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Eyes on the Prize
For Teachers: Featured Educators and Teaching Ideas

Educators around the country have used Eyes on the Prize to teach civil rights history since the series debuted in the 1980s.

Check out the activities and tips educators have shared with us, below — or send in your own ideas for possible inclusion on this page. It's easy! Just send an e-mail to American Experience via this site's Share Your Views e-mail form.

High School | Middle School | Other

For several years I have used an activity in my classroom when I have shown the classroom edition of Eyes on the Prize. I give the students a handout with 29 quotes from the video along with identifying information. Two examples are:

"I know the one thing we did right,
Was the day we started to fight.
Keep your Eyes on the Prize
Oh Lord, oh Lord."
— Theme song from the video

"'Dar he."
— Mose Wright

The students then choose 5-15 quotes (depending on time constraints) and tell the story surrounding the quote — before, during, and after. They are to keep in mind the situation, context, circumstances, implications, and consequences.

Eyes on the Prize is the best series ever, in my opinion, of the people and events behind the Civil Rights Movement. I can't imagine not using this video and I look forward to the day it comes out in DVD!

Rebecca Williams
11th grade teacher
Columbus High School, Columbus, GA


For 8 years now, I have used various segments of Eyes on the Prize in my teaching about the civil rights movement. For example, I use the 15-20 minute segment on Emmett Till as an introduction. That always makes kids angry, disgusted, sad, etc, which grabs them. They want to know more. I show about 3 hours total (in segments no more than 30 minutes long) of Eyes on the Prize.

Tips
Don't show an entire episode all at once. Even high school students lose their ability to focus after 30-45 minutes maximum. Instead, preview the episode and show segments of 15-20 minutes in length, ideally.

Margie Luck
11th grade U.S. history teacher
Bryan Adams High School, Dallas, TX


I used to teach the African American history club, to a mostly Caucasian school. I used the information on the tapes to educate the students about the movement. After the movie we discussed the information and what type of play we would put on for the school. The scripts for the plays were written by the students and performed for the entire school. The students used the tapes for accurate reference for their plays.

Tips
Pick out a variety of segments from the tape. Let groups of two students work on a segment of their choice. Have students write reaction papers to what they have seen. Have students volunteer to discuss information documented in their papers.

Irma Nance-Witherspoon
Family & Consumer Sciences Educator, 9-12th grades
Timber Creek High School, Erial, NJ


Students pick a "hero" from the civil rights movement. If the hero is still alive, the students write a letter to the person outlining the reasons that the student admires them. If the hero is deceased, the student writes a letter to a surviving family member, or to their foundation or museum. Students could also research the hero & conduct a mock interview or press conference with their real life hero.

Mark Massey
Department Chair and Grades 9, 11, 12 Teacher
Clinton High School, Clinton, IA


I use a particular set of "essential" excerpts to teach what I consider to be important events of the movement. For each event, I provide a set of "key terms" and the students use those terms and their viewing experience to create a 5-item sequence that tells that story. Then they turn this into a story-board graphic. They bind their set of graphic pages together and as part of a project they do later in the quarter, they give these books to elementary school children, to teach them about the civil rights movement.

Tips
Do NOT be afraid to use controversial or disturbing content; talk to your students before and after each episode you use to prepare them and debrief them. The visual primary sources in this series make a powerful impression on students and they do not forget what they learn about the ways that "ordinary people" can take courageous, extraordinary action on behalf of all Americans.

Debra Schneider
Social Studies Teacher, Grade 11
Merrill F. West High School, Tracy, CA


I supplement my civil rights instruction with Eyes on the Prize. In both my traditional and Advanced Placement US History classes I have little time for any topic, let alone the complexities of the civil rights movement. I am restricted by pacing calendars that dictate how much time I have to cover my content in order to ensure we finish our curriculum before the state end-of-instruction tests.

Tips
I include a timeline component to help students understand the internal changes within the movement and the government and societal reactions as they change over time. I simply do not have time to use much of the series. Also, because of the length of each episode it is difficult to complete a section within one class period... I think the primary source element (news reports, first person testimony, live film records) of Eyes on the Prize is essential. Students must not simply read or be told by their teacher; they MUST see the history.

Greg Oppel
Social Studies Teacher, Grades 9 & 11
Edmond Memorial High School, Edmond, OK


I use a two-hour compilation video and show it in segments as we study the civil rights movement. I focus on the strategies used by the movement. Before watching the segment on the sit-ins, we role play a SNCC training session. Before we get into the video I also teach them civil rights songs, such as "We Shall Overcome." High school students may be reluctant to sing along, but the song sure sticks with them after reading the words, hearing me sing it, and hearing it repeatedly during the Eyes on the Prize video (especially watching James Chaney's brother singing it at his funeral).

Tips
First of all, watching the video series taught me a lot about civil rights and prepared to me to teach a really in depth unit. The video is great for students, but I like to break it up and just watch one or two segments each day.

Ali Jessie
Social Studies Instructor, Grades 9-12 and ESL
Reynolds High School, Troutdale, OR


We do a simulation on the Nashville sit-in which includes the principles of non-violence signed by the student participants. Before we do the simulation, we watch the footage about the sit-ins and listen to the numerous interviews. I have students look for motivation of and possible repercussions faced by the participants. Then, my students have to decide if they will sign the non-violence pledge to determine their role in our simulation.

I did a project with a class in 2002-3 and 2003-4 on Philadelphia's school desegregation. We compare/contrast what happened in other cities with Philadelphia and students look at the current divisions within Philadelphia schools. Eyes on the Prize, like the People's Century, provides a "bottom up" view of history. It considers the perspectives of many people and especially those whose experiences were every day and "on the ground." It shows students that they are actors in history — not just political pundits and policy makers.

Donna Sharer
Grades 9-12 and ESL Teacher
School District of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA


When working with Severely Emotionally Disturbed students with significant behavioral issues, Eyes on the Prize became a treasured annual event. As a culminating activity, my students wrote a letter to one of the civil rights leaders they learned about. I was often amazed by the letters and how these troubled students connected with the struggles, challenges and triumphs of those dedicated to making a difference.

Tips
Break the viewing up into short segments and create a safe atmosphere for open, thoughtful discussions to occur.

Sandra Marra
Teacher, Grades 9-12 & Special Education
Chamberlain High School, Tampa, FL


I used several pieces of Eyes on the Prize depicting Brown vs. Board and subsequently, the integration of schools. Students were encouraged to examine integration from a variety of perspectives, as well as to feel the emotion so deeply embedded in integration. We then used this as a foundation to explore demographics of Philadelphia schools (where I was teaching at the time). Students developed their own hypothesis regarding current segregation, its significance, and what is necessary for change.

Tips
Emphasize perspective and historical context. Use the emotion that is inherent in civil rights issues. Students emotions (frustration, disbelief, etc.) are incredibly valuable — allow students' voices to be present throughout. Connect it to struggles for civil rights — in and outside the black community (for example, explore the position of gays, the disabled, the elderly, etc.)--today.

Emily Dolci
Social Studies Teacher, Grades 10 & 12
Windham High School, Brunswick, ME

High School | Middle School | Other

I will use Eyes on the Prize this year, 2006-07, in my Language Arts class to stimulate student interest in journaling. My students will be writing about their feelings from a topic that will introduced by the series.

Terra Mahre
Seventh Grade Teacher
Palmer Middle School, Acworth, GA


I have not used Eyes on the Prize (the video) in my current teaching, but it had a great impact on me as an undergraduate student. I majored in Elementary Education with a minor in Religious Studies. During the first airing of this documentary, I was taking a class called Social Justice in Society. We were encouraged to watch the series; and discussed modern social justice with history in mind. Having grown up in the '70's, my knowledge of the civil rights movement was all second hand. Eyes on the Prize literally changed the way I looked at the world, and my place in it. I decided to spend my first professional year as a volunteer teacher with a mission/service group in Texas. Since then, I have been actively involved in "Teaching Tolerance" and working for equality, especially in schools.

Tips
Use Eyes on the Prize as a tool in middle and/or high school history classes. The episodes can be used to supplement a written text, or in place of it. Compare the events of the civil rights movement with the current struggle involving legal and illegal immigrants.

Jill Gonzalez
Teacher, Grades 6-8 and Literacy
Cathedral School of Saint Mary, Round Rock, TX

High School | Middle School | Other

Very simply — Eyes on the Prize is the best means of conveying the Civil Rights history in this country to those who come from other nations. We always strive to tell the truth about the history of this country and Eyes on the Prize lets us do this. There is simply more in seeing and hearing the actual times than simply reading about it. We have a 6 month program that allows us the time to go deeper into the story than mere memorization.

Tips

1. Be sure to have covered the Civil War and stress Reconstruction period.

2. Demonstrate the other revolutionary highlights of this period. It is important to understand the temper of the nation as a whole.

3. Bring students into the feelings of discrimination and segregation followed by experience of hard-won freedom.

Dr. Elizabeth Love
8th grade/continuing education/literacy/ESL
Catalyst Citizenship Program
Bellevue, WA


Role-playing can be a bit edgy for this subject, so I have students become a typical protester. They create the persona (their background, family, lifestyle, etc) based on research. They write an essay from the perspective of that person (first-person). Then they create a protest sign for that person. As a follow-up, they write a second essay from the third-person point of view about what happened to that person.

Tips
Encourage students to think from the perspective of the various people involved. Encourage them to express their feelings, but monitor the class closely to avoid making the students become uneasy when trying to discuss this topic.

Clifton Kaiser
Adjunct Faculty
Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN


Used Eyes on the Prize as part of an orientation for graduate students interning at Boston Public Schools. To educate about the history of desegregation and the ongoing effects felt to the current day.

Soundhari Balaguru
Training Coordinator
Children's Hospital, Boston, MA

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