LESSON

Defenders of Justice

In this lesson, students will investigate “defenders of justice” who fought against racism and changed American attitudes. Their work made possible, years later, something that many doubted would ever happen: the election of an African American as President of the United States.
Grade Level
3-5

Objectives
  • Students will summarize biographies of leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Lydia Maria Child, William Lloyd Garrison, Claudette Colvin, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Using a “jigsaw” format, each student will serve as the “expert” on their assigned person, while other “experts” teach them about other biographies.
  • Students will examine how they, too, can make the world a more just place.
Essential Questions
  • Can one person make a difference? What are some ways individuals can defend justice?
  • Is it important to be your “brother’s or sister’s keeper”? Why or why not?
  • How does promoting justice advance humanity and encourage empathy?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • Individuals can speak out and take action on behalf of others and encourage and empower others to follow their lead.
    • People have a moral duty to protect others, especially those who are not in a position to protect themselves.
    • Promoting justice advances humanity and encourages empathy.
Materials
  • Music (video) for "What Can One Little Person Do?"
  • Copies of the song's lyrics for each student.
  • Reading selections from the Internet and school library about Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas, Ida B. Wells, Lydia Maria Child, William Lloyd Garrison, Claudette Colvin, and Martin Luther King, Jr., selected in advance
  • Two copies of the cube handout for each student
  • Scissors, tape, string

Vocabulary

defender [ di-fen-dər ] (noun) someone who takes action against attack or challenge in support of someone or something that is being challenged or criticized

justice [ jəs-təs ] (noun) the quality of being just; morally good and fair

racism [ rā-si-zəm ] (noun) the belief that some races of people are better than others

Emancipation Proclamation [ i-man(t)-sə-pā-shən prä-klə-mā-shən ] (noun) an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, that freed slaves in the Confederate states. The proclamation ultimately paved the way for the abolishment of slavery in America.

 

Suggested Procedure 

1. Using a “jigsaw” format., provide students with context for the lesson and explain that they’ll be investigating “defenders of justice” who fought against racism and changed American attitudes. Their work made possible, years later, something that many doubted would ever happen: the election of an African American as President of the United States.

2. Ask students what justice means to them. Write their responses on the board.

3. Pass out the lyrics to “What Can One Little Person Do?” and practice singing the song as a class.

4. Choose five from this list of ten important defenders of justice — Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Lydia Maria Child, William Lloyd Garrison, Claudette Colvin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. — and ask students to share what they already know about them. Focus on how these individuals advanced justice.

5. Break the class into small groups — assigning each group one influential individual from the names cited above. Provide each group with your pre-selected books and one copy of the cube handout. Group members should review their book together and then discuss how they should fill out the handout. Once the group agrees on the specifics, each student should complete a copy of the handout.

6. Mix students up into new groups that are comprised of one representative for each of individual you’ve chosen to discuss. Representatives should teach each other about their assigned person.

7. As a whole class, discuss how the individuals studied were the same and different: “What was similar about the people you researched? Different? What surprised you? What characteristics did they have in common? What characteristics were different?”

8. Sing or listen to “What Can One Little Person Do?” again as a class. Explain to students that one thing President Obama asked was that everyone in the country “do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, … Let us be our sister’s keeper.” Explain that children have a role to play in this too. Just as the individuals the students researched did, children can help create a more just world. As a class, brainstorm ways children can promote justice.

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS: RF.4, W.7, SL.1, SL.2, SL.4. RL.5

 

Extension Activity

Do Something

Pass out a copy of the cube handout to each student, and ask students to reflect on one way they could help make the world a better place. In completing these personal cubes, all students will need to describe the issue they want to address, specify what they will do, identify people who can help, anticipate obstacles and state their ultimate hope — all key ingredients for taking action.

Once students have completed their personal cubes, combine them with the biography cubes to create “Defenders of Justice” mobiles in the classroom. Use the mobiles as a reference point to help start morning meetings or other “sharing times,” letting students report back in on the progress they’ve made and asking for support when things don't go as planned.