Lesson Plan: This Student Helped Desegregate America’s Schools

A step-by-step guide to teaching this article in your classroom


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• Include this article in a unit on civil rights.

• Pair this piece with a discussion on race in the U.S.

• Incorporate this feature into a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolent protest.

• Use this piece to inspire students to make a difference in their community or around the world.

Before Reading


As a class, review the definitions for challenging terms in the article, including bigotry, demeanor, equality, integration, loitering, and segregated.

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Read & Analyze


Have students read the article on their own, writing down any comments or questions.


Have students write their answers to each question, or use these prompts to guide a discussion.

• COMPARE AND CONTRAST: How did the all-black high school Barbara Johns attended compare with the all-white high school located in the same town?
(The all-black school building was falling apart. The ceilings were cracked and leaky. The toilets barely worked. It had no gym, cafeteria, or science lab. The school was overcrowded, holding more than twice the number of students it was supposed to hold. Some classes were held in a run-down bus in the parking lot or in shacks made of wood and paper in the schoolyard. The all-white high school had spacious classrooms, modern heating, and a cafeteria.)

• AUTHOR’S PURPOSE: Why might the author have started the story with Barbara behind the curtains on her school’s stage?
(Possible answers include: to build suspense, to pique readers’ curiosity, to grab readers’ attention.)

• MAKING INFERENCES: Why did Barbara need the principal to be out of the school to carry out her plan?
(Barbara had written notes calling for an assembly, signing them “BJ,” as the principal usually did. If the principal had been in the building, he might have found out about the notes and stopped the assembly from happening, which would have prevented Barbara from giving the speech that inspired the walkout.)

• CLOSE READING: What arguments did Barbara use to convince her classmates to walk out in protest?
(She reminded them that the conditions of their school were inferior to the conditions of the nearby all-white school. She pointed out that the school board had denied their school proper funding. She reminded them how hard it was to learn in their school environment.)

• CAUSE AND EFFECT: What were some of the short-term responses to the students’ walkout?
(The local newspaper ridiculed the students. The superintendent threatened to fire teachers and the principal at the all-black school. The NAACP agreed to help the students file a lawsuit.)

• CENTRAL IDEAS: What kind of person was Barbara? What details support your answer?
(Possible answers include: She was passionate, persuasive, and brave: She gave stirring speeches, risked getting in trouble for standing up for what she believed in, and convinced others to join her. She was hardworking: She helped take care of her siblings and did chores on her family’s farm.)

• ANALYZING VISUAL ELEMENTS: How do the circle graphs “School Segregation Today” contribute to the article?
(They give the racial makeup of the average white student’s school and the average black student’s school today to show that many schools still remain somewhat segregated in practice, although not by law.)

Extend & Assess

As a class, read the skills sheet Analyzing a Primary Source: Mixed Reactions. Then have students work with a partner to answer the questions. Go over their responses as a class.

As a class, watch the video “Fighting for Equality” at junior.scholastic.com. As students watch the video, have them write down their answers to the following questions: What are civil rights? What examples of segregation does the video show? What role did the U.S. Supreme Court play in maintaining and later overturning segregation in schools?

Find out how well students understood the article by assigning the skills sheet Know the News—This Student Helped Desegregate America’s Schools.

Have students work in small groups to research the civil rights movement in the United States and create a timeline that includes such notable events as the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Show students the video “How Kids Changed the World” at junior.scholastic.com. Then have them write short essays comparing the experiences of Barbara Johns and Ayanna Najuma, using facts from the article and video.


Lower Level Have students pause after reading each section to discuss the main idea with a partner.

Higher Level Have students work with partners to research and present a detailed news report about an event from the slideshow “Key Moments: The Civil Rights Movement.”

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