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Unit Five: Meeting Historical Figures through Primary Sources

Historical figures were once normal, everyday people. However, through historical narrative, they can often become larger than life, and the real human qualities start to fade. Allowing your students to humanize these figures, on their own terms, will make all the difference when they are trying to recall facts about them. This unit allows students to interpret historical figures using historical documents and present social media context.

Classroom Activities

Social Media Show:

1. Split students into teams of 4 or 5.

2. Allow students to pick person/organization that they want to design a social media page for, or assign key people and organization you know you’ll be referencing throughout the unit.

a. These people/organizations should have a significant connection to the busing crisis in Boston, and be involved in the overall Civil Rights movement.

b. Key people and organizations can be found under teacher materials on the main page, or pulled from the content of your unit on desegregation and court-ordered busing.

3. Using a poster board, students can create the social media page of either Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook that belong to that person/organization.

4. Have students design what the pages of social media will look like, using the current site as inspiration, and can include real images or drawn images when appropriate.

a. For Facebook, students need to create the about me section, profile picture, cover photo, list a few “friends” the person has, and maybe even some interactions that would appear on the wall.

b. For Twitter, the students will need a twitter bio, picture, cover photo, and the most recent 15-20 tweets, including 3 with media (photos, or links to other messages) *remember, just because this one is less words (remember all tweets are 140 characters or less) doesn’t make it easier.

c. For Instagram, there should be a profile picture, follower count (with 2 suggestions of who else to follow since you’re following your person or organization) and the last 5 images shared. (these images should include captions, likes, and comments!)

Museum Tour/Gallery Walk:

Teaching your students good presentation skills, and equipping them with public history skills, is a win-win for everyone, especially if you use primary sources to help them. Creating exhibits and allowing for students to present and discuss their topics in a new way will open up more conversations for them.

1. Split students into pairs of two, and assign them a topic. (This can be a person or organization, but depending on the size of the class can include events, legislation, etc. Just make sure the topics are all ideas that can be converted into exhibits that fit the overall theme your lesson is centered around.)

2. Encourage the students to use primary and secondary sources to get a grasp on their topic; locating artifacts, key quotes, photographs and documents they would like to use in their exhibit.

a. You can decide how many sections they should have in the exhibit.

b. You can also limit their word count, and give them resources on label writing.

3. Students should work together to create their exhibit narrative. (What is their theme, what points would they like to touch upon, and how will they make their story work?) Student should storyboard their exhibit after working their narrative so they can see what pieces of information need more space, and which need less.

4. Once their storyboard has been approved, they can move on to designing their exhibit. (Exhibits can be created on poster board or using a tri-fold board.)

a. Again, you can limit the number of photographs and artifacts they include in their exhibit. However, students must have an exhibit title, number or sections discussed earlier in the lesson, one photograph at minimum, and 3 chosen artifacts/documents they want to showcase.

5. Once the projects are complete, the students should arrange them in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, etc.

6. The class should then be split into As and Bs. The As will be the guests first, visiting the Bs exhibits and “taking a tour” with them. The students will practice asking meaningful questions, presenting to the public, and explaining their topic. Then the students will switch, giving the As the chance to do the same.

“Historical” Idol:

Use music to help your students keep facts straight, and connected to the right people and events. Memorization can be positively impacted by using songs or jingles’ beats. Have your students get creative with music, history, and primary sources.

1. Before your students come to class, place topics relating to people and organizations (and overall events, themes, and topics relating to your Civil Rights unit) into a hat.

2. When your students arrive, give them each a blank piece of paper. Have them right down a radio appropriate song and place their piece of paper into another hat.

3. Once all the answers are turned in, have them split into teams of 2 (or assign them a team).

4. Then have them come up and choose one piece of paper from both hats. This will give them a topic and a song.

5. Once they have their topic and song, let them know they are going to work with their partner to rewrite their song so that it is about their topic. (You can determine if it will be the whole song, or one verse and one chorus.)

6. Give them the class period to get creative, with the option to share/perform their song.

7. Use this as a moment to review the unit.

Discussion Questions

  • What groups of people are involved? What do they believe?  What do they want?
  • How do these individuals or groups go about getting what they want?
  • How do these people, organizations, and events connect back to the Civil Rights Movement?
  • How does one person/organization/event effect court-ordered busing? Could you imagine what the Civil Rights Movement would have looked like without your key figure?

Unit Specific Resources

Primary Source Sets

Daily Police Blotter Logs

Correspondence between Mayor Kevin White and Project Mainstream: 0245001-002-025-001

First National ROAR Convention Pamphlet: 9800019-001-003-001


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