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Social Studies Lesson Plan: Freedom Leaders (Ruby Bridges), Grades 2-3

Social Studies Lesson Plan: Freedom Leaders (Ruby Bridges), Grades 2-3

This lesson serves as an introduction to a U.S. history unit. The CCSS-featured informational text, The Story of Ruby Bridges, describes the experiences of six-year-old Ruby, the first black student to be integrated into an all-white school. This account naturally segues into further study of the Civil Rights Movement; freedom leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt; suffrage and citizenship for all people; and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the fifteenth and nineteenth amendments. Included are elements of complex nonfiction text, vocabulary, images, close reading, text-dependent questions, letter writing, companion texts, research, and cross-curricular activities. These elements relay foundational social studies content; weave in geography, primary sources, poetry, and more; and meet many 2–3 ELA CCSS.

Featured Key ELA Common Core Standards

  • RI.2.6/RI.3.6: Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe; distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.
  • W.2.7/W.3.7: Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report); conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
  • SL.2.4/SL.3.4: Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audibly in coherent sentences; report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
  • L.2.4/L.3.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 2/3 reading and content, choosing flexibly from an array of strategies.

Lesson Content Objectives

  • Identify Ruby Bridges as the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school
  • Find evidence to support the main idea/author’s purpose that Ruby Bridges was a leader who enacted change
  • Describe some images and tell how they convey information
  • Determine one’s own point of view relative to Ruby’s story
  • Write a letter to Ruby Bridges expressing responses and asking questions about her experience
  • Conduct further reading and research about Ruby Bridges and other leaders of freedom

Duration: 1–3 days

Materials: Copies of The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles; chart paper; markers; copies of companion text Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges (optional)

Vocabulary: (may be used to create word clouds)

Proper nouns (people, locations): Ruby Bridges; Tylerton, Mississippi; New Orleans; McDonogh 19; William Franz Elementary School; American history; President of the United States; Miss Hurley*

Civil rights/legal/protestor words: black, white, separate schools, education, fair, nation’s law, 1960, judge, elementary schools, important event, crowd, signs, want, hurt, city and state police, help, President of the United States, federal marshals, walk, guns, surrounded, arrest, mob

Descriptive/action words: poor, barely, fair, proud, strong, high, first, angry, gathered, hurt, walk, experienced, surrounded, clean, slowly, approached, marching , shouted, pushed, threatening, hurry, alone, play, learn, eat lunch, smile, ready, polite, enjoyed, nervous, anxious, irritable, scared, normal, relaxed, empty, wonder, calm, confident, fine, wear down, howling, screaming, kill, frightened, persuade, move along, budge, surprised, irritated, hated, hurried, terrible

Faith-related words: church, near, God’s sprit, close, prayed, strong, courage, God, forgive

Afterword (words not previously included): two white boys, tired, mischief, joined, cheated, own hands, fight, children’s right, growing number, given up, struggle, scare, defeat, federal judge’s order, desegregated, all races, same classroom, graduated, high school, attend, New Orleans Public School System, successful businesswoman, Ruby Bridges Educational Foundation, purpose, increasing parental involvement, Louisiana

*Note: In earlier versions, Ruby’s teacher is referred to by her maiden name, Miss Hurley. Later she is Miss Henry.


  • Share the covers, title, title page, author, and illustrator of The Story of Ruby Bridges. Have students describe the cover and title page, and make predictions about the book and whether it is fiction or nonfiction.
  • Read the quote by Ruby’s mother at the beginning of the book about Ruby being a leader who helped changed the country. Tell students to listen to hear how Ruby was a leader, and what lessons her story can teach us. (You may wish to provide students with brief background information about the U.S. Civil Rights era. This discussion may also occur after this lesson as a segue to a complete unit. You may include a timeline and/or KWL chart in your discussion of civil rights to address where this account fits into history and what students may already know about the key people and events in this account and other related accounts.)
  • Read the book aloud, including the afterword at the back of the book. Pause as needed to explain or repeat certain words or phrases. Ask again: “Is this book fiction or nonfiction? How do you know?”
  • As you read, or after you are finished, gather and sort words (sample vocabulary lists above). Discuss the relationships among the words and any unfamiliar words that may need explanation, such as desegregated.
  • Give each child or group a copy of the book and have them read the text again to answer in writing the following text- dependent questions. Guide students to cite evidence from the text as needed by modeling, thinking aloud, and discussing as a class. Have groups share their evidence-based answers and inferences.
    • What evidence supports Ruby’s mother’s quote? (Ruby praying for courage - p. 6; walking through the mobs - p. 11; going to class alone and being polite and ready to learn with a smile - p. 12; not giving up or being worn down by the crowds – p. 19; praying for the people who hated her – pp. 21 and 22. Afterword: Ruby’s perseverance caused the white people to give up and send their children to school; Ruby graduated from a desegregated high school, and her four sons attended integrated public schools; Ruby started a foundation which helps children of all backgrounds receive a more equal education.)
    • What is the main topic of this nonfiction text? (Guide students to understand that Ruby’s mother’s quote, the main topic, and the author’s purpose are one in the same: the message that one person’s attitude and actions can make a difference; Ruby was a leader who helped change the country.)
    • What information do the images tell you about this story? Choose two images and describe them.
    • Retell the story of Ruby Bridges using descriptive words. (spoken, not written)
    • Why do you think the city and state police did not help Ruby? (Guide students to infer that many people in New Orleans—including some police officers—were against desegregation. In order to enforce the law, the president had to send in federal marshals.)
    • Read these sentences on p. 18: “The marshals were frightened. They tried to persuade Ruby to move along. They tried to hurry her into the school, but Ruby wouldn’t budge.” From this context, what does the word persuade mean? Use this word in a sentence of your own.
    • How was Ruby’s faith important to her and her family? How did this affect the way she responded to the mobs? Even though she told her teacher she was fine, do you think Ruby ever felt afraid or lonely?
    • What did you learn about this account from Ruby’s teacher’s point of view? What other points of view are in this account? (Ruby, Ruby’s mother, the judge, lawmakers, white protestors, black people, etc.) What is your point of view of this story as the reader?
    • What lessons can we learn from Ruby’s story? (the importance of not giving up and fighting for our rights, having faith and courage, forgiving others, believing things can change, not returning hateful actions with more hateful actions, believing one person can make a difference)
  • Have students write a letter to Ruby Bridges, and mail them to her foundation. Encourage students to express their reactions to Ruby’s story, as well as any questions they may have for her about her experiences. (Sometimes Ruby responds to letters.) You may choose to use a letter template. Some example letters written to Ruby Bridges are included here: http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3747978

Differentiation: Write the letter to Ruby and short report together as a class. Select excerpts of the companion text as suitable for your students. You may assign various extension activities to different groups of students by ability.

Featured Extensions (optional)

Reading: As a companion text, read Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. (You may choose to share only selected excerpts and images to help address questions about Ruby’s experiences and the Civil Rights Movement. This account in its entirety may not be suitable for younger children, as it is quite lengthy and includes derogatory words.) Compare and contrast the two accounts, focusing on point of view, illustrations vs. photographs, and the many details included in this account as compared to the featured text. You may choose to use a Venn diagram.

Research: Have students research more about Ruby Bridges and her story, using Through My Eyes and other print and online sources, and write a short report. Show students video footage of Ruby Bridges, then and now. Discuss how she is still carrying out her role as a leader of freedom, speaking to audiences around the country.

Cross-Curricular Connections

Worksheets, Lesson Planning Resources