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Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan: How the Civil Rights Movement embodied a time of change

February 18, 2016

Full Lesson



Social studies, government

Estimated Time

One 90-minute class period

Grade Level

Middle and High School


The Civil Rights Movement did not begin suddenly in the 1960s, nor was it a short battle. Even today, many civil rights hopes and objectives have still not been met.

The movement for African-American civil rights and against racial discrimination grew over time through massive grassroots organization, a commitment to achieve racial equality through non-violence, legislative victories, brilliant leadership and collaboration and the sheer courage and determination of hundreds of thousands of participants.

To understand the enormity of the famous March on Washington, we compiled a timeline of major civil rights events in the 100 years leading up to August 20, 1963.

This timeline of the history of the Civil Rights Movement does not include every event, but attempts to capture those that exemplify the long struggle for equality that so many fought so hard for, and many gave their lives to see realized.  The interactive nature of the timeline allows for students and teachers to learn more about these historic events through both text and video.

Either as a class or individually visit the interactive timeline at the link below of important civil rights events leading up to the March on Washington and important historical events that follow the march. There are videos and information students can browse through to learn more about the real life events that took place. Or you may want to click on the link below and scroll through the timeline together and watch the videos together (they range from 2-10 minutes and the specific times are outlined here in an excel spreadsheet)

Access a full-screen version of this timeline


Main Activities

1. The Who and How of March on Washington

Most students are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, considered a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement.  However, few students understand the sheer magnitude of the task and the courage that it took to plan and carry out the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.  The demonstration was so powerful that it is said to be responsible for ushering in a wave of legislation that outlawed acts of discrimination and changed an entire nation for generations to come.

  1. Put students in small groups and give them copies of two documents:
    • The “Final Plans for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”
    • The program for “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”
  2. Have the students do a scavenger hunt and answer the questions on the worksheet “March on Washington Primary Documents.”

2.  What We Demand- The Goals of the March on Washington

Pass out the worksheet “The Goals of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: What Did They Hope to Accomplish” and ask students to read through the goals.  Have them keep in mind the obstacles African-Americans faced up to that point (1963). Ask them to think about and answer the following questions on their worksheet:

  1. Have students read through the goals from The March. Then ask them to try to imagine what the authors of the goals had hoped would happen if the goals were met.
  2. Have them write down their answer in the “Anticipated Effect” space below each of the goals.
  3. Ask students to put a check next to any goal that they feel has been met since 1963 up to 2016.
  4. Students should answer the rest of the questions on the page.

by Katie Gould, Teacher Resource Producer for NewsHour Extra