Young Heroes: Children of the Civil Rights Movement

Students study the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of the children who experienced its hardships, victories and defeats firsthand by reading and analyzing multiple accounts of the same event.



Unit 4

5th Grade

Unit Summary

In this unit, students study the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of the youth who experienced the struggles, hardships, victories, defeats, and possibilities firsthand. Students will be challenged to analyze the key characteristics shared by children who participated in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly their courage, commitment, bravery, and unending commitment to fighting for the cause. Over the course of the unit, students will realize that through community organizing and a strong desire for justice, regular people, especially youth, were able to come together to use a variety of nonviolent tactics to fight for change, even when faced with resistance, oppression, and violence daily. It is our hope that this unit, in conjunction with other units from the sequence, will empower students to notice and challenge the injustices, relying on their knowledge of history and the lessons they’ve learned from those who have fought before them. 

Students refine their skills as critical consumers of texts by analyzing the point of view from which a text is written and noticing how the point of view influences what and how information is presented to a reader. Students will read multiple accounts of the same topic or event and be challenged to notice the similarities and differences in the points of view they represent and how the author uses evidence and reasons to support a particular point of view. Photographs are an important part of the texts in the unit. Students will be pushed to analyze photographs as a source of information to support an author’s point. Students will also continue to practice determining one or more main ideas of a text and explaining how they are supported by key details, summarizing a text, and explaining the relationship between one or more events or individuals in a historical text. In previous units, students focused on sharing and elaborating on their own ideas when discussing the text. In this unit students begin to build on their classmates' ideas, seeking to genuinely understand what their peers are saying by asking questions, adding on, or engaging in multiple exchanges.

Students continue to build their writing fluency by writing daily in response to the Target Task. Students also continue to work on informational writing, using what they know about writing strong paragraphs to write multi-paragraph essays. The unit culminates with a short research project, allowing students to dive deeper into an event from the Civil Rights Movement. 

Please Note: In August 2023, we released updated enhanced lesson plans for this unit, which now include answers to key questions and related student supports. Additionally, lessons utilizing Newsela articles have been removed. You may notice discrepancies in previously downloaded/printed units or lesson plans.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

Unit Launch

Before you teach this unit, unpack the texts, themes, and core standards through our guided intellectual preparation process. Each Unit Launch includes a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning to ensure you're prepared to support every student.

Essential Questions

  • What role did children and teens play in the civil rights movement? 
  • What nonviolent tactics and strategies were used during the civil rights movement to influence change and overturn systems of oppression? 
  • What types of violence, racism, oppression, and opposition did black people and other civil rights activists face during the civil rights movement? 
  • What were some of the key events in the civil rights movement? 
  • How did the persistence of racism and racist attitudes fuel the opposition to the civil rights movement?

Reading Focus Areas

  • The purpose and point of view of a text influence the type of information presented.

  • The main idea is the central point or big picture understanding that the reader should get from the text.

  • Authors use a variety of reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.

Writing Focus Areas

Informational Writing

  • Introduce a topic and write a strong topic sentence or statement.

  • Group related information logically.

  • Develop the topic with facts, definitions, details, and quotations.

  • Link ideas and information using words, phrases, and clauses.

  • Include formatting, illustrations and multimedia to aid comprehension.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Elaborate to support ideas. Provide evidence or examples to justify and defend a point clearly.

  • Use specific vocabulary. Use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share their thoughts.

  • Build on to partner's ideas. Seek to genuinely understand what peers are saying, and then build on.



allegedly ally antagonize bigotry charismatic deprive deliberate deteriorating defied demean defiant disperse dismantle dignified discriminate enraged evict exasperated hostility hostile humiliating inferior inundate integrate mock opposition ordinance organize profane recourse resistance resentment ridicule symbolic taunt traumatic vacate


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To see all the vocabulary for Unit 4, view our 5th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Supporting All Students

In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.

Content Knowledge and Connections

Notes for Teachers

We believe it is especially important for teachers to develop background knowledge about both the content of the civil rights movement as well as the best practices for teaching about the civil rights movement in order to ensure students leave this unit with the right understandings. Below we provide our suggestions to help you prepare to effectively teach this unit.

  • Learning for Justice has created Five Essential Practices for Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, which we suggest teachers follow when teaching this unit. To learn about these practices, we recommend reading the resources "Civil Rights Done Right" and "The March Continues" by Learning for Justice. After reading these resources, think about why each of the best practices is important and how each can be brought to life while teaching this unit.
  • In order to effectively teach about the civil rights movement, teachers also need to feel comfortable talking about race. We suggest reading Learning for Justice’s Guide "Let’s Talk! Discussing Race, Racism, and Other Difficult Topics with Students."
  • Additionally, we recommend reading the text So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo. While the whole book provides helpful insights and guidance on how to talk about race and racism, we specifically recommend reading Chapter 3, “What if I talk about race wrong?” and “Why can’t I say the “N” word?”
  • Many of the texts in this unit include the N-word, and it is incredibly important to think carefully about how to preview the N-word with students and to set expectations around the use of the N-word. Words have been used throughout all of American history to separate, dehumanize, and oppress, and the N-word is one of the most powerful of those words. Many of the texts include the word in order to authentically show the hatred and aggression black people faced on a daily basis.
  • Additionally, teachers have to think about the implications of the N-word in their own classroom. Many people have complicated feelings about or are made deeply uncomfortable by this word, no matter what their racial background is. There will be times when the unit includes a read aloud from the text or discuss passages that use this word. It is important to remind students that just because the N-word is used in the text or is the focus of a discussion, it does not mean you or they are supporting the use of the word. For additional context on how the word is used today, read “Straight Talk about the N-Word” from Learning for Justice.
  • We suggest opening up honest and respectful discussion about this word and setting ground rules around its use. Before reading the text, consider beginning with the following discussion questions:
    • Why is this word considered so offensive/loaded? 
    • Who is “allowed” to use this word? Who is not allowed?
    • What are the consequences of using this word? 
    • Do you think it is possible to “reclaim” a word that has such a painful history?
    • Should we, as we read this text, be able to say this word?

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 3

Protecting the Earth: Plastic Pollution


Unit 5

Belonging to a Movement: One Crazy Summer

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