let them know that they will do this by reviewing fictional stories that reveal real aspects of passing.
  • They should also discuss instances in the present day that may give a person reason to pass.
Students will read the excerpt from the book and watch the film clip. They will then discuss the perceived benefits of passing and its potential consequences.
  • Participation in the small group activities.
  • Production of a list of positive and negative aspects of passing using the experiences’ of the characters as examples.
  • Inform students that they will be sharing their findings with the rest of the class.
  • They will also have to write two paragraphs about the activity.
  • Be sure to conclude the lesson by stressing that people who passed lived in constant fear of discovery, experienced rejection from the groups that they abandoned and attempted to join, and sometimes hated themselves because of their outward appearance.
  • Talking about modern examples of people who pass because of discrimination based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or political beliefs may be helpful.
  • Students will choose a spokesperson to share some of the concepts that they came up within their group.
  • They will use the remaining time to write their response .
  • If it is not completed by the end of class, they should finish it as homework .
Class discussion and written response
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