Separate But Equal – Is It Black or White?

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Lesson At A Glance

The school year will begin by building a community in the class.  The students will choose a class name and create a logo for the class.  As part of our social studies unit, we will be learning about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The students will create a class Constitution and a student’s Bill of Rights.  During reading the students will read the first stories in Theme 1(“Taking a Stand”) which includes “Lunch Counter Encounter”, “Goin’ Someplace Special”, and “Through My Eyes” by Ruby Bridges.  The class will study “Brown v Board of Education” and “Separate but Equal”.  Then the class will watch the movie The Ruby Bridges Story in sections over a one week period.  The students will keep a journal during the course of study.  


  • The students will be able to identify the difference between situations that are “separate but equal” and one that is” not equal but fair”.
  • The students will be able to connect the fourteenth amendment to Brown versus the Board of Education
  • The students will be able to write a short persuasive letter.  The students will write in a journal: including summaries, predictions, multiple perspectives, feelings, and motives.  
  • The students will design a cover for their journal.

Standards Addressed:

History Social Science

  • Understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional democracy, including how the government derives its power from the people and the primacy of individual liberty.
  • Discuss the meaning of the American creed that calls on citizens to safeguard the liberty of individual Americans within a unified nation, to respect the rule of law, and to preserve the constitution.
    Standards Addressed: Language Arts
  • Students write logically, chronologically, coherently strong beginning, supporting sentences, and conclusion.
  • Students use grade appropriate thoughtful word choice/vocabulary, sentence variety, and standard language conventions including capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and usage.
  • Write persuasive letters or composition

Visual Arts

  • Students apply what they learned in the visual arts across subject areas.  They develop competencies and creative skills in problem solving, communication, and management of time and resources that contribute to lifelong learning and career skills.  They also learn about careers in and related to the visual arts.
  • Identify and design icons, logos, and other graphic devices as symbols for the ideas and information.

Common Core State Standards for ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects K-5

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing K-5

Text Types and Purposes

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Big Ideas:

This lesson addresses the following big ideas we want learners to begin to understand from Stage One of the unit plan (below): (include what is applicable ~ or, you may have a different big idea that complements)

  • The strength of a democracy is equal to the strength of its citizens.
  • E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one

Essential Questions/Issues:

  • Why do you believe Americans take a stand?
  • What can each student do to insure that everyone in our school is treated equally? 
  • Why did the Supreme Court say that separate was not equal?

Higher Order Thinking Questions:

1. How would you decide if a situation is “separate but equal” or “not equal but fair? (evaluation)

2. Is it important that we study Brown versus the Board of Education? Explain. (evaluation)

3. What would it have been like to have lived when the American school system was segregated? (synthesis)

4. How did the different groups of people (Blacks and Whites) view integration, what were their actions and motives? (synthesis)


Learners will be evaluated through informal checks for understanding, including; teacher observation, activity sheet and performing an authentic task (GRASP) and by rubrics.

Click here to download assessment tools.

Activity Steps:

Click here to download activity steps


This lesson will take place after the class has examined the Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  In addition the students would have read “Lunch Counter Encounter” and “Goin’ Someplace Special” The initial lesson will be on Brown versus the Board of Education. The follow-up activity will be watching The Ruby Bridges Movie and the completion of the journal writing, which will take approximately two weeks.

15 minutes

Teacher tells the class that the students will be working in their table groups to create Venn diagrams comparing Joe’s experience at the drugstore in “Lunch Counter Encounter” with Tricia Ann’s experience on the bus and in the hotel lobby from “Goin’ Someplace Special” (stories from their reading book). Students should be prepared to share them with the class.  The teacher models how to create a Venn diagram.  The teacher tells the students at tables one, two, and three to take out their reading books and they can talk and share their ideas while creating their diagram. The other tables cannot use their books and cannot talk during this assignment and need to find another way to communicate.  The teacher walks tables four, five and six and to insure that they are not talking.  After the time expires the students stop working even if they have not completed their diagram.

15 minutes 

Teacher - Ask the students how they felt about the assignment?
Students - Keep discussing until someone says that it was not fair.  .
Teacher - Will introduce the concept of separate but equal. 
Students - Give examples or ask questions

30 minutes

Teacher – To introduce “Brown versus the Department of Education’ the teacher will give the following scenario for the students to do a quick write. How would you feel if you were told that you had to go to a school across town that you had to take a bus to get there.  Did not have any computers, old outdated textbooks, and no playground?

Students – Do a quick write about their feelings about having to go to a school across own.  Be prepared to use the quick write later.

Teacher - Introduce the case of Brown versus the Department of Education.  Show you tube video “Brown v the Board of Education”.  Then put a copy of the primary document of Brown versus The Board of Education” on display. Teacher leads discussions with questions concerning the student’s feelings about the video, how this case relates to the fourteenth amendment, what is separate but equal versus “not equal, but fair”.

Students – Class discusses video through pair/share, table talk, and whole class discussions

Teacher – Check for understanding by having student volunteers act out the following scenarios and the class will decide whether the situation is “separate but equal” or if it is “ not equal but fair”.  The situations are as follows:  A student sits in the front of the room all year because they have a hearing problem.  Johnny only needs to do the challenge math problems because he has already proved mastery of the math skill.  The sixth graders get to use all the handballs and the fifth graders only get to use the hardballs and keep getting hurt.  A student has to sit separately because he/she is bothering all the other students.  The students with blonde hair can use the electric pencil sharpener and the dark haired students need to bring their own hand held pencil sharpeners.  Students can create their own scenarios.

– act out different scenarios and decide whether they are “separate but equal” or if it is “not equal but fair”

25 minutes

Teacher – Pass out the journals to the students.   Assign the first two pages of the journal

Students are told that their family has been transferred to a school across town, (the only way to get there is by bus).  The school does not have computers, has older textbooks, and no playground.  They need to write a letter to Ms. Nolte and give at least three reasons with supporting details why they should not have to go to the new school.  The letter must be multiple paragraphs. 

Students write a journey entry.  The entry will have four parts.  Part one will be to write a one or two sentence summary of the case.  Part two will be a reflection of the student’s feelings about the video.  Part three will be to pretend they are one of the people in the case (Brown, one of the Arkansas 9, the Black parents, or the White parents or students).  Part four write a prediction of what will happen next.

Teacher and Students – Over the next two weeks the class will watch The Ruby Bridges Movie, in sections each day and then complete a journal entry.  After the completion of the movie the students will complete their journals and design their covers.  
Grouping strategies, what the teacher does step-by-step, and what the students are expected to do, step-by-step.  Could be an into, through, and beyond, or an inquiry lesson. 

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson:
(differentiation, needs of GATE, Special Ed, learning styles, ELL, etc. ~ don’t go overboard on this – no essays here, just a paragraph explaining how learning activities are designed to meet the needs of all learners.

  • When having class discussions there will be table group brainstorming and pair/share, inside outside circle. 
  • When designing the cover for the journal the students can choose whether to draw pictures, symbols, or create a collage.
  • The students will act out the scenarios. The teacher will work with a small group while writing journal entries if necessary.

Extension Ideas:

The class will work in group to create quality collages. 

Materials and Resources Needed:

  • Computer
  • Scan converter
  • Television
  • Computer paper and pencil,
  • A copy of United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights
  • You Tube video “Brown versus the Board of Education”
  • Courts in the Classroom Website
  • Copy of primary document of “Brown versus the Board of Education”


  • Courts in the classroom website, Constitutional Rights Foundation
  • United States Constitution
  • United States Bill of Rights
  • Documents Related to Brown v. Board of Education
  • Brown vs. Board of Education Background Summary
  • YouTube- Brown v. Board of Education, case vintage film exhibit (6 minutes)
  • Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, California Treasures