A Flipped Classroom Approach to Teaching Civil Rights History

Posted by Denny Conklin on August 20, 2014

With summer easing its way into fall, we all are busy thinking about strategies and resources to bring into the classroom this school year.

As a Facing History program associate and former history teacher, I try to work in activities and lessons that build critical reading skills, which got me thinking: What if an educator were to do something similar using film clips and text-dependent questions?


Several of my colleagues here have written posts for this blog around the "flipped classroom” idea and the notion of a “close viewing protocol” would easily lend itself to that approach. Below I’m including a flipped classroom exercise around the close viewing of a five-minute clip from the PBS American Experience film Freedom Riders, which tells the story of a courageous band of civil rights activists who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South.

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Suggested Activity: Film as Informational Text

You may have heard the idea of “close reading” or “close reading protocols” talked about in relation to the Common Core. Let’s apply the Common Core notions of text-dependent questions and a close read to a film clip.

STEP 1: Introduce the concept of a “close viewing protocol” (students will watch a five-minute film clip for homework, but they will watch it three times, each time with a different approach/objective).

STEP 2: Review close viewing questions together in class, answering any questions that arise.

STEP 3: Students watch the Freedom Riders clip “The Young Witness” at home and complete close viewing questions for each viewing. NOTE: The first two viewings are done at home and the third is done in class the next day.

  • View 1: Journal & Recall Questions
    • What are your reactions to seeing this film clip?
    • Basic recall questions/key info:
      • Who are the characters/people involved?
      • What is going on? What is the basic storyline?
      • What is the setting? Time period? Physical location?
      • What is the point of view? (Whose story is this?)
      • What is the theme/mood?
  • View 2: Film Dependent Questions
    • What does Janie say about “the Southern mind”?
    • How does Janie describe the people who attacked the bus?
    • Janie says helping the Freedom Riders caused her to be on the fringes of her society. How did her community respond to her actions?
    • What did Pearl say to Janie about Janie’s father’s feelings when Janie helped the Freedom Riders?

STEP 4: Students return to class and watch the Freedom Riders clip a third time.

  • View 3: Specific Focus (for this round, please assign groups, e.g., sound group, editing group, etc.)
    • Sound: Focus on the music in the film as well as the sound effects. What do you notice? What stands out to you?
    • Editing: Focus on the way that the interviews, photos, and video are edited together. What choices did the filmmaker make in terms of scenes or parts to show, represent, or emphasize?
    • Images: Focus on what you see. Do not pay attention to the audio, but simply take note of the images that are represented in the film.
    • Storyline/Historical Facts: How is the story unfolding? What are the objective, historical facts that are portrayed in this film?
    • Human Behavior: How do you see the range of human behavior (perpetrator, collaborator, bystander, upstander) represented in this film? Where do you see the theme of choices/decision-making?

STEP 5: Whole Class Refection & Debrief

  • Reflection Question:
    • How was your viewing of the film affected by the specific lens in which you viewed it?
  • Debrief Questions:
    • What is the purpose of this film? Is it to teach, entertain, or something else? How well is it doing this?
    • What motivations might the filmmaker have? How are these manifested in the film?
    • What do I already know about the topic?
    • Whose interests are served by telling/showing the story in a particular way?

This activity meets the following Common Core standards: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.7

Download a free teaching guide to accompany the film Freedom Riders today!

Learn more about how Facing History can help you meet Common Core standards in your classroom here.

Topics: Film, Facing History and Ourselves, Video, Civil Rights, EdTech, Media Skills, Assessment, Flipped Classroom, Facing Technology

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