K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have A Dream” speech: Students will display their understanding of the symbolism and references that Dr. King used to enrich his famous speech on August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by constructing a “jackdaw,” a collection of documents and objects.
  • Desegregating public schools: Integrated vs. neighborhood schools : In this lesson, students will learn about the history of the "separate but equal" U.S. school system and the 1971 Swann case which forced Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to integrate. Students will examine the pros and cons of integration achieved through busing, and will write an argumentative essay drawing on information from oral histories.
  • Picturing America at the turn of the twentieth century: Students link together the literature and the history of the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Questions guide students as they study visual documents. Students also read the teacher's choice of two widely anthologized short stories and an excerpt from a best-selling novel of the period. Two exercises will raise student awareness of the impact that visual images have on their lives: one that is based on internet advertising and a second that results in a student-produced scrapbook.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2008. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

Learning outcomes

  • Students will practice understanding and explaining the effect of such literary concepts as symbolism, mood, tone, persuasive techniques, and theme.
  • Students will examine various forms of writing such as poetry and personal narratives.
  • Students will examine the effect of segregation on the lives of African Americans living in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

1 to 1–1/2 weeks


  • Paper
  • Pencils/pens
  • Student handouts:
    • Internet treasure hunt
    • Narrative pair assignment
    • Persuasive poster guidelines
  • Poster paper or large construction paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Computer paper
  • Glue
  • Old magazines
  • Colored index cards
  • Copies of the poems “Sympathy” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar and “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou (for a regular class)
  • Copies of the poem “Keep A-Pluggin Away” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (for a modified class, such as a language arts inclusion class)

Technology resources

  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Projector (optional—depends on your teaching style)


This lesson should be completed after students have studied the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Before completing this lesson teachers should do the following:

  • teach the voting acts and other civil rights acts passed to improve the lives of former slaves.
  • introduce the literary terms symbolism, theme, mood, tone, and repetition as well as the literary forms poetry and personal narratives.
  • introduce the concept of summarization.
  • provide background information on the authors that will be studied (Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Maya Angelou) at an appropriate time during the lesson.



An activator is an activity intended to get students interested and involved in what they are about to study.

  1. Select two colors of card from the index and pull out enough that each student will have one card.
  2. Put a one on one color and a two on the other.
  3. Designate one number the majority and the other the minority.
  4. Give each student a card as they walk in the room or as class begins.
  5. Tell the students who have the minority number to turn to one side.
  6. While teaching class, ignore the students with the minority number. Threaten them with ridiculous punishments for talking or bothering the majority group.
  7. Treat the majority group preferentially. Offer them advantages, such as no or reduced homework, etc.
  8. Act this way for 10–15 minutes or until the students figure out what you are trying to do.
  9. Discuss the activity with the students. Make sure you touch on the following concepts:
    • How did the students feel in the minority group?
    • How did students feel when they were the in the majority group?
    • How did each group fell toward the other?
    • What connections can be made between the activity and history?

African Americans were treated unfairly after Reconstruction until the 1960s and 70s. The laws enacted after Reconstruction, called Jim Crow Laws, created a segregated society where people were not treated equally.

Internet Research

  1. Take the students to the computer lab.
  2. Students will need to bring some paper and a writing utensil.
  3. Direct the students to the following websites:
  4. Hand out and have students complete the internet treasure hunt. See list of materials above.
  5. Students may or may not work in pairs depending on how many computers are available and how many students are in the class.

Classroom Pair Work

  1. Put students in pair groups. You may want to group your pairs by ability for this activity (high-high, high-average, average-average, or average-low).
  2. Within the pairs, have the students pick one of the narratives they had already selected.
  3. Then, hand out and have the students complete the narrative pair assignment. Hand out the persuasive poster guidelines to guide students as they create their posters. Before students begin the poster, explain the use of propaganda and persuasive techniques.
  4. Have students hang up the posters they create.
  5. Have each pair present their narrative poster to the class.


Lead a class discussion focusing on the following:

  • students’ opinion of the laws
  • the laws they found interesting and why
  • laws specific to North Carolina
  • the potential problems that could happen because of these laws
  • the equality in the laws (e.g. do they think that the hospitals, schools, and libraries were really equal)
  • their feelings if they had lived during segregation as an African American
  • the narratives from African-Americans living in North Carolina
  • brainstorm ideas of how people could fight segregation


This portion of the assignment has been modified for two different groups average to above-average students and average to exceptional children who are in an inclusion language arts class.

Average to Above-Average

  1. Read “Sympathy.”
  2. Read the first time without stopping.
  3. Read the second time stopping to discuss these points:
    • symbolism, mood, tone, and theme
    • how the symbol of the caged bird creates the mood and the theme
    • how this poem reflects the African American struggle for freedom from Jim Crow and other unfair policies
  4. Read “Caged Bird.”
  5. Read the first time without stopping.
  6. Read the second time stopping to discuss points.
  7. Discuss symbolism, mood, and theme.
  8. Compare and contrast the poem “Sympathy” and “Caged Bird”:
    • contrast the structures, the difference in the symbols, and the mood
    • compare the theme and the commonalities of the poems
    • discuss how both reflect the African American struggle for freedom
    • discuss how “Caged Bird” reflects the struggle for equality
    • discuss which poem is more effective
  9. Have students write a written response about which poem they found more effective.
  10. Have them move around the class and share their responses with as many people as they can in three minutes.
  11. Require that they get the paper signed by each person who listens to their response.


  1. Read “Keep A-Pluggin Away.”
  2. Read it the first time without stopping.
  3. Read it the second time, stopping to discuss important points:
    • the use of repetition, the mood, the tone, and the theme
    • the connection between this poem and the African-American struggle against Jim Crow
    • the message that Paul Lawrence Dunbar was trying to make to his African-American “brothers and sisters”


Use the persuasive poster guidelines for assessment.


  • Jim Crow Laws from the National Park Service’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site website

Supplemental information

Alternative assessments

Inclusion classes will also complete the persuasive poster project but should work in pairs rather than individually. Be sure to group by ability. Do not pair a low student with another low student for this project.

Critical vocabulary

Jim Crow, segregation, narrative, symbolism, mood, tone, theme, repetition, persuasive technique, propaganda


This lesson plan is designed for a hundred-minute social studies language arts block (each block is approximately fifty minutes long) or a ninety-minute language arts block.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 8
          • 8.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
          • 8.RL.5 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.C&G.2 Understand the role that citizen participation plays in societal change. 8.C&G.2.1 Evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches used to effect change in North Carolina and the United States (e.g. picketing, boycotts, sit-ins, voting, marches,...
        • 8.H.2 Understand the ways in which conflict, compromise and negotiation have shaped North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.2.1 Explain the impact of economic, political, social, and military conflicts (e.g. war, slavery, states’ rights and citizenship...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 4: The learner will continue to refine critical thinking skills and create criteria to evaluate print and non-print materials.
    • Objective 4.01: Analyze the purpose of the author or creator and the impact of that purpose by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • evaluating any bias, apparent or hidden messages, emotional factors, and/or propaganda techniques.
      • evaluating the underlying assumptions of the author/creator.
      • evaluate the effects of the author's craft on the reader/viewer/listener.
  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of interest to the individual.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • assuming a leadership role in student-teacher reading conferences.
      • leading small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • analyzing the effects of elements such as plot, theme, charaterization, style, mood, and tone.
      • discussing the effects of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback, allusion, irony, and symbolism.
      • analyzing and evaluating themes and central ideas in literature and other texts in relation to personal and societal issues.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences, and within various contexts.
      • analyzing and evaluating the relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences.
    • Objective 5.02: Study the characteristics of literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry) through:
      • reading a variety of literature and other text (e.g., young adult novels, short stories, biographies, plays, free verse, narrative poems).
      • evaluating what impact genre-specific characteristics have on the meaning of the text.
      • evaluating how the author's choice and use of a genre shapes the meaning of the literary work.
      • evaluating what impact literary elements have on the meaning of the text.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 5: The learner will evaluate the impact of political, economic, social, and technological changes on life in North Carolina from 1870 to 1930.
    • Objective 5.05: Assess the influence of the political, legal, and social movements on the political system and life in North Carolina.