February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate African American history. Each year a variety of activities and lessons take place in my classroom. We highlight the struggles and successes of many historical figures. Ruby Bridges’ story, by far, is the one that my students relate to the most.
Ruby Bridges was one of the first African American children to integrate Southern schools. She was only 6 years old. Her daily struggles and encounters with hatred resonate with students. There are many ways to incorporate Ruby’s story into your classroom.
Read the Autobiography
Read Through My Eyes, Ruby’s autobiography. The images and her candid storytelling will foster rich conversations in your classroom. Excerpts from the book and be used to highlight some of Ruby’s experiences. As is often said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Allow students to draw conclusions based on the photos in the text and infer why those pictures were selected or how they help to tell Ms. Bridges’ story.
Watch the Movie
View the Disney movie, Ruby Bridges. Discuss with students Ruby’s daily school life. Compare her experiences with your students. Examine why Ruby is a person to be celebrated during Black History Month. The movie can also be used in conjunction with reading the book, Through My Eyes. Ask students to compare and contrast their experiences of reading the book and viewing the movie. This is a great Common Core State Standards (CCSS) lesson!
Share the Picture Book
Share the picture book, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Dr. Robert Coles. Younger students will comment about how mean people were to Ruby. Use Ruby’s experiences to open the door to lessons on bullying and friendship.
Create a Poster
Provide students with a variety of resources. Break students up into small groups and allow them to gather information on Ruby Bridges. After researching Ruby Bridges, students can create a 5Ws poster on her. I usually have students draw an illustration of the person of focus and then attach index cards around for the who, what, where, when and why. My students typically write one to two paragraphs on each card. Once students are finished, have groups meet and share their posters. What important details did each group highlight?
Listen to the Song
After reading one of the aforementioned books, or doing some research, listen to the song, “Ruby’s Shoes,” by Lori McKenna. Provide students with the lyrics. Examine the story told through the song. Challenge students to compose their own song based on their knowledge of Ruby.
Complete a Write Around
Display Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With.” Do a “write around” with students. Either pass the picture around or allow students to come to the board and write around the picture. The first time I do a “write around” I provide questions to guide responses. One we have done it a few times students need little to no guidance. Some guiding questions might be, what do you see? How does this make you feel? What was the painter’s purpose while creating this piece of art? Once you have passed the paper around a few times, share a few responses. Allow students to interject. The richness of the conversation will amaze you.
Write a Letter
At the conclusion of any of these activities, students can write a letter to Ruby herself. This authentic task will allow students to communicate with the girl they’ve been reading about. Students can ask questions, share their feelings on her experiences and make connections to their own lives.
My students have studied Ruby Bridges year after year. After each lesson, I can’t help but feel proud of the conversations we have and the higher level thinking my students do. There are so many resources available on this inspirational story of African American History. Feel free to share if you find any!