The Civil Rights Movement and the Little Rock Nine | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G8:M3B

The Civil Rights Movement and the Little Rock Nine

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Note for 2020-21 School Year

We recommend omitting Grade 8: Module 3B. For the 2020-21 school year, to ensure students can be fully supported by the teacher in the way the module was intended, EL Education recommends implementing three of the four modules. For more information, please view our rationale here.

In this module, students will study the U.S. civil rights movement, focusing particularly on the Little Rock Nine. They will consider the question "How can stories be powerful?" as they learn about segregation, the civil rights movement, the Little Rock Nine and the role of the various mediums in shaping perceptions of events. As students read A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls Lanier and a photo essay titled Little Rock Girl 1957 by Shelley Tougas, they will consider the different ways in which the story of the Little Rock Nine has been told. In Unit 1, students will build background knowledge as they study the history of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the United States. They will begin by reading primary sources, such as the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision and the dissenting opinion by Justice Harlan.

In Unit 2, students will analyze the role of various mediums (photographs, speeches, television reports, newspaper articles, etc.) in depicting the Little Rock Nine and will write an informational essay in which they analyze how various mediums may illuminate a story or provide an inaccurate or incomplete picture of a story.

Finally, in Unit 3, students will finish A Mighty Long Way. For their final performance task, students will present a song choice for a film soundtrack, and four photographs from Little Rock Girl 1957 to lift up as key events in a film about the Little Rock Nine as they went to Central High School, based on the memoir A Mighty Long Way. Student presentations will include a description of each photograph and the song, and an argument for why the events depicted in each photograph should be highlighted in a filmThis module is content-rich; consider previewing the full module with a social studies colleague and finding ways to collaborate to provide an even richer experience. (Note: Students will encounter the racially charged language of the Jim Crow South and the Civil Rights era). 

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

  • How does studying diverse sources about the same topic build our understanding?
  • How can photographs tell a story?
  • The story of The Little Rock Nine brought national attention to the struggle to desegregate schools in the United States.
  • The various mediums can shape perceptions and outcomes of events.
  • Photographs capture key events in time and preserve moments in history.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read literature and informational text about the civil rights movement. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies Practices and Themes to support potential interdisciplinary connections to this compelling content.

These intentional connections are described below.

Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the New York State Common Core K-8 Social Studies Framework.

Unifying Themes:

  • 1. Individual Development and Cultural Identity

-   Role of social, political, and cultural interactions in the development of identity
-   Personal identity is a function of an individual's culture, time, place, geography, interaction with groups, influences from institutions, and lived experiences

  • 3. Time, Continuity, and Change

-   Reading, reconstructing, and interpreting events
-   Analyzing causes and consequences of events and developments
-   Considering competing interpretations of events

  • 5. Development and Transformation of Social Structures

-   Role of social class, systems of stratification, social groups, and institutions
-   Role of gender, race, ethnicity, education, class, age, and religion in defining social structures within a culture
-   Social and political inequalities
-   Expansion and access of rights through concepts of justice and human rights 

  • 6. Power, Authority, and Governance

-   Individual rights and responsibilities as protected and challenged within the context of majority rule 
-   Fundamental principles and values of constitutional democracy 
-   Origins, uses, and abuses of power

  • 7. Civic Ideals and Practices

-   Basic freedoms and rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democratic republic
-   Civic participation and engagement
-   Respect for diversity
-   Struggle for rights, access to citizenship rights, and universal human rights


Each unit file includes teacher materials and student-facing materials.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School
by Carlotta Walls Lanier
ISBN: 978-0-345-51101-0
Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches
by Josh Gottheimer
ISBN: 978-0465027538
Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration
by Shelley Tougas
ISBN: 978-0-756-54512-3


Each module is approximately 8 weeks of instruction broken into 3 units. The "week at a glance" chart in the curriculum map gives the big picture, breaking down the module into a detailed week-by-week view. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.

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