NOW with Bill Moyers

Active Citizenship: The Civil Rights Work of Bob Moses
This lesson is designed for Social Studies classrooms, grades 9-12

  • Lesson Objectives
  • Relevant National Standards
  • Estimated Time
  • Materials Needed
  • Backgrounder for Teachers
  • Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
  • Teaching Strategy
  • Assessment Suggestions
  • Extension Ideas
  • Related Resources
  • About the Author

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:
  1. Discuss and describe the impact of Bob Moses as an activist.
  2. Compare and contrast the work of Bob Moses in the 1960's and today.
  3. Explain the importance in taking an active role in citizenship activities.
  4. Develop an action plan for creating public awareness about an issue they feel strongly about.

Related National Standards

Civics Standards

What are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?

Standard 27: Understands how certain character traits enhance citizens' ability to fulfill personal and civic responsibilities

Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals

Historical Understanding

Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective
United States History

Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Listening and Speaking

Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 3: Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Two 90-minute blocks of time for Part 1 and Part 2.

Materials Needed

  • Handout: Anticipation Guide (PDF File)
  • Handout: Research Questions (PDF File)
  • Internet access, or copies of relevant pages
  • Library research materials (if desired)
  • Copy of the in-depth report on Bob Moses and the Algebra Project from the 11/8/02 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast and TV/VCR (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS (
  • Art supplies (optional)

Backgrounder for Teachers

In the early 1960's, Bob Moses, working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or "snick"), organized a revolutionary grassroots movement that helped thousands of African Americans register to vote. This effort sparked a violent backlash from white Americans who resented this challenge to their rule. Moses was followed, threatened, jailed, and beaten. Being seen with him could get a African American person's house bombed and lead to arrest, beating, and death. Despite such challenges, Moses and his colleagues successfully improved the quality of life for African Americans as part of the civil rights movement.

Nowadays, Moses is engaged in another crusade to improve the lives of underserved populations. As an educator, he started the Algebra Project to improve the way algebra is being taught in predominantly African American schools. By talking about the power that higher math knowledge can bring, Moses hopes African American youths will improve their quality of life by succeeding in higher education and today's technological careers.

In this lesson, Moses is profiled as an example of what one person can do to bring about social change. Students are then encouraged to follow suit by focusing on an issue that they feel strongly about.

For more information about Bob Moses' work, please see the Related Resources section of this lesson plan.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

Students should have some background about the civil rights movement of the 1960's, including some historical figures, main ideas and concepts. In addition, it would be helpful if students understood the term "sharecropper," as it is referred to several times in research materials as well as in the video segment.

Teaching Strategy

Part 1: Bob Moses Profile

1. Begin by creating student interest in the topic using the Anticipation Guide provided with this lesson plan. Direct students to mark either the "agree" or "disagree" box for each statement and record a brief explanation of their response. Stress to students the importance of completing this activity in silence so they can truly state their opinion on paper.

2. After completing the Anticipation Guide, take several minutes to discuss each statement, allowing students time to debate various points. Stress the fact that students should support their opinions with specific examples, reasons, and ideas.

3. Close the discussion of the Anticipation Guide by explaining to students that they will be learning more about a person who has made an impact on history and the quality of life of Americans not once, but twice.

4. Have students watch the NOW with BILL MOYERS profile on Bob Moses in its entirety. (Viewing time: approximately 10 minutes.) Focus their viewing by asking students to jot down notes about specific ways Moses has made an impact on history and the quality of life for others. (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site.)

5. Following the video, ask students to share what they learned about Moses by facilitating a short discussion, paying particular attention to Moses' role as a civil rights activist and as an agent for social change. Students should cite supporting examples of Moses' activities seen in the program.

6. Next, allow students to pair up to conduct research about Bob Moses. To guide their work, they should complete the Research Questions handout. (Note: The Related Resources section of this lesson plan lists several helpful Web sites for student research. Other reference materials from the school library could also be used, if desired.)

7. Once students have completed their research, they should construct a Venn Diagram (or some other type of graphic organizer) that compares and contrasts Moses' fight for civil rights in the 1960's and his efforts to gain educational opportunities for the poor and minorities today. (For a simple Venn Diagram model, please see the example provided by the San Diego County Office of Education.) Students should be prepared to present this graphic organizer to the class. Provide pairs with 1-2 minutes to present what they learned to at least one other group.

Part II: Students as Catalysts for Change

1. Point out to students that Bob Moses is an example of the difference one person can make in the lives of many. Noting other historical and modern day examples of people who have made a difference in their communities might also be helpful here.

2. Next, ask students to think about local, state, national, and world issues that they feel need to be addressed in order for people to have more equal opportunities, freedoms, rights, or a better quality of life. Give them 1-2 minutes to write down some ideas on scratch paper, and remind them that they will be asked to share at least one idea with the class. (Note: Based upon the content of the course, time constraints, and the abilities of the students, teachers may choose to provide a more specific focus for student brainstorming, such as considering only local issues or world issues, rather than all four categories.)

3. As students are generating ideas, place the words "Local", "State", "National", and "World" on the board. Ask each student to contribute an idea to one of the categories.

4. After all students have contributed an issue, there should be several items under each category. Review each item on the list to ensure that everyone understands what is listed and can get clarification if necessary.

5. With the list of issues in front of them and Bob Moses' work as part of their prior knowledge, facilitate a discussion that addresses the following:

  • Why is it important to be concerned about issues that may not directly affect you?
  • How can all people benefit from creating equal opportunities, right, freedoms, and a better quality of life for others, even if they themselves have these already?
  • How can public awareness be a catalyst for change?
  • What are some ways to create public awareness?
  • What kinds of actions could lead to more public awareness and facilitate change?
  • What is the role of the media in this process?
6. After discussing these questions, ask each student to choose an issue from the list that they feel strongly about. Using what they have learned about the civil rights movement, The Algebra Project, the power of one person, and creating public awareness to facilitate change, ask each student to take an action step that could increase public awareness about their issue or begin to facilitate change. Student actions could potentially be presented in one of these formats:
  • sign, poster, bumper sticker, political cartoon, or other piece of artwork
  • letter to the editor or political official or a persuasive speech or essay
  • creation of an original poem, song, or short story that could be easily shared with others
  • a public service message such as a radio or television advertisement
  • an action plan for staging some form of peaceful protest or demonstration (in compliance with associated laws)
7. If time permits, have students share their action step projects with the class or with others in the school community.

Assessment Recommendations

Because of the number of activities associated with this lesson, there are several opportunities for assessment.

  1. Points could be assigned for completing the Anticipation Guide and participating in the subsequent class discussion.
  2. Students could be assessed on their responses on the Research Questions handout and their construction of an accurate Venn Diagram/graphic organizer.
  3. Using a rubric or checklist type of evaluation, a grade could be given for student presentations of the Venn Diagram/graphic organizer to class.
  4. Student completion/presentation of the action step activity could be evaluated using a rubric or checklist, or as authentic assessment.

Extension Ideas

1. Be sure to review NOW's Starter Activities and Take Action ideas related to this lesson's topic. 2. Awareness about the changes that can be achieved through activism and the power of individual efforts could be used to motivate students to become more involved in their school or community. Such involvement could include:

  • conducting a voter registration drive for high school students who meet the voting age criteria.
  • encouraging students to identify a school or community problem and then work to make positive change using appropriate means.
  • fighting for math literacy by volunteering to assist younger students or those who may be struggling within the school/class.

Related Resources

The following resources will provide additional background on Bob Moses and assist students in conducting research for this lesson. The NOW site has additional Web site recommendations that may be of interest.

NOW Resources:

Radical Equations
An excerpt from Moses' book describing how algebra is integral to equality.

Free Education
A brief history of the free education movement in the U.S.

Giving Back
Tips for getting started volunteering.

Additional Resources:

The Algebra Project
The official site of the Algebra Project includes information on its origins, programs, mission, curriculum, etc.

Ending "Sharecropper Math": The Second Crusade of Bob Moses
African American Engineer's online magazine features an article on Bob Moses and his work to achieve civil rights and higher math knowledge for minorities.

"The Moses Factor"
An article from Mother Jones magazine focused on Bob Moses' work with the Algebra Project as well as offering historical information about his involvement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

SNCC: 1960-1966
This site features a variety of resources on the activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The 'People' section provides a bio on Bob Moses and his work with the SNCC. A timeline, information on key events and issues, and related links are also included.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
World Book provides a brief synopsis of the SNCC's purpose and activities.