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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Malcolm X

Malcolm X: Make It Plain offers insights into American history topics including the struggle for racial and gender equality, the leadership and ideology of Malcolm X and his legacy. The site has a biography of Malcolm X and discussions of the Nation of Islam and the civil rights movement. It introduces topics such as integration vs. segregation, the decolonization of Africa, using the U.S. census to define gaps between white and black Americans and more. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, economics, culture, and society. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Debating African Americans' future
    Take the online poll regarding Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. During the 1960s, these two leaders offered competing visions of how to improve African Americans' lives. Around the turn of the 20th century, two other prominent African American leaders, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, likewise had very different answers to this central question.

    Divide the class into groups of two; assign half of the groups the debate between Washington and Du Bois, and the other half the debate between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Each team should learn about the two men it was assigned and then write the script of a face-to-face debate that might have occurred between them on the following question: What strategy should African Americans follow in their efforts to expand opportunities for themselves and their children?

    When groups are finished, ask for volunteers to read their debates to the class. Then discuss as a class the similarities and differences between the two debates. Which issues changed in the years between the two debates? Which issues did not change?

  2. The year in civil rights
    The 1950s and 1960s witnessed some of the highest and the lowest points in African Americans' struggle for civil rights. Assign each student or small group of students a different year from 1954 through 1968. Each student or group should then prepare a poster illustrating major events related to civil rights that took place in that year, such as the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington, passage of major civil rights legislation, and the assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Each poster should contain at least one photograph or a drawing and at least one primary-source quotation. Mount the posters in chronological order around the room and review them as a class: what story do they tell?


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Comparing black and white America
    The U.S. Census Bureau publishes a wide range of statistics on how black and white Americans compare in income, health, education, and other areas. Have students use this information (individually or in small groups) to prepare a simple line graph or bar graph comparing the most current data on black and white Americans on each of these topics, or others of your choice: (a) life expectancy, (b) infant mortality, (c) share of population that lacks health insurance, (d) share of population that has graduated from high school, (e) share of population that is the victim of a homicide, (f) median income, (g) share of population that is poor, (h) share of population that owns a home.

    Review the graphics as a class. In what areas are the gaps between white and black Americans the largest? The smallest?

  2. Integration and equality
    Unlike many other African American leaders of his time, who saw integration as key to improving the lives of African Americans, Malcolm X called on African Americans to achieve equality on their own, apart from white society. In your opinion, which should be a higher priority for the nation today: creating a society that is more racially integrated, or making further progress toward equality for African Americans? Or do you believe that there is no real difference between these goals? Explain your view on this issue in a 500-word essay.


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Malcolm and the civil rights movement
    Were Malcolm X's tense relations with the civil rights movement the result of differences in style, or in substance? Explore this question by comparing several speeches by Malcolm X with those by Martin Luther King Jr. Compare both what they say and how they say it. Then discuss as a class how deep the differences were between the two messages, and why you think Malcolm X became closer to the civil rights movement near the end of his life.

  2. Turning points in Malcolm's life
    How might Malcolm X's personality, career, or impact on history have turned out differently if certain key events in his life (or certain key decisions he made) had been different? Working together as a class, draw on the board a timeline of the dozen or so most important events in Malcolm's life as described in the timeline. Then select at least five events or decisions that you think were especially important, and discuss how changing them might have changed his life. Write down each of these imagined "events" as a separate branch of the timeline, connected to it by a dotted line. How might we remember Malcolm today under these different scenarios?


History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Locations in Malcolm X's life
    Divide the class into groups of three and have each group prepare an illustrated map of locations that were important in Malcolm X's life. Each group should select four or more locations to show on the map. Each of these locations must be illustrated with a photograph or original drawing of an important person, event, or place at that location. Accompanying the illustration should be a brief explanation of why this location was important. When the maps are done, post them around the room and compare the locations chosen and the ways in which they were illustrated.

  2. The decolonization of Africa
    As the film notes, Malcolm X saw a link between African Americans' struggle to obtain equal rights and African countries' success in gaining independence from European colonial rule. Divide the countries of Africa equally among the members of the class. Each person should prepare a one- or two-page fact sheet on the country or countries he or she was assigned; the fact sheet should include a map showing the country's location in Africa, a brief explanation of which foreign power colonized it and for what period, and basic information such as the capital, current population, and per-capita income.

    Assemble the fact sheets into a booklet and distribute copies to every member of the class. After students have had a few days to review the material, have them fill in an outline map of the continent with the name of each nation, working only from memory.

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