Two of our students wrote a collaborative review of Fire From The Rock that will be published in an upcoming issue of IndyKids! Check it out below!

Review of Fire from the Rock by Ryan & Kayla

Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper is a historical fiction novel about a young 14 year old African American growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950`s. During that time schools were segregated between white and black students and Sylvia is chosen as one of the students to integrate the all-white Little Rock Central High School. Sylvia has a hard time deciding weather or not to be one of the first to integrate, experiencing first hand the obstacles the civil rights movement. Her family, the townspeople, and her friends pull her in different directions, everyone giving their opinion on what she should do. Sylvia’s experiences of racism in the south are based on true events, which makes the book very emotional. To find out if Sylvia decides to go to integrate Little Rock Central or not you will have to read the book to find out! We highly recommended because it is more complicated then most fiction books and highlights one of the most important movements of the last century.


Content Area Vocabulary

One way to enrich students understanding of the vocabulary needed to understand this unit is to make an illustrated dictionary. This was a fun way to incorporate art, and word study into our unit. We created a template that had: room for the word, the definition and a large box for an illustration of what the word meant.

These words were hung throughout the room and used quite often in discussion and writing. The words we used were:

  • Boycott
  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Desegregation
  • Discrimination
  • Freedom Riders
  • Jim Crow Laws
  • Institutionalized Racism
  • Integration
  • Oppression
  • Protest
  • Prejudice
  • Segregation
  • Separate but Not Equal
  • Stereotype

When the unit was over, we took the words down, laminated them and turned them into a book that now resides in our Non-Fiction library.

Film Resources

April 22, 2010

Throughout the course of our study we found some really helpful video resources that served to give our students some documentary footage of the time period we were seeking to understand. I cannot overstate the importance of students being able to see actual photographs and watch actual footage of the event, situations, and people that they read about. Reading about the sit in’s is one thing, watching the ferocity with which the students were ripped from their seats by the angry mob is another thing. Here is a brief list of some of the films we used in our unit.

Eyes on the Prize is a PBS documentary series that covers the Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985 in typical comprehensive PBS fashion. It is extremely informative, contains footage relatively difficult to see anywhere else, and is segmented into 14 chapters. One nice thing is it takes the viewer up to the mid 80’s. We only watched excerpts of it….also the website is filled with primary documents, clips, and episode guides.

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till is a documentary about the life and death of Emmett Till. Studying Emmett Till was incredibly effective in teaching about the Civil Rights movement for our students as it related an individual who was a child himself, much like Leon’s Story. This film contains some graphic images, which we learned the hard way, can be too gruesome for young viewers. It is a sad story, but an important catalyst of the movement.

Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later is another documentary that takes a look at the environment of Little Rock Central High in present day, comparing the race relations now to the 1950’s. It is scary how divided this school is. While white and black students now go to the same school, all the AP classes are white while the remedial classes are primarily black. There are balck and white neighborhoods, that seem to also be separated by socio-economic lines as well. The principal has a lame attempt at trying to “mix it up” and have kids of different backgrounds sit together at lunch…..she gets laughed at by the students. An interesting film that leads the viewer to ask….How much really has changed?

Honestly, we never got to this one. It was reccomended by a friend and is a drama, which might be a nice departure form the documentaries. A young girl marches to Montgomery with Dr. King?

The Schomberg Center

April 22, 2010

The Schomburg Center is a public library in Harlem that, among many other wonderful things, held an exhibit that had to do with the fight for integration of schools in North Carolina. Many people don’t realize that the Brown v. Board of Education trial of 1964 was not just one case, but 5 different cases put together, the most famous case being Oliver Brown, represented by Thurgood Marshall. The Schomburg Center put together and exhibit of a less famous case, the Briggs v. Elliot Case. We brought our students to this exhibit to expose them to the resistance people of the south faced while they were fighting for integration of schools and the disparity between the school for the white children and the black children.

Since this was a temporary exhibit at the Schomburg, this was a once in a lifetime experience, but we can always use the information that displayed to teach about the Civil Rights Movement. The students got to see many primary sources that gave the people involved in the Civil Rights Movement, other then the more prominent figures, a face. They felt empathy with the DeLaine family and were outraged with they learned that the Fire Department in Clarendon County refused to put out the fire the KKK started at their church. The students got to see how racism affected self image by examining the study done by Kenneth Clark examining which doll children considered to be “good” and which they considered “bad” the white doll or the black doll. To find out more about this study check out this link.

While we may not be able to revisit this exhibit physically, we can still revisit the material and teach our students that it wasn’t just Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Rosa Parks who fought for justice in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Researching More

April 16, 2010

 Since we did so much work getting the students engaged by teaching them to empathize with characters who lived through the civil rights movement, it was easy to get them excited about their research projects. The students had so many questions that went unanswered that they couldn’t wait to crack open their non-fiction books.

The unit was designed to enhance the students non-fiction reading abilities but to also allow them to research a topic they really cared about. The students put themselves into research groups on topics they were really interested in. There were 6 groups:

  • Segregation
  • Injustices
  • Opposition to the Civil Rights Movement
  • Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Jim Crow Laws

The students were required to practice a different research skill each day, and organize the information that they researched in an organized way. Some of the teaching points included:

  • Researchers look for specific information by using the index.
  • Researchers analyze a non-fiction text by combining the information in the text, pictures, and captions.
  • Researchers encounter new vocabulary as they read, one way to figure out the meaning of these unknown words is to use the information in the text as clues.
  • Researchers paraphrase new information by putting it in their own words.

These are a few teaching points we used to help the students find and understand new information. The next steps were to take that information and decide what to do with it.

There are many circumstances that hold teachers back from teaching for social justice, such as test-preparation and meeting the demands of the mandated curricula. One of the most successful ways we have gotten around these restrictions is through using Social Justice Education materials to teach to the standards while still upholding our values as educators.

Leon’s Story by Leon Walter Tillage is a narrative about Leon Walter Tillage’s experiences in Raleigh, North Carolina as a sharecroppers son. His story teaches young readers about institutionalized racism, segregation, the KKK, and marching for peace and equality. As students are learning about these critical issues, they are building reading skills such as empathy, envisionment, and synthesizing. This is the book we used to begin the unit. The students connected with Leon, they felt what he felt, and felt angry when he was done wrong. There was no need to  convince them after this read a loud that racism is something that hurts people. The students were able to develop essential reading skills, as well as understand how racism affected people in the south during the early 1900’s.

To help to  continue this non-fiction unit we wanted to give the students an understanding of what racism is looks like today. We did this with newspaper articles. One in particular was an article about the Jena 6 featured in IndyKids!. IndyKids! is a radical children’s newspaper that gives students an alternative source for news. This article provided students with knowledge about institutionalized racism that is currently happening in the south today, as well as helped them hone their non-fiction reading skills. Check out their website for all of their publications.

The next recourse we use to meet the needs of the mandated curricula while still upholding our values as educators is a book called Fire From the Rock by Sharon M. Draper. This is a story about a middle school girl, Sylvia, and her family. Sylvia has been chosen to be one of the few to be the first to integrate into Central High School.  This book is not only a wonderful and engaging story that helps students build essential reading skills, but it also teaches the students about how unfair segregation was, and what people did to stop it.

The Beginning

February 14, 2010

By the time they are 10, most children have ideas in their mind that have the potential to be the foundations for racist beliefs in the future. It is because this is a reality that an educators job can not stop at teaching reading, writing and math. It is our duty to provide students with experiences that force them to question their pre-existing ideas about race and class, and examine ways in which racism has effected people throughout history. Our vision is to give our students experiences that will encourage them to empathize with people throughout history that have been effected by racism as well as see the action that has been taken to stop it. This blog will show you lesson plans, recourses, and student work that we have used to execute a unit that gives students an understanding of what racism and activism looked like in North Carolina in the 1930’s, the Civil Rights Movement and  to present day America. Here you will see a unit go from a simple read aloud, to a Living Museum of the Civil Rights Movement.