The Little Rock Nine and the Children’s Movement

This lesson focuses on questions of justice and the role youth have played in social and political movements. By reading a combination of primary and secondary sources, students will learn how the Little Rock Nine came to play their important role. These teenagers’ participation in school integration stemmed not from the prodding of the parents or activists, but from within themselves.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Understand the role African-American children and teens played in the civil rights movement.
  • Analyze the impact the Little Rock Crisis had on American society.
  • Recognize the power that youth possess in society.
  • Connect the experiences of the Little Rock Nine to their own experiences.
Essential Questions
  • What role did the Little Rock Nine children play in the civil rights movement?
  • Why is it important for society to listen to the voices of its children?


Enduring Understandings

  • The teenagers known as the Little Rock Nine played an important role in the civil rights movement. Their participation in school integration inspired the next generation of young people who led the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
  • Society needs to listen to the voices of its children because social and political decisions affect their lives as well. When given the opportunity to be heard, children can make a positive change to society. And since children are the future, giving them the chance to be heard now helps prepare them for being contributing members of society as they enter into adulthood.

Central Texts

  1. Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine 
  2. Recalling Little Rock’s Segregation Battle 
  3. The Day Big Steps Were Taken at Little Rock 
  4. One of the Little Rock Nine Looks Back 
  5. Walking to Class, into the History Books 
  6. The Little Rock Nine (short YouTube film)


forefront [ fohr-fruhnt ] (noun)  the most noticeable position

inevitable [ in-ev-i-tuh-buhl ] (adjective)  unavoidable

integrate [ in-ti-greyt ] (verb)  to combine into a larger group

resistance [ ri-zis-tuhns ] (noun)  a force that tries to stop something from happening



Step One

Explain to students that they will create a graphic organizer/word web to help them learn and remember some new words that are in the NPR stories they will read and hear. Seven words have been preselected from the text: resistance, forefront, inevitable, integrate. Have students do the following:

  • Write each word in a circle at the center of a 3x5-inch card.
  • Divide the card into four areas around the word.
  • Label the top areas “Definition” and “Characteristics.”
  • Label the bottom areas “Example” and “Non-Example.”
  • Working individually or with a partner, ask students to fill in cards for each of the seven words, and for any other words they find in the text that they don’t know.

Explain that they will need to be familiar with the words and concepts to help them better understand what they read. Have students save the cards as part of a collection of word cards they can revisit to help them remember the new words they are learning when they listen to the NPR interviews.


Step Two

Tell students they will be listening to the NPR interviews and following along with printed transcripts. Divide the class into five equal groups and select one person from each group to collect the graphic organizer, chart paper, and highlighters from the front of the room. This person will be responsible for returning all materials at the end of the activity.

Assign a different NPR interview to each group. Give each group the corresponding transcript for that interview. Tell students to listen to the interview and highlight the following participants: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Dr. Terrence Roberts, Melba Patillo Beals, Annie Abrams, Elizabeth Jacoway, Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton, Cyrus Bahrassa, and Governor Mike Beebe in the printed transcript.

Explain that students should highlight two types of passages about each person: (1) those that express personal thoughts about Daisy Bates and her leadership and (2) memories or thoughts about the Little Rock Nine’s experiences integrating Central High School. Ask students to number their highlighted passages with a “1” or “2” (as they correspond to the two types of passages mentioned in the previous sentence). (Note: The interview participants are scattered throughout the interviews.)

Students may replay the interview for clarity, as needed. At the conclusion of their interview, as a group, ask students to answer the following clarifying questions:

  • Who was interviewed?
  • What aspect of the Little Rock Crisis did the interview recall?
  • What was the main point of the story?
  • What were the interviewees’ thoughts about Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine?


Step Three

Explain to students that they should fill in the portion of their graphic organizer that can be completed from the interview. Then ask students to summarize each category in one sentence. Clarify that students should not write in the space reserved for the people who are not in their interview. They will get this information later from their classmates.

Have students select a group member to record the names of the preselected interviewees from the interview, along with the two sentences they wrote about those interviewees from their graphic organizer on chart paper. They should repeat this for all of the identified individuals from their interview. Then ask students to record their group answers to the clarifying questions listed above on their chart paper.

Explain that the group members will present the information from their chart paper to the rest of the class. Remind students of the importance that their presentation is well planned, clear in its delivery of the content, and concisely written. After each group has completed its presentation, students should complete the portions of the graphic organizer which pertain to its interview. (Note: This information should already be recorded on chart paper.)


Step Four

Tell students that the Little Rock Crisis was especially significant because of the emergence of television. For the first time, Americans did not just hear rumors or read about the evils of segregation but saw it with their own eyes. Once students have listened to interviews, watch and discuss the “The Little Rock Nine” YouTube video. Consider using the following questions in the discussion:

  • How did watching the events in real time alter your perception of the magnitude of the Little Rock Crisis, school integration, and the courage of the Little Rock Nine?
  • Did people’s perception change? Why or why not?
  • Do you think television changed the American public’s perception of school integration and Jim Crow segregation?


Step Five

Explain that students will use their copy of “The Little Rock Crisis” graphic organizer as supporting evidence and write a one-page essay about the importance of children’s activism. Ask students to answer the following questions in their essays:

  • What role have children played in changing history?
  • Why is it important for society to listen to the voices of its children?
  • What impact did the Little Rock Nine making their voices known have on American history?


Extension Activity

Have students select one of the Little Rock Nine and research his or her life after 1957. Provide students with the following guiding questions: “What was life like after the year that made the Little Rock Nine famous? What type of life has he or she led? Where is he or she now?”

Do Something

Tell students that Elizabeth Eckford still resides in Little Rock. Invite them to compose a letter to her, thanking her for the contribution her sacrifices have made to history. Ask: “How did Elizabeth’s courage shape the world in which you live?”


Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.10, W.1, W.2, W.3, W.4, W.9, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4, L.1, L.2, L.3