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

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

The famous Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The famous Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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 visual impairments and other disabilities during my internship, this lesson can be modified for different grades as needed. I broke the lesson down by activities because teachers may have to deal with time considerations. The lesson and activities can be conducted over several days.

Greensboro, NC was important during the Civil Rights Movement.

Greensboro, NC was important during the Civil Rights Movement.

Lesson Components

  • Grade: Elementary (Social Studies)
  • Objectives: The goal of this lesson is to increase students’ knowledge of their rights and the Civil Rights’ movement.
  • Materials: Paper or cardboard for signs; a computer to listen to Dr. King’s speech; copies of the speech; and a safe area for the mock march. (Dr. King's speech can be found on the internet.)
  • Vocabulary: Boycott, rights, segregation, and civil disobedience. 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.

Lesson Begins

I introduced the topic of the Civil Rights era, inquiring about my students' knowledge of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I asked if they understood why we have a holiday celebrating the Civil Rights leader. I provided feedback while we discussed vocabulary words pertaining to the topic. We also talked about Greensboro, N.C. and the sit-ins occurring in the 1960s. I informed the students on the history of segregation and why Americans generally reject the concept.

Activity 1: Sign Up

I passed out the paper and cardboard. I instructed my students to make signs with slogans from the 1960’s. My students liked: Freedom for All. They also chose: All Men are Created Equal. When my students finished, I collected the signs and put them aside for later.

Next, I asked my class about the gradual acquisition of rights by different groups over the decades in America. I asked: Do you know how rights were obtained for some populations? My students expressed various ideas, including: rights were always available to Americans. I explained before the 1960s, 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 first when the bell rings. (Be prepared for an unhappy outcry.) The class talked about why this was unfair.

Expanding on this scenario, 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.)

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Activity 3: Your Turn to Have Power

We then moved on. For the next activity, I told my students they were temporarily in charge, giving them the following instructions:

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.

People in America have the right to protest peacefully.

People in America have the right to protest peacefully.

Activities 4 and 5: Reading the Speech and Mock March

Next, I passed out copies of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, informing my students we would read the document. I led discussions about the text, clarifying as appropriate. This helped my students comprehend what Dr. King was communicating to his audience. We proceeded:

  • First, I started reading the speech. Then, I selected students to read passages.
  • Afterwards, we read portions of the speech together. Finally, I used the computer to play the speech while we read along. When we were done, I informed my students we would now use the signs.
  • For the fifth activity, I passed out the signs while informing my students we were going to march. We discussed exercising the constitutional right of engaging in a “peaceful assembly.” We marched around the classroom singing: We Shall Overcome, by Charles A. Tindley.

    Afterwards, I instructed my students to write about the rights they have at school, in the community, and at home for a presentation the following day.

Advocating for oneself involves knowing your rights.

Advocating for oneself involves knowing your rights.

Self-Advocacy and the ECC

Primarily, I wanted my students to consider their rights and ability to make choices while learning about civic responsibility. In addition, advocating and determining one’s relationship with society requires knowing about laws and articulating your position courteously. Furthermore, we discussed agencies which help people with vision loss and other disabilities during the class as well.

In essence, the ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum) for students with visual impairments covers this concept under the area of “self-Advocacy.” Integrating the ECC with the core curriculum is an important function of the TVI. In this lesson, for example:

Integrating the ECC with the Core Curriculum

  1. Assistive Technology: Students composed essays using screenreading and magnification technology.
  2. Compensatory Academic Skills: My students learned about the Civil Rights' movement and relevant portions of the U.S. Constitution. They read copies of Dr. King's speech in large print and braille.
  3. Leisure and Recreation: Students created signs. They considered the task a fun game. They enjoyed singing.
  4. Orientation and Mobility: Students marched using their canes and human guide techniques around the class.
  5. Social Interaction skills: Students were polite to one another. They made plans to spend time together after class in a friendly manner.
  6. Self-Advocacy: Students spoke up in defense of their right to make choices and disagree with unfair policies.



  • D'Andrea, F. M. and Farrendopf, C. (Eds). (2000) Looking to Learn, promoting literacy for students with low vision. New York, USA: AFB Press.
  • Holbrook, M. C., & Koenig, A. J. (2000). Foundations of education. (2nd ed.). New York: AFB Press.
  • Patrick, D. (1990). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Franklin Watts.

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