Recommended Books
Lesson 1: Grades 3–4
Lesson 2: Grades 5–6
Lesson 3: Grades 7–Up
Additional Resources
Online Activity Teacher's Guide

Lesson 2: Taking a Stand with Rosa Parks

Grade Level: 5–6

Lesson Introduction
This unique activity introduces Rosa Parks and provides an opportunity for students to respond to her experience in writing. As students learn about “the Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement,” they see how individuals have shaped American history.

Build Background

  • Ask students to share what they know about black history in America.
  • Have students work in small teams to review the interactive timeline on black history  and write out answers to the following questions or topics. Remind students to use the additional “Web Link” extensions to gather information.
  • When did Africans first come to this continent? Explain why they came and what happened once they arrived.
  • Describe three events between 1775 and 1865 that supported an end to slavery in America.
  • What early 20th century figure from another part of the world influenced later leaders of the civil rights movement such as Martin Luther King, Jr.? Describe his philosophy.
  • What are some of the restrictions put on African Americans during the first part of the 20th century?
  • Name three black figures who blazed new trails during the 20th century. What historic actions did they take? What obstacles did they face to gain their achievement?

Teach with the Activities
Consider What it Means to Break the Law:

  • Before you introduce students to Rosa Parks, have them consider the following question:
    Are people ever justified in breaking the law? Explain
  • Have students consider circumstances where they think it might be alright to break the law.

Meet Rosa Parks:

  • Take students to the profile on and have them read the articles: Sitting Down, Arrested, Boycott, King’s Speech, Boycott Works, Nonviolence, and Court Ruling.
  • Working in their groups, have students discuss why Rosa Parks was justified in breaking the law. They should write a brief paragraph explaining their reasons.
  • Next, have students consider what Rosa Parks could have done instead of breaking the law. Would these actions have resulted in the same outcome?
  • Ask students to think about what they would have done if they were Rosa Parks. Explain that each student will be writing an imagined account of the afternoon on that Montgomery bus as well as the events that followed. They should write their essay from the perspective of Rosa Park, the bus driver, or another passenger (black or white) who was on the bus that day.
  • Using this worksheet for drafting an outline, have students create an outline for their essay.
  • Provide time for students to shape their outline into a first-person essay. Their account should include what they (the persons whose personas they are adopting) felt as these historic events unfolded. Students should write a first draft and a revised draft.

Explore the Civil Rights Movement:

  • Hand out the Cause & Effect reproducible.
  • In the box on the right, have students write in “Civil Rights Movement.” Ask students to define the civil rights movement based on the following criteria:
    • Was it violent or nonviolent?
    • Was it lead by rich, powerful people or simple, everyday people?
    • Was it successful or unsuccessful?
    • What have been the repercussions of the civil rights movement?
  • Then, using the notes they gathered during the timeline activity and the information they learned in the profile of Rosa Parks, have students enter at least six causes that led up to the civil rights movement.
  • Have students imagine what could have happened if…
    • Rosa Parks had given up her seat.
    • The Supreme Court hadn’t ruled that segregation laws were unconstitutional.
    • Civil rights leaders had launched a violent protest.

Wrap Up:

  • Have the class again consider the question you posed at the beginning of the lesson:
    Are people ever justified in breaking the law? Explain.
  • Ask students to discuss the ways Rosa Parks and other participants in the civil rights movement broke the law. Were these people justified? Why or why not? Have students use examples from the cause/effect worksheet to support their arguments.
  • Drawing on the essays they wrote, have students consider how people on both sides of the movement felt about the civil rights leaders breaking the law.

Extend Learning

Additional Activities

  • Have students write a newspaper article (imagining it is 1955) covering the events of Rosa Parks’ arrest and the bus boycott.
  • Reviewing their notes from the timeline activity, students should choose an African American who overcame difficult situations to make progress. Have student write a paragraph about this person and submit it online at Nominate a Trailblazer.
  • Read about the history of jazz. Have students consider these questions:
    • How might the popularity of black music and musicians affected the civil rights movement?
    • What barriers or prejudices do you think jazz musicians faced?

Discussion Questions

  • Rosa Parks risked her life for an idea — the right to equal access to public transportation. Would you be willing to take a similar risk for something that you believed in? If so, explain.
  • What would you have been most worried about on the first day of the bus boycott?
  • What do you think of using nonviolence to solve civil rights issues? Use specific examples of nonviolence and reasons for your responses.


4th Edition Standards & Benchmarks

United States History

  • Understands the development of the civil rights movement