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Learning to Respect Each Other

Grade Level:
6, with adaptation for younger students

United States History, Anti-bias Education

Students will understand the following:
  • Dr. Martin Luther King was a strong advocate of nonviolent protest and fought for civil rights for all Americans with an eloquence that can be found in speeches such as his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
  • Throughout U.S. history, certain groups of people have been discriminated against for characteristics as superficial as the color of their skin. That racism still exists despite the passage of laws that make it illegal.
  • Stereotypes can lead people to make unfair judgments about individuals and groups.
  • Segregation is hurtful and unfair to those discriminated against.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech (available online at
Notebooks or journals (one per student)
Pens or pencils
Chart paper
Copies of Take-Home Activity Sheet: In the Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.


Day 1
  1. Read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech to the class. (The speech is available on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project site at

  2. After reading the speech, write the following quotation on the chalkboard: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Ask the class what they think that quote means and jot their ideas down on the chalkboard.

  3. Follow up the discussion of Dr. King's quote by explaining to students that throughout American history, minorities have been discriminated against and judged for characteristics as superficial as the color of their skin. Talk about some examples of discrimination in our nation's past. Here are some examples: - In the 17 th and 18 th century millions of African Americans were taken from their homeland and forced into slavery. - For many years, Native Americans were forced from their land by European settlers who immigrated to America. - Japanese American citizens were unfairly imprisoned in camps in the United States during World War II simply because their ancestry was Japanese and the United States was in a war against the country of Japan.

  4. Explain that our nation has made great strides fighting discrimination, such as - the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution, which abolished slavery; - the Fifteenth Amendment, which made it illegal to deny people the right to vote because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs; and - the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate against other persons in a public place or facility based on their color, sex, or religion. But despite these tremendous accomplishments, racism still exists today.

  5. Explain to students that discrimination, like the examples discussed above, can grow from assumptions and stereotypes that people make about others. Explain that an assumption is an idea that is taken for granted but not necessarily proven to be true. For example, it was assumed by European settlers that because the Native Americans looked different, spoke a different language, practiced different customs, and worshipped God differently, that they were somehow not as good or as "civilized" as the European settlers. How might assumptions have played a role in the other examples of discrimination mentioned above?

  6. Now ask students to help define the word stereotype. Explain that when we make assumptions about an entire group of people, those assumptions are referred to as stereotypes. When assumptions and stereotypes influence our attitudes, we may find that making a fair judgment about someone or something is difficult. This influence on our judgment is called a bias.

  7. Ask students what kind of discrimination they've observed in their everyday life. How do assumptions and stereotypes play a role in this discrimination? Do they see discrimination on TV? How about in their school or neighborhood?
Day 2
  1. Today's lesson involves arbitrarily segregating students into two groups-a "majority" group and a "minority" group-during the course of one school day. Before beginning this lesson, teachers may want to send a letter home to parents that describes this activity. In the note, explain that in this experiment children will discover how stereotypes and biases toward others come about and how it feels to be discriminated against. If any parent is opposed to the idea of their child's participation, then of course that child is excused from the exercise.

  2. Prior to the mock segregation, inform students that this exercise is merely "acting."

  3. Segregate students on an arbitrary but visible criterion. For example, you can randomly assign red and blue stickers for students to wear on their clothing throughout the experiment. The reds will comprise a majority of the population; the blues will represent the minority. The minority will not be given the same privileges or opportunities as members of the majority, for example:
    • The majority (reds) will be given free time to read or talk quietly with friends. The minority (blues) will work and not have free time to relax.

    • The majority will be allowed to work together on projects, if they wish. The minority must work independently.

    • The majority will get questions answered first. The minority will be called on last.

    • The majority will be dismissed first for lunch, recess, and at end of day.

    The minority will be dismissed last. NOTE: The "privileges" above will be exercised during the course of one full school day. To ensure that everybody has an opportunity to be in the majority and in the minority, you may want to switch groups halfway through the day or make this a two-day exercise.

  4. Have all students keep a personal journal throughout the mock segregation. Encourage them to take notes on the dynamics of segregation and discrimination, noting how it feels to be a member of the privileged group and what it feels like to be discriminated against.
Day 3
  1. Break the red and blue groups into smaller subgroups of three or four students each. All the students within a subgroup must be from the same original group. (Therefore, reds should be with other reds and blues with blues.) segregation experiment using their journals for reference. On chart paper, have a recorder in each group write down what they felt was the most striking aspect of the mock segregation experiment. What did they find most disturbing or hurtful? What was most memorable?

  2. Invite each group to report its findings to the whole class.

  3. Conclude the three-day lesson plan by looking back at Dr. King's quote and students' notes about the quote. Is there anything more they'd like to add? Have students discuss what they've learned about discrimination. What didn't they know or truly understand before the experiment?

  4. As a homework assignment, pass out copies of the Take Home Activity Sheet: In the Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. In this activity, students will be asked to look at quotes taken from King's "I Have a Dream" speech and describe King's message in their own words.

Adaptation for Younger Students

Younger children may have a difficult time understanding the mock segregation experiment, so focus the lesson plan instead on Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech. Explain to children who Dr. King was and why he's an American hero. Tell students that Dr. King embraced the idea of "nonviolent resistance" to protest discrimination in America. Explain that "nonviolent resistance" is done without yelling or fighting, and that it is a way of protesting against something that a person doesn't believe in without hurting other people. As you read the speech aloud, point out some of the images Dr. King had for the future. Encourage children to make illustrations to go with the speech.

You can evaluate students using the following three-point rubric:

Three points: Active participation during discussion of the "I Have a Dream" speech; keeps detailed, thoughtful notes in journal during mock segregation experiment; shares ideas during small group discussion; and participates in presentation of small group discussion notes to whole class.

Two points: Some participation during discussion of the "I Have a Dream" speech; keeps some notes in journal during mock segregation experiment, but not very deep; shares some ideas during small group discussion, but not very active participant; and participates satisfactorily in presentation of small group discussion to whole class.

One point: Little or no participation during the discussion of the "I Have a Dream" speech; keeps few or no notes in journal during mock segregation experiment; shares few or no ideas during small group discussion; and is not very involved in presentation of small group discussion to whole class.

Civil Right Heroes
Students have learned that Dr. King is a civil rights hero who embraced civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. Now invite them to research another civil rights hero. Research should include some biographical information and what the person did or is doing to fight racism. Students will present their research to the class in the form of an oral report.

Fighting Discrimination: A Story Book
Invite children to draw or paint a picture illustrating one nonviolent solution to discrimination. They should include a caption to go with their picture. They could also share their idea in a poem. After editing their work, you can compile all student pieces into a class book to be displayed in a school showcase.

I Have a Dream
In his speech, Dr. King describes in vivid detail his dreams for a world without racial discrimination. Now students have a chance to write their very own "I Have a Dream" speech. Remind them to include rich details. When they're done, invite children to read their speeches to the class.

In the News
Encourage students to bring in news stories having to do with some form of discrimination (such as racial, religious, or gender discrimination). These could include newspaper or magazine articles as well as stories seen on the news. Spend a little time each day discussing these current events.

Web Links:
Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance
The Southern Poverty Law Center offers numerous resources for "Teaching Tolerance" on these pages, along with the opportunity to apply for grants and request a free magazine for continuing classroom reference.

Rethinking Schools Online: Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice
The Fall 2000 issue of this online journal offers a special report on the status of multicultural education. The site also includes additional links.

Anti-Defamation League Education Resources
The education resources of the Anti-Defamation League provide extensive information about combating hate of all kinds.

Hateful Acts Hurt Kids
This Department of Justice site for kids offers information "about children of different races, religions and cultures who face prejudices and must decide how they will respond."

Race and Ethnicity
This is an extremely useful teacher reference site, dealing with all aspects and issues related to race and ethnicity.

This lesson plan was made by Jackie Glassman, freelance writer and editor of educational material.

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