Private: Paul Robeson - Procedures for Teachers


Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Software: Any presentation software such as Power Point or Hyperstudio (optional)

Bookmarked sites:

American Masters – Paul Robeson Web site
The companion site to this episode of American Masters features an overview of Paul Robeson’s life, as well as a timeline of his achievements and information on obtaining the video.

  • Web sites with general biographical information about Paul Robeson
  • Web sites with information about Paul Robeson’s acting and music career
  • Web sites with information about Paul Robeson’s political activism
  • Web sites with information about Paul Robeson’s impact as a scholar (these are the same as the general information sites)
  • Web sites with information about Paul Robeson’s athletic career


    Students will need the following supplies:

  • Poster board
  • Markers
  • Paint
  • Photocopies of excerpts from The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: An Artist’s Journey, 1898-1939 by Paul Robeson, Jr. The book, published by John Wiley & Sons, is available in hardcover.Teachers will need the following supplies:
  • TV and VCR
  • Tape of American Masters episode about Paul Robeson
  • Books about Paul Robeson for students’ research. There should be a broad selection in order to accommodate a variety of reading levels and abilities:
    • Here I Stand by Paul Robeson
    • Paul Robeson: A Biography by Martin Duberman
    • Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement by Sheila Tully Boyle
  • Photocopied excerpts from Paul Robeson, Jr.’s The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, An Artist’s Journey, 1898-1939 for student groups’ Guided Reading lesson.Note: You may also wish to arrange to have the school librarian or any other learning specialists help individual students with research and note taking during all of the classes that are designated for individual research and/or the guided reading sessions.Steps:Introductory Activity:Before introducing the unit, discuss what it means to be a “Renaissance man.” If students don’t know, introduce the idea that Leonardo da Vinci was considered a “Renaissance man.” Brainstorm some of the areas or contributions that he made to the world. Now see if the students can come up with a definition similar to the following. “Renaissance man – n. A man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in multiple areas, such as the arts, the sciences and athletics.” For 10 minutes, come up with a list of other people that you consider “Renaissance men or women.” The students should share their ideas with the whole class and explain their choices.1. Prepare students for a viewing of the American Masters program about Paul Robeson. Tell students that he is considered by many people to be a 20th century Renaissance man. Ask students to think about what they will need to look for in the program and record some of their ideas on the board. (If some students are already familiar with Robeson and his career, ask them to share what they know with the rest of the class.) What are the major areas and/or disciplines in which he has achieved greatness? (Note: After watching the first few minutes, stop the tape and ask the students to anticipate the different areas of Robeson’s life that will be highlighted. Then, after each section is over, stop the tape to review some of the highlights. Since the program traces Robeson’s life chronologically, it will address his accomplishments in the following order: scholarly and athletic achievements at Rutgers University, his career as a singer and actor, and finally, as a political activist.)2. After watching the video, students should list all of Paul Robeson’s accomplishments. Help the students organize these ideas into four major categories – performer, scholar, athlete, and political activist. Divide the class and assign one group to each of these four areas to begin their research. Accommodate students’ preferences if possible.3. Tell students that each group will have to do enough research to argue that their assigned contribution or role of Robeson’s was his most significant for American History. Instruct the students to prepare for the following:
  • A 10-minute oral presentation to argue their position and a visual presentation to complement the oral presentation
  • A question and answer portion of the debate4. Distribute and discuss the remaining two student handouts: Preparing for the Debate Checklist and Performance Rubric for the Paul Robeson Debate. The former will help the groups divide up the tasks and to make sure that all of the components are proofread, and the latter will tell students exactly what is required and what they will be judged on. Note: One rubric per group will suffice. This rubric is not used to judge the winner of the debate. It is simply used to judge the quality of the work by the group.Tip: The activist group will have the most difficult job to do because of the nature of the vocabulary and concepts involved. If you can get an extra adult (librarian or assistant teacher, for example) to help out, you may wish to have them work exclusively with the activist group.5. At this point, brainstorm ideas with the students about the concept of a “valuable contribution to society.” What does that mean? The list may include ideas like:a. the impact he has on the community
    b. the impact of his life on the image of black men and women
    c. how he inspires others to enter athletics, academics, the performing arts, or the political arena
    d. his popularity
    Learning Activities:

    1. Once the students are divided into their groups, hand out photocopies of the Guided Reading section.

    e. Performer group – pages 206 to 211

    f. Activist group – pages 286 to 287 (Though this passage is short, it introduces many ideas and terms that the students will have to look up and research in more detail. The excerpt starts with “The New York Herald-Tribune of January 12 . . .” and ends with “For many years, it would serve as the main American organization dedicated to freeing Africa from colonialism.”

    g. Scholar group – pages 35 to 39 (This is his valedictory speech at his Rutgers graduation.)

    h. Athlete group – pages 28 to 32

    i. Distribute the Paul Robeson Guided Reading Questions Organizer, which contains a list of questions for each student group. Students should be able to answer them to demonstrate comprehension. Ultimately, all of the groups should conclude that the theme running through these selections and his work is that he was deeply committed to fighting racism against African Americans, and that that was his ultimate goal in the different areas.

    2. Make sure that you take time to sit and talk to each group about their reading selection. Use these sessions to help students strategize about how they will make their case and present their work in a multimedia presentation.

    3. As you work with each group on their Guided Reading excerpts, the remaining groups should start brainstorming about the ideas that they saw in the video. If possible, make a TV, VCR, and tape of the American Masters program available for students to re-view.

    4. Once the groups have a firm grasp of their Guided Reading excerpts, distribute the Paul Robeson Web sites Organizer. Explain that each group will conduct research in order to support their arguments in the final debate.

    Note: All groups should visit the American Masters Paul Robeson companion site and the “Web sites with general biographical information.” However, the remaining Web sites on this organizer have been categorized by group topic (performer, activist, scholar, athlete); each student group should focus their attention accordingly.

    Culminating Activity/Assessment:

    The culminating activity will include each group’s oral presentation and a subsequent debate among the four groups.

    1. Each group gets 10 minutes to present their information and visual aids.

    2. Each group is allowed to ask 1 question of each of the other groups. The order should be determined randomly (i.e. picking numbers out of a hat, toss of a coin, etc.).

    3. Each group will have 2 minutes to summarize their information in a closing argument.

    4. After the debate is over, the students should discuss as a class who gave the strongest argument and why.

    5. Their biases (based on their groupings) aside, students should have genuine discussion about which Paul Robeson was the most important: the athlete, scholar, performer, or activist?


  • Music class – Sing some of the songs that Paul Robeson made famous.
  • Performing Arts and English – Students may perform selected soliloquies from Othello, one of Robeson’s most notable acting roles. The students will need to practice these monologues to make sure that the emotion and character comes through in their readings. Students may also perform a scene from Showboat or any of the other plays and musicals Paul Robeson appeared in.
  • Think about other famous people who you would consider Renaissance men or women. Make a collage demonstrating their different areas of influence and write a one-page commentary on your collage.Community Connection:
  • Despite his many accomplishments, Paul Robeson is not as well known as some other famous African-American singers, actors, athletes, scholars and athletes. In an effort to educate the school community about his achievements in the performing arts, put together a program or assembly featuring photos and songs or excerpts from plays that he has performed in.