Download the full Lesson Plan including the Student Activity Sheets here (PDF)
Background: From the time the 14th Amendment was ratified
in 1868, it was challenged. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision
introduced the "separate but equal" standard that legalized segregation
until the Brown decision in 1954. Between 1896 and 1954,
a number of key cases challenged the Plessy v. Ferguson unsuccessfully.
We will examine the factors that contributed to the success of the
Brown v. Board of Education case in ending legal segregation
and doing away with "separate but equal" facilities for African
Grade Levels: Grades 6-8
Subject Areas: Social Studies, U.S. History, Language Arts
Students will need 3-4 forty-five minute class periods to complete all three
parts of the lesson plan.
1. Participate in class discussion activities and use reasons, facts, and examples to support their opinions about the impact of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
2. Conduct primary source research about various court cases related to Brown v. Board of Education and the "separate but equal" standard
established by Plessy v. Ferguson and share their findings in class and group discussions.
3. Utilize critical reading and viewing skills to collect factual data related to Brown v.Board of Education and other related cases.
4. Utilize group work skills when working with partners and small group members to conduct research and create class projects.
5. Create a graphic organizer (Venn Diagram) comparing and contrasting Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education and
a summary paragraph of what the diagram illustrates by working together as a class.
6. Create an informational display about a court case that preceded Brown v. Board of Education.
7. Use group presentation skills to showcase what they have learned about their assigned court case and to teach classmates about the facts
surrounding their case.
This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks
Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to
understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies
to understand and interpret visual media
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual
Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Standard 3: Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences
Working with Others
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
- Full text or summary of the 14th
Amendment (1 per student)
- Summary information on Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education cases
- Plessy v. Ferguson Fact Finding Guide (provided with plan - Download)
- Brown v. Board of Education Fact Finding Guide (provided with plan - Download)
- Television with vcr to view selected "Beyond Brown " excerpts
- Overhead, blackboard, or chart paper for recording Venn Diagram and related summary parargraph
- Access to a variety of primary resources including Internet and library research materials.
- Varied art supplies including poster board, markers, colored pencils, stencils, scissors, glue, etc. (optional)
- Access to computers with multimedia (such as PowerPoint) and desktop publishing software (optional)
NOTE: To purchase "Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise" on
video or DVD visit www.firelightmedia.org or call 1-800-343-5540 or write to:
P.O. Box 1084
Harriman, NY 10926
1. To provide students with background necessary to understand this lesson, and to create student interest, post on the board or overhead or place on
each student desk a copy of the 14 Amendment or a summary of the Amendment, whichever you believe will be better for student understanding. This
is available from the companion web site at http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/14thamendment.html
2. Begin by asking students to take turns reading all/parts of the Amendment aloud so all students can hear. Once the Amendment has been read,
spend several minutes reviewing the contents of the Amendment and discussing how this Amendment impacted people once it went into effect.
3. Next, introduce students to the case of Plessy v. Ferguson by giving a very brief overview of the case. Using one of the summaries from the Related
Resources section, have students use the computer to access the summary information about the Plessy v. Ferguson case, or provide students with
printed copies of a summary to use as a review as they work in pairs to answer the questions on the Plessy v. Ferguson Fact Finding Guide worksheet.
Give students 10-15 minutes to answer the questions on the worksheet.
4. Once students have collected facts about the Plessy v. Ferguson case, conduct a class discussion about what they learned. Begin by having students
share their answers for each of the questions on the guide. Be sure to spend plenty of time discussing question 8 so students can see the importance of
the 14th Amendment in this case.
5. Next, explain to students that they will be learning about what some call "the most significant Supreme Court decision in history". To get students
interested, show them the following clips from the program "Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise".
||• Watch the first 7 minutes of the film as well as 12:00-13:22 so students can get basic background information about the case.
• Watch from 53:49 to end of film so students can hear commentary about the significance of this court case.
6. Once viewing is complete, explain to students that they will be using the Brown v. Board of Education Fact Finding Guide worksheet to learn key
information about the significance of this case and its connection to the 14th Amendment. Using one of the summaries from the Related Resources
section, have students use the computer to access the summary information about the Brown case, or provide students with printed copies of a summary
to use as a review as they work in pairs to answer the questions on the worksheet. Give students 10-15 minutes to complete the worksheet.
7. Once students have collected facts about the Brown v. Board of Education case, conduct another class discussion about what they learned. Begin by
having students share their answers for each of the questions on the guide. Be sure to spend plenty of time discussing question 8 so students can see
the importance of the 14th Amendment in this case.
8. Now that students have some basic understanding of the 14th Amendment and background knowledge of both court cases, work as a group to
compare and contrast the two cases. On an overhead screen, blackboard, or large chart paper, work as a class to construct a Venn Diagram showing the
similarities and differences between the two cases. Have students record a copy of the Venn Diagram as your work together to list all of the like and
different aspects. Be sure to include a title on the Venn Diagram and use data from the two case summary worksheets when noting similarities and
9. So students can see how Venn Diagrams can be used to summarize information, work as a class to write a paragraph that describes the similarities
and differences represented in the Venn Diagram created by the group. Have students record the summary paragraph on the same paper as the Venn
Diagram so they can recall the information being summarized in the graphic organizer.
10. Return to the discussion of the significance of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by facilitating a short discussion including questions
||• What major changes did the Brown decision make in America's school?
• In what ways did the Brown decision lay the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement?
• If the Supreme Court had handed down a decision opposite the one they did, how would U.S. schools be different today?
• In your opinion, was the Supreme Court correct in the Brown v. Board of Education decision?
• From the time when Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in 1896 and made "separate by equal" the law, over 50 years passed before this
decision was successfully challenged. Why do you think it took so long for the Supreme Court to decide that "separate but equal" schools
and segregation were unfair and should be done away with?
11. To help students see the significance of the Brown decision and how hard fought this victory was, have them work in small groups to research other
cases that challenged the Plessy decision in the years leading up to Brown. Using the companion web site section "The Long Road to Brown " Facts
found at http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/factsheet_history.html,
and other primary sources, have students work in small groups to research the
||• 1938 Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada
• 1940 Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk
• 1948 Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Regents
• 1950 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents
• 1950 Sweatt v. Painter
Students should create an informational display that can be used to teach others the particulars of the case they studied.
The display should include:
||• pictures (check the companion web site photo gallery at http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/photos.html)
• important quotes
• key facts and people associated with the case
• the court's decision
• the reasoning behind the court's decision
• any other interesting or relevant information
In addition, each group should discuss how bringing this case to court may have helped make the road to filing the Brown case somewhat easier or more
Encourage students to use presentation software such as PowerPoint to create a multimedia type of presentation if possible. For those with limited
computer access, encourage students to create high quality poster size displays that are well organized, colorful, and interesting to look at. The creation
of several posters may be necessary to present all relevant information. Each student in the group should present at least one important piece of
information related to the case.
12. Once groups have finished their research and created their displays, they should share what they learned with their classmates. Present the cases
in chronological order so that students can see the progress (or lack of it) made on this issue over time.
1. Students could receive participation grades for involvement in class discussions and group work activities. Groups could use peer evaluations to rank
the success of eachgroup member.
2. Accuracy grades could be assigned for research answers gathered on the two Fact
3. Completion grades could be assigned for accurately recording the Venn Diagram and summary paragraph done as a large group in class.
4. Using a scoring guide, self, or peer evaluations, students and teachers could grade the quality of each group's informational display and group
presentation of this project.
1. Using what students have learned about Brown v. Board of Education, have them write a persuasive essay that addresses the following question:
• In your opinion, would you consider Brown v. Board of Education the "most significant Supreme Court decision in history"? Explain your answer.
2. Many people felt that the Brown case laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement. Examine the Brown case more closely and identify reasons
you agree or disagree with this statement. Write you answers in the form of a persuasive speech or essay.
3. While the Brown decision was supposed to do away with "separate but equal" and desegregate schools, many would argue that in a large number of
schools across America, this is not the case. Bring in an expert panel of adults who attended school in the 50's and 60's and ask them to discuss how
today's schools are different. Have the expert panel share their ideas about whether or not "separate but equal" has been done away with and about
whether desegregation has taken place in U.S. schools.
Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise
Find the Plessy v. Ferguson case at http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/plessyvferg.html
Find 14th Amendment text at http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/14thamendment.html
Get the full history of the Brown v. Board of Education case at http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/fullhistory.html
For information on cases that led up toBrown v. Board of Education, see "The Long Road to Brown " section's fact sheet at
For access to a timeline discussing related cases, see http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/foreducators/ed6_8_timeline.html
To view pictures related to the Brown v. Board of Education case, see http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/photos.html
Get background and summary information about Plessy v. Ferguson at http://www.landmarkcases.org/plessy/background2.html
Get background and summary information aboutBrown v. Board of Education at http://www.landmarkcases.org/brown/background2.html
The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow
Read a summary of the Plessy v. Ferguson case at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_plessy.html
Read a summary of theBrown v. Board of Education case at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_brown.html
About the Author:
Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school
and high school English, social studies, reading, and technology courses for
twelve years. Prososki has worked extensively with PBS authoring and editing
many lesson plans for various PBS programs and Teacher - Source. In addition
to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national meetings,
Prososki also works with many corporate clients creating training programs and
materials, facilitating leadership and operations workshops, and providing instructional
support for new program rollouts. Prososki has authored one book and also serves
as an editor for other writers of instructional materials.