Investigating the March on Washington

Download this lesson plan, including handouts, as a pdf.

Access a version of this lesson plan adapted for online learning.


Topic: Civil Rights History

Grade level: Grades 4 – 6

Subject Area: Social Studies, ELA

Time Required: 2 -3 class periods


  • Bring history to life through reenacting a significant historical event.
  • Raise awareness that the civil rights movement required the dedication of many leaders and organizations.
  • Shed light on the power of words, both spoken and written, to inspire others and make progress toward social change.

Essential Question

How do leaders use written and spoken words to make change in their communities and government?


  • Read, analyze and recite an excerpt from a speech delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • Identify leaders of the Civil Rights Movement; use primary source material to gather information.
  • Reenact the March on Washington to gain a deeper understanding of this historic demonstration.

Connections to Curriculum Standards

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy RI.5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy RI.5.2: Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy RI.5.4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 5 topic or subject area.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy SL.5.6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, using formal English when appropriate to task and situation.

National History Standards for Historical Thinking

Standard 2: The student comprehends a variety of historical sources.

NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.


Prior Knowledge and Skills

Students should be familiar with the historical context of the civil rights movement and know basic information about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


Many students know that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They may not know, however, that nine other civil rights leaders spoke that day: A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, John Lewis, Walter Reuther, James Farmer (whose speech was read by Floyd McKissick), Whitney Young, Mathew Ahmann, Roy Wilkins, and Rabbi Joachim Prinz. These ten speakers were known as the “Top Ten,” the team of civil rights activists who, along with Bayard Rustin, organized the March. In this activity, students work in small groups to learn about one of the speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They then reenact the March and recite an excerpt from one of the speeches delivered that day.


(all materials included in the downloadable pdf)

  • speech excerpt handout
  • program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
  • photograph of speakers from the March
  • biographical information handout


  1. Divide students into ten groups and provide each group with the March program and the photograph of the leaders, a speech excerpt, and biographical information. Have them locate their leader on the program, examine the photograph, and share any prior knowledge about the person.
  2. Have students read the biographical information provided. Alternatively, have students research their speaker and share information with group members.
  3. Have students read the speech excerpt and discuss the following:
    1. How would you summarize the text?
    2. What are two main ideas in the text?
    3. What words from the text provide evidence of the main ideas?
    4. What are other important words? What do they mean?
    5. What feelings will they put forth when they recite the speech?
  4. Have each group practice reciting their speech excerpt in preparation for a reenactment of the March.
  5. In further preparation for the reenactment, have students make signs depicting their wishes for racial justice and equal rights. Practice singing freedom songs such as We Shall Overcome and This Little Light of Mine.
  6. After students march on a pre-planned route, singing as they walk, assemble the group to hear the speech excerpts. Introduce each group to recite its excerpt for the class.
  7. Conclude the lesson with a discussion on challenges to racial justice today.


Have students write their responses to the discussion questions.


Have each group conduct further research on its assigned leader and create a Pinterest page to show the websites, photographs, and videos they think best represent the person. Have each group present the resources and reasons for choosing them.