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The Great Migration Lesson Plan: Comparing/Contrasting Northern Life to Southern Life
After Plessy v. Ferguson and the institutionalization of Jim Crow laws in the South, many African Americans migrated to the North in hope of a better life. After reading The Great Migration and viewing related videos/films on The Great Migration, students will create a chart comparing the lives of African Americans still residing in the South during this period with those who participated in The Great Migration. Students should make sure that materials used show the positive as well as the negative experiences of the African-American people during this migration. Students will then write a position paper stating whether or not The Great Migration was beneficial or detrimental to those who participated in it. Appropriate for middle and high school students, the culminating activity will entail students presenting and arguing their standpoints in front of an impartial panel.
Grade Levels: Middle and high school, grades 6-12
For use with:The Great Migration
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
Students will understand

  • Understand the historical perspective of African Americans migrating from the South during The Great Migration.
  • Understand and know how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns.
  • Understand that specific individuals and their values had an impact on history.
  • Analyze the influences that specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specify how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs.
  • Understand influences on African-American culture during the 1920s.
  • Explain how and why events may be interpreted differently depending on the perspective of the participants, witnesses, reporters, and historians.
  • Use historical evidence to determine, support, and coherently express a position about important political values, such as freedom, democracy, equality, or justice.
  • Analyze examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among groups, societies, or nations.
  • Identify, cite, and discuss important political documents, such as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and landmark decisions of the Supreme Court, and explain their functions in the American political system.
  • Identify and explain democracy's basic principles, including individual rights, responsibility for the common good, equal opportunity, equal protection of the laws, freedom of speech, justice, and majority rule with protection for minority rights.
Time required
Six class periods
Materials needed
  • The Great Migration
  • Atlases, encyclopedias, almanacs, films, periodicals, poetry, paintings, Internet resources, and any other resources related to The Great Migration.
  • Pictures, graphs, use of technology, etc. are optional.
Anticipatory Set

  1. Show the picture below to students and have them write down all the adjectives they can about these images and what they think the people are doing and feeling. Briefly, discuss the list of adjectives generated by students. Have students talk about the anxiety they themselves experience when going to a new place, new home, new school, or meeting new people, not knowing what to expect or who to trust.

  1. Day One

    1. Have students take turns reading The Great Migration
    2. Advise students to ask questions, ask for clarification, and take notes on important facts about how African Americans were treated.
  2. Day Two

    1. Have students continue from the previous day.
    2. When they've finished, show students the video, The Promised Land: Sweet Home Chicago, or some other film about The Great Migration.
  3. Day Three (Cooperative Learning Groups)

    1. Divide the class in half after students have completed their readings, viewed the films/videos, studied poetry, and discussed The Great Migration. Give one half of the class the challenge of convincing everyone that the benefits of this migration outweighed the difficulties experienced. Challenge the other half of the class to convince the class that the opposite was true. To really make this effective, create smaller groups (subgroups) within each of the half of the class. Then, instruct each subgroup to examine the following areas as they relate to African-American life during this period:

      1. Health
      2. Safety/welfare
      3. Education
      4. Housing
      5. Employment
      6. Family life
      7. Religion
    2. Have every group assign (or you can assign) each member one of the following roles:

      1. The spokesperson for the presentation.
      2. The subgroup leader, who is responsible for making sure that everyone is on task and included in the discussion.
      3. The group correspondent, who makes sure that everyone in the group has the arguments and supporting evidence from the other groups. At the same time, he or she also must make sure that the other groups have theirs. Students must also make sure that you have this information.
      4. If there is a fourth member of the group, this person is responsible for acquiring and returning all materials. Otherwise, ask someone in the group to help with this role as well.
    3. Provide the initial resources for the students to get started and let them know that you expect them to find other resources on their own or as a part of their subgroup.
  4. Day Four

    1. Have students meet in their smaller groups (subgroups) and, using their resources, come up with their argument and supporting evidence. They should make sure that there is a copy of this for every member on the entire team and for the teacher.
    2. Assign students homework, due the next day, in which they must review the information they shared with their team and create a chart comparing rural African Americans to those who migrated to the city.
  5. Day Five

    1. Have the entire team meet to pull all components together and decide who will present to the whole class.
    2. Then, allow students time to practice for the presentation.
    3. Instruct students to write a paper defending the position on The Great Migration that was assigned to them, using the findings and notes from the larger group as a whole. Tell them to be as persuasive as they possibly can but only to use statements that they can prove with concrete evidence. Tell students that they must have their papers written and prepared to submit on the day of the presentation, as you will collect them before the presentation.
  6. Day Six: Presentation—The Great Migration

    1. Create an impartial panel of judges, for instance, made up of an assistant administrator, administrators, community people, parents, media specialists, support staff, etc. Make sure you give the Panel a rubric to assess to students' presentation.
    2. Have the groups collectively present their arguments to the panel.

The assessment* for this lesson will be as follows:

Grading Elements Total Points
Participation 5
Chart comparing rural and urban African Americans during The Great Migration era 5
Strength of the argument submitted 10
Student papers (Devote 10 of these points for spelling and grammar) 30

You also may use a five-points rubric to assess the presentation. Then, to determine the final grade, average the points you gave for the above components.

*The above is at the discretion of the educator.

Related Works

  • Literature, poetry, and art from the Harlem Renaissance lend themselves well to this lesson.
Interdisciplinary Links

  • This lesson is excellent as a part of an interdisciplinary unit with math, science, music and art, and geography.
    • Math and geography teachers could do map studies.
    • Math teachers and social studies teachers could do a timelines for this period.
    • Social studies, art, and math teachers could study the music and the art for this period and have students find examples of art and music that mimic the feelings of the people and what they were going through.
    • Teachers could also have students interview family members and find out who in their family was a part of The Great Migration.

  • Have students study and examine others migrations as they relate to African Americans, especially those after The Great Migrations. Ask students to consider the following:

    • What elements were common to all of these migratory periods?
    • What elements changed for the better or worse?
    • Also, examine the migration of other people of the African Diaspora to the United States and other parts of the world. What are/were their struggles? How are they different/ same as African Americans?
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