The Civil Rights Movement, a Journey through Time & Literature

This week we started our unit on the Civil Rights Movement!  Here in fifth grade at UT Elementary we work backwards through history, starting with present day and then rewinding back to the causes for the way things are today.  This is great for me, because we get to start out the year with incredibly powerful and relevant topics that we can point back to through out the rest of the year.

For our Civil Rights unit, students are working in groups of two or three, (a few students chose to work solo), to research one specific event from the Civil Rights era, selected from a timeline I have hung up through out the whole room.  After students have researched their events and created their displays, we will create one giant timeline, full of primary sources, bringing one of the most monumental times in our country’s history back to life.

One of the most meaningful things that has happened in my first year of teaching so far has been watching my students’ love of reading grow.  I love to read, and I constantly talk to the kids about what books I’m reading, and I think that has made an incredible impact.  Something big happens when students learn that their teacher really cares about what she’s teaching.

This Civil Rights unit is such an exciting unit for me to teach, first of all because I am fascinated by this chapter in our country’s recent history, second of all because it is so incredibly relevant in the riptide of social and racial justice  uproar that is today, and thirdly, because there are so many incredible books about this era.

I have worked my first year teacher booty off getting this project set up for our kids, and in between the late night typing and early morning printing sessions, I have been scouring Amazon for new books.  (Which, coincidentally, is where all of my paychecks have gone.)  Here are the books I am most excited to be sharing with my class during this unit.

Mini-Lesson Picture Books: These are storybooks that I have been reading aloud (or kids have been reading aloud to each other) to both tie in our ELA component (right now: what’s the main idea?) and to teach whole group lessons about certain parts of the Civil Rights Movement.


Martin’s Big Words, Doreen Rappaport

This.  Book.

Have you read this one? It is a must for all grade levels.  This beautifully crafted book tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr., all the while incorporating his “big words,” many of the most powerful words from his life and from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  I used this book to introduce the Civil Rights Movement and as a text to introduce our “good readers’ skill” of finding the main idea.

51CAVsrXkmL._SY447_BO1,204,203,200_Freedom Summer, Deborah Wiles

This is a beautiful book that talks about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the way one town in Mississippi responded.  It’s a short, powerful story.  I read this aloud to the class and paired it with a mini lesson about finding the author’s note or extra information inside a picture book for research.  This book brings about great conversation in response to the question, “why didn’t the Civil Rights Movement end in 1964?”


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The Story of Ruby Bridges, Robert Coles & Freedom on the Menu, Deborah Wiles, & My Brother Martin, Christine King Farris

I paired these three books together for a class exercise on finding the main idea.  Students were divided into three groups, and together they read a storybook, taking notes while their friends were reading, and at the end, decided what the main idea of the story had been.  The end goal was to then present these to the class, but time got away from us.

Resource books: These are books that I have chosen for students to use for the research component of their project.  They are, for the most part, using these books independently.


Birmingham Sunday, Larry Dane Brimmer

One of the biggest challenges I have confronted thus far with this project is that many of these topics are not typically researched by children, so there are not a whole lot of resources available that are age appropriate.  The two events this was the most true for were the Birmingham Church bombing, and the murder of Emmett Till.  When I found this book, I was speechless.

This book is everything you could want for students to research such a hard topic.  It is a beautiful selection of relevant primary documents, showing readers the devastation left behind by such a horrific event, yet without crossing any lines of appropriateness.  It’s written at a level that my fifth graders can understand, and contains just about every piece of information they will need to know for their project.  Awesome.
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Historical Fiction Chapter Books/Nonfiction Chapter Books:  These are my favorite books, the ones I have pulled for students to read at home or during their independent reading time, pulling fictional characters into the very nonfictional world of the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. These are the books that are making our kids fall in love with reading!


The Lions of Little Rock, Kristin Levine


I started reading this side-by-side with one our students, and then couldn’t put it down.  It’s incredible.  It’s a historical fiction piece set in the summer and the year after the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High School, the year in which the schools shut down, because, just like Mississippi filling their pools with asphalt, Alabama would rather just not have school at all than to let their children go to school with African Americans.  This book is a heart wrenching story of friendship and bravery, and inspires all of the character traits that I want my students to have.  I have decided to make this book our next read aloud, and it will create a seamless segway into discussing static v. dynamic characters, one of my favorite conversations.


Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, Lynda Blackmon Lowery

I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.  It’s currently still in my Amazon cart but I can bet you it’ll be at my doorstep as soon as the next pay period rolls around.  (Who thought I would still be living paycheck to paycheck after getting a real job? These books are making me go broke)

This is Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s memoir, the story of the youngest participant in the March 1965 march from Montgomery to Selma.  She was jailed 9 times before her fifteenth birthday.  Unbelievable.  I can’t wait to read this one.

51gFJ73OV+L._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_616oLbL4qhL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_March (book one), John Lewis, & Little Rock Nine, Marshall Poe

Who knew that graphic novels would be one of our best sources for information?!  March One (the first in the series) is a graphic novel by none other than John Lewis himself, and Little Rock Nine is another great adaptation of the Little Rock Nine story, told pretty accurately in graphic novel format.  These books have both been great ways to get our students even more engaged in the content.

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There are many more books in our classroom that aren’t here; the list of good literature is truly endless.  I am excited to keep you posted on how the project turns out!  I can already tell how proud our students will be by the end of all their hard work.

I will also be posting all of my materials for the timeline on Teachers Pay Teachers once they’ve been student used and approved!  So stay tuned for that as well.

Until next time,

Ms. Green


6 responses to “The Civil Rights Movement, a Journey through Time & Literature”

  1. hcweicker Avatar

    Dear Ms. Green, How can I donate to your book fund? Helen

    Sent from the family iPad



    1. erintaylorgreen Avatar

      Helen, I am flattered that you would like to donate! I will send you an email. If the email address associated with your WordPress account is not the best one to use, please let me know.

      Again, thank you!


  2. mel256 Avatar

    Good stuff! You are changing lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mel256 Avatar

    Great work Erin. Terrence Roberts is the member of Little Rock Nine that I met a couple of years ago. Inspiring doesn’t begin to describe the experience. You are changing lives & our future for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

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