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Here students feel the impact of segregation and a Martin Luther King Day video is made from it


Social Studies  


2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  

Title – Impact of Segregation

By – Eleanor Williams

Primary Subject – Social Studies

Grade Level – 2-7

Lesson Idea:

    To help my students understand segregation and what it felt like, I randomly separated my students into two groups, which I called the Stars and the Stripes. I began the lesson by giving the students a diecut of a star or a rectangle with stripes on it, so I could see who belonged in what group. Next, I gave each Star a cookie, and allowed them to eat it. One of my students asked if the Stripes got a cookie too. I just said no, and ate a cookie myself. I continued my lesson by showing a video streaming clip of the book

    Martin’s Big Words

    — you could read the book to the students if you do not have access to the clip. The Stars gathered around the computer screen first and were allowed to sit in chairs while the Stripes had to sit on the floor.

    After viewing the clip, I had the students return to their desks. I then explained that we were going to learn about segregation through a series of activities where the Stars were going to have certain privileges, but the Stripes would not. The Stars were allowed to sit in the front of the room at desks and were given extra instruction, while the Stripes had to sit in the back of the room with just a chair and a white board to use as a writing surface. They were given worksheets to do without any instructions. When the Stars were finished with their assignment, they were allowed to go to centers, while the Stripes were given extra worksheets. Of course, by this point, I had a couple of criers. At this point, I asked the Stripes how it felt to not be allowed to do the same things as the Stars. I then explained that after lunch, the Stripes would get the privileges while the Stars would not.

    To make the point, the groups had to line up separately, with the Stripes in front and the Stars in the back. At recess, the Stripes were allowed on the playground, while the Stars had to stay on the grass. The Stripes were allowed to use the restrooms inside the building, while the Stars had to use the restrooms by the portables. They were also told that if they needed to use the restroom, they had to change their cards (I use the color-coded cards for classroom management). We also had a math facts challenge, but the Stripes were given the answers ahead of time so they all got the answers correct. To have a deeper impact, I separated the friends into separate groups, and did not allow them to associate with the other group: Stars could only talk to stars, Stripes only with Stripes.

    To close the lesson, we discussed how it felt to be the group who got the privileges, and how it felt to be left out. I explained that the Whites Only signs could easily have read Stars Only or Stripes Only. My students asked why there were no Blacks Only signs, which I explained was not necessary because if the signs read Whites Only, the blacks could not eat or drink there, or sit there. If they did, they were arrested. One student asked what would happen if they were a Star, but their parents were Stripes. I explained that if you were a Star, your parents would also be Stars because you could only associate with people who were the same as you. I had the students complete a double bubble thinking map to compare and contrast the activities, and how it felt to be privileged or not privileged. (These are similar to the Venn diagram.)

    On the back, I had the students write down their thoughts on segregation, and to also let me know whether they were a Star or a Stripe. We closed the lesson by saying that the stars and Stripes were chosen because they are the symbols of our country’s flag, and that both had to be united to form the American flag. Throughout the activities, my daughter documented what was happening through a digital camera and a video camera.

    The comments by the students were profound. They felt that segregation was unfair, and that people shouldn’t be treated differently because of the color of their skin. Afterwards, my daughter turned the raw footage and photos into a video presentation, using music, photos of and quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and superimposed the students words over the pictures. Some may think the video is a bit cheesy, but the children definitely felt and understood the impact of segregation through these activities, where they wouldn’t have if they had just listened to the story.

    My colleagues did the same lesson the next day with their 1st and 2nd graders and achieved similar results (although they didn’t make a video).


Eleanor Williams


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