A Lesson and 5 Activities for Social Studies and Self-Determination

Updated on February 10, 2019
Tim Truzy info4u profile image

Tim Truzy is a rehabilitation counselor, educator, and former dispatcher from North Carolina.

This statue graces the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Raleigh, N
This statue graces the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Raleigh, N | Source

Why Teaching Matters

Teaching requires the ability to help students understand the world around them. Recognizing every student is different is essential part of teaching; various factors influence how people learn. In the teaching field, instructors understand “one size does not fit all.” To help students advance in their education, lesson plans are developed and carried out to address deficits in learning. A lesson may cover any number of subjects based on the needs of the student and the training of the teacher.

One such area involves students learning about rights and how society works in order for them to be responsible citizens. I developed a social studies and self-determination lesson below to help my students with comprehending these issues. Although I worked with elementary students with disabilities during my internship, this lesson can be modified for different grades as needed. I broke the lesson down into “phases,” because teachers may have to deal with time considerations. The lesson and activities can be conducted over several days.

Basic Components of the Lesson

  • Standards – This lesson is consistent with the Standard Course of Study of N.C.: Social Studies for Elementary School Children. In addition, the area of “Self-determination” in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) can be included. (A link explaining the ECC is provided at the end of this article.)
  • Objectives – The goal of this lesson is to increase students’ knowledge of their rights and the Civil Rights’ movement.
  • Materials Needed –You will need: Paper or cardboard for signs; a computer to listen to Dr. King’s speech; copies of the chosen speech; and a safe area for the mock march.
  • Vocabulary – These are some of the vocabulary words and phrases I incorporated into the lesson: boycott, rights, segregation, and civil disobedience. I also included “sit-ins” as a vocabulary word. You may alter the vocabulary based on the needs of your students.

Today's students may not be aware of the history of segregated schools in the US. Shown: a Rosenwald school, built in the 1920s to educate Black American students.
Today's students may not be aware of the history of segregated schools in the US. Shown: a Rosenwald school, built in the 1920s to educate Black American students. | Source

Lesson Begins

Phase 1: Discussing the Past

I introduced the topic of the Civil Rights’ era and asked if my students knew who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was? (A picture of Dr. King’s statue is shown in the first photo.” I asked did they understand why we have a holiday celebrating the Civil Rights leader. After receiving feedback from me about the topic, the class discussed the meaning of the vocabulary words. We also talked about Greensboro, N.C. and the sit-ins that took place in the 1960’s. I informed the students on the history of segregation and why we consider such concepts unacceptable today.

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Activity 1: Creating Signs

  • Pass out the paper or cardboard and have your students make signs with slogans from the 1960’s.
  • My students liked: Freedom for All. They also chose: All Men are Created Equal.
  • When the students are done, collect the signs and put them aside for later.
  • Phase 2: Understanding Power
  • My students were curious about the signs. I asked them did they know how some rights were acquired in our nation. They had various ideas, including: rights were always available to Americans. I explained before the 1960’s, some things were very different. Then, I initiated the following activities:

Activity 2: Unequal Power

  • I told students on the right side of the class, they could always leave the classroom first when the bell rings. (Be prepared for an unhappy outcry.) The class talked about why this was unfair.
  • Next, I said children who wore brown shirts had to sit together at lunch. No one else could sit with them. (Another outcry occurred.) We discussed why this was not a just situation.
  • I pointed out people were being told where they could not go or who they couldn’t sit with before the 1960s in this country. (A sigh of relief went up from my class. They said they were beginning to understand more about the Civil Rights’ movement.)

Activity 3: Your turn to Have Power

  • For this activity, I told my students they were temporarily in charge.
  • I would step immediately outside of the classroom door.
  • Whenever I knocked, they were to tell me teachers were not allowed inside the classroom.
  • I knocked at three different times. The students took pleasure in telling me: “No teachers allowed.
  • We discussed why one scenario about power was fine but the other made the students uncomfortable. They realized people should have the right to associate with whoever they want. They also respected the idea that everyone should have access to public places.

Phase 3: Reading the Speech and Listening to Dr. King

I passed out copies of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We began to read it. As we went along, I led discussions about different parts of the famous oration. I clarified when necessary. This helped my students comprehend what Dr. King was communicating to his audience.

Activity 4:

  • I started reading the speech.
  • Then, I selected students to read passages.
  • Next, we read portions of the speech together.
  • Finally, I played the speech on the computer. We read while listening to Dr. King’s delivery of “I Have a Dream.”

Which effective reading strategy will you use when reading Dr. King’s historic address?

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Mock March and Classroom Assignment

Activity 5: March and Sing

I assembled the students when we were finished with reading the “I Have a Dream” speech. I passed out the signs they had made. We talked about exercising the “right to a peaceful assembly,” as explained in the Constitution. We marched around the classroom singing: “We Shall Overcome,” by Charles A. Tindley.

Phase4: Classroom Assignment

Have your students independently write a few paragraphs about what rights they have at school, in the community, and as citizens.

Advocating for oneself involves knowing your rights.
Advocating for oneself involves knowing your rights. | Source

Self-Determination and Self-Advocacy

To make choices which fosters self-growth and a positive sense of well-being in society, having knowledge of options is paramount to achievement. In order to advocate successfully for oneself or a group, awareness of laws pertaining to rights is necessary. Likewise, a person must be able to articulate those rights accurately and courteously. To such a degree, within the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for students with visual impairments, the area of “Self-Advocacy” exists. Below are some elements of this area of the ECC which are helpful for students with visual impairments. However, other students may benefit from this area as well:

Self-Advocacy in the ECC

  1. Awareness of needed accommodations and adaptations for completing assignments
  2. Knowledge of governmental agencies which assist individuals with disabilities (Vocational rehabilitation, the American Printing House for the Blind, the National Library Service, etc.)
  3. Enhancing problem solving abilities relevant to living with a visual impairment
  4. Politely requesting and rejecting assistance
  5. Understanding of one’s disability (physical aspects, medications required, if any, names of doctors and medical personnel familiar with the student and the disabling condition)
  6. Familiarity with community organizations and resources which involve individuals with visual impairments


Will you work with your students on self-advocacy?

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Expanded Core Curriculum for Students with Visual Impairments. RetrievedNovember 15, 2017, from: http://www.perkinselearning.org/scout/expanded-core-curriculum-ecc.

Martin Luther King - I Have A Dream Speech - August 28 ... – YouTube. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs.

Social Studies - North Carolina Public Schools. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from: www.ncpublicschools.org/curriculum/socialstudies/.


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