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Lesson Plans

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U.S. History, Sociology, Civics, Computer Applications

Estimated Time for Completion:

5-7 class periods (50-55 minutes per period)


Begin the lesson by asking students to consider instances where a sporting event has transcended competition and has become a "lightning rod" for change or national pride. Examples of this may include the visit of the United States "table tennis" team to China in the early 1970s, the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, Billie Jean King's tennis victory over Bobby Riggs, or the 1999 World Cup victory by the US Women's Soccer Team.

Next lead the class in a discussion of whether sports should be an instrument of social, cultural, or political change. Questions the teacher may wish to pose with this discussion include, "Should athletes use their position in society as sports figures to advocate social or political change?", or "Are athletes placed on a higher social, moral or ethical pedestal or standard because of their position?"

Note to students that Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali all became well-known not only because of their athletic ability, but because of the impact they made on American society as a whole. Announce to the students that they will research the lives, careers, and impact of these three boxing legends.

NOTE: You may wish to consider ahead of time the best way to approach the assignment. If students have access to presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, the teacher may want students to create multimedia presentations with information about a particular fighter. Otherwise, you may simply assign the students to create traditional posters with the information about their boxer. As an extension activity, students may also create Web pages about their subjects.

Divide the class into three groups of approximately equal size. Announce to the class that each group has been selected to investigate one of the three boxers to determine their inclusion in a special museum exhibit to highlight their impact in American life beyond the boxing ring. It will be the "responsibility" of each group to successfully show that their subject merits inclusion in the "museum."

If you plan to have students complete multimedia projects, you should determine specific requirements for the multimedia projects in advance. These may include length of the presentation, how many pictures of the subject are required, use of sound files, submission of a bibliography, as well as any other requirements you may wish to include. While each individual teacher will probably have specific requirements for projects, a sample "requirement sheet" is provided at the end of this lesson.

Allow sufficient time for students to collect information. For the purposes of this lesson, an outline of information to be collected is provided. Students may either complete this sheet, or the teacher may adapt another outline form. A sample outline form is provided at the end of the lesson.

Students will be considering the following issues while researching:

  1. A biography of the boxer, including childhood and professional career.

  2. What event(s) occurred during the boxer's career that were significant INSIDE the ring? (Examples: championships won, significant matches against other boxers, etc.)

  3. What event(s) occurred during the boxer's career that were significant OUTSIDE the ring?

  4. Tributes or criticisms of the boxer by others during the time period.

  5. Conclusions of the group on how the boxer is viewed today as far as contributions to society and/or their sport.

After students have collected their information, they should either create their multimedia presentations or make their group posters. The deadline for finishing the actual development of the presentation will depend on the availability of computer hardware as well as the amount of time the teacher has budgeted for the lesson.

Once the lesson is completed, the teacher should evaluate the finished product based on a rubric developed prior to the start of the project. While each teacher may have individual criteria, objectives, and standards they wish to meet with the lesson, a sample rubric is provided as a framework, and may be adapted to a particular teacher's needs or objectives.

Additional Online Resources:

Joe Louis Resources:

Brown Bomber Was a Hero To All
ESPN.com profiles Joe Louis, the first African-American to achieve lasting fame and popularity in the 20th century.

Brown Bomber: The Man Behind the Fist
The Detroit News remembers Detroit native Joe Louis.

Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber: His Punches Could Paralyze You
Boxing site Cox's Corner profiles Joe Louis.

Joe Louis: The Brown Bomber
The official Joe Louis site features a biography, career summary, photos and quotes.

International Boxing Hall of Fame: Joe Louis
International Boxing Hall of Fame profile of Joe Louis.

Legends and Lore - Louis Destroys Schmeling in Rematch
International Boxing Hall of Fame article about the second Louis-Schmeling fight.

The Fight
Companion site to the PBS American Experience documentary about the second Louis-Schmeling fight.

Muhammad Ali Resources:

Muhammad Ali: The Greatest of All Time
Mohammad Ali's official site.

Muhammad Ali - The Making of a Champ
Forty years of news coverage of Ali from his hometown paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The TIME 100: Muhammad Ali
George Plimpton profiles Ali, chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

He is simply... the greatest
A profile of Ali from ESPN Classic's "SportsCentury" series.

Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia: Muhammad Ali
The Cyber Boxing Zone's summary of Ali's career.

Ali: Through the Lens of Howard Bingham
Kodak presents a photographic retrospective of Ali's career, from photographer Howard L. Bingham.

Morning Edition: Muhammad Ali
In December 2001, as Hollywood prepared to release the Michael Mann film Ali, NPR's Juan Williams spoke to the three-time former heavyweight champion.

Jack Johnson Resources

Bert Sugar's Boxing Beat: Jess Williard vs. Jack Johnson
Noted boxing historian Bert Sugar recalls the bout where Johnson lost the heavyweight title to Jess Willard.

Cyber Boxing Zone: Jack Johnson
Cyber Boxing Zone's profile of Jack Johnson.

Johnson boxed, lived on own terms
A profile of Johnson from ESPN Classic's "SportsCentury" series.

Jack Johnson: "Bad Nigger"
This article on Cyber Boxing Zone examines Johnson's behavior out of the ring.

Legends and Lore - Racism Takes a Blow in Reno
International Boxing Hall of Fame article about the Johnson-Jeffries fight.


Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel)


  • Civics Standard 28, Level III, Benchmark 4: Knows historical and contemporary examples of citizen movements seeking to expand liberty, to insure the equal rights of all citizens, and/or to realize other values fundamental to American constitutional democracy (e.g., the suffrage and civil rights movements)

  • Civics Standard 11, Level III, Benchmark 3: Knows major conflicts in American society that have arisen from diversity (e.g., North/South conflict; conflict about land, suffrage, and other rights of Native Americans; Catholic/Protestant conflicts in the nineteenth century; conflict about civil rights of minorities and women; present day ethnic conflict in urban settings)

  • Civics Standard 14, Level III, Benchmark 4: Knows some of the efforts that have been put forth to reduce discrepancies between ideals and the reality of American public life (e.g., abolition, suffrage, civil rights, environmental protection movements)

  • Civics Standard 27, Level II, Benchmark 3: Knows public character traits that contribute to the health of American democracy such as civility, respect for the rights of other individuals, respect for the law, open mindedness, critical mindedness, negotiation and compromise, civic mindedness, and patriotism

Appendix A: Sample Multimedia Requirements

  • Each group will develop a multimedia presentation on one of the three assigned boxers, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, or Muhammad Ali.

  • The presentation MUST run at least four minutes in length.

  • The final presentation MUST include the following:

    1. A title slide with the full names of each group member. The title slide should also include the class period, name of the class
    2. At least four sound files, either from PowerPoint or from a ".wav" web site.
    3. At least five pictures within the presentation, dealing with or related to the boxer the group researched. One picture related to the boxer must be on the title slide.
    4. Each presentation must include information from the collection sheet that you used to find evidence about your subject.
    5. At the end of the presentation, the group must include a bibliography slide listing all sources the group used for your presentation, including pictures and sound files used. The group should also submit their completed collection sheet.

    Appendix B: Sample Evidence Collection Sheet

    Name of boxer:


    Career Events in the Ring:

    Significant Events OUTSIDE the Ring:

    Tributes or Criticisms:

    How Boxer is viewed TODAY:

    Appendix C: Sample Evaluation Rubric

    Full names of group members:

    Name of boxer researched:

    Completed presentation (does the presentation last at least four minutes?) (10 points possible)

    _______________ points awarded

    Collection sheet (Did the group submit a completed Evidence Collection sheet as part of their presentation?) (10 points possible)

    _______________ points awarded

    Creativity (What the group did to create a unique project. Includes use of pictures, sound clips, other creative forms of media.) (25 points total)

    _______________ points awarded

    Following of presentation requirements (Review all criteria set in the project sheets distributed prior at the start of the project.) (25 points total)

    _______________ points awarded

    Final evaluation score (Addition of all points listed above) (70 points total)

    _______________ points awarded

    Group Project letter grade:

    Teacher comments regarding this project: