Investigating the March on Washington for Online Learning

The Top Ten Speakers

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


Topic: Civil Rights History

Grade level: Grades 4 – 6

Subject Area: Social Studies, ELA

Time Required: 1-2 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.

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 learn about one of the speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They then analyze, summarize, and recite an excerpt from the leader's speech that was delivered at the event.


(all materials included in the downloadable pdf)


  1. Assign one of the ten leaders to each student or have students choose one. Have students locate their leader on the March program and in the photograph. Have them record any prior knowledge they have about the person.
  2. Have students read the biographical information on their speaker. Alternatively, have students research their speaker and take notes.
  3. Have students read their speech excerpt and complete this speech preparation planning sheet. Summarize the text.
  4. Have each student practice reciting their speech excerpt.
  5. Have students make a protest sign based on their speech excerpt.
  6. Have students share their speeches and signs.
  7. If possible, have students show their signs and recite their speech excerpts live. Or, they can make video recordings to share.


Review students’ speech preparation worksheets and listen to live or video recordings of the speeches.


Have students conduct further research on their assigned leader and create Pinterest pages to show the websites, photographs, and videos they think best represent their leader. Have students present the resources and reasons for choosing them.


This activity is adapted from a classroom lesson plan which includes a reenactment of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. To access additional photographs, video, and documents on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and other civil rights events, visit 1963: The Struggle for Civil Rights.