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Melba Pattillo and Ruby Bridges: Two Pioneers of School Integration


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Health
    --Mental Health
  • Social Studies
    ---U.S. History


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12


Brief Description

Students put themselves in the shoes of the students who integrated Little Rock High School in 1957-58. Note: The primary resources in this activity provide powerful and poignant descriptions of what those students faced.


Students will

  • read about the kids who took part in early school integration efforts in Little Rock, Arkansas, and New Orleans.
  • read recent reflections by two of those former students.
  • role-play an interview with Melba Pattillo, one of nine students who integrated Little Rock High School.
  • read background and look at photos about the integration efforts in Little Rock.
  • put themselves in the shoes of those kids who were pioneers in school integration and write a diary entry one of them might have written after the first week in her new school.


Ruby Bridges, Melba Pattillo, Little Rock, integration, civil rights, Black History, African American, hero, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall

Materials Needed[shopmaterials]

  • computer with Internet access, or copies of two articles and an interview (see below) printed from the Web
  • a copy of the book Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges, from your local library (optional)
  • pencils and paper

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students read the recollections of two women who were among the pioneers of school integration in the Deep South.

Introduce students to the two women:

  • Melba Pattillo, now Melba Pattillo Beals, was one of nine students to integrate Little Rock (Arkansas) High School.
  • Ruby Bridges, now Ruby Bridges Hall, was a first grader when she became the first black child to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

Share the resources below with students; they are reflections of two girls experiences that were written by the girls as grown women. You might share these pages as a class, or students might read them online or in printed form on their own.

After reading those resources, you might also:

  • Read aloud the entire book, Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges (published by Scholastic). After reading, pose questions from the Discussion Guide to help students put their reading in perspective.
  • Share an inspiring interview with Melba Pattillo Beals. In this recent interview, Pattillo Beals responds to questions from students who have read her story. You might have students read this interview as a round-robin activity. Print out the interview. Then provide each student with a section (one question and its answer) of the interview. Have the students practice reading Beals response to the question they are assigned. Appoint one student to act as moderator. That student will ask each question and the student with the corresponding answer will read Beals response.

After sharing the thoughts of those two women as they look back on their early experiences, challenge students to attempt to put themselves in the shoes of one of those two girls; ask students to write a journal entry that one of the girls might have written after the first week in their new school.

Additional Resources: Some of the following resources will offer students added background about, and a little more insight into, the experiences of Pattillo and Bridges:

Little Rock Integration Project
The photos and documents in this excellent compilation of resources, which includes Elizabeth Eckford Goes to School, offer disturbing and poignant glimpses into the events in Little Rock.

The 1957-58 School Year
A timeline of events that year at Little Rock High School.

The Little Rock Nine
This resource tells what became of the nine students who integrated Little Rock High School.

The Tiger
Articles from 1957-58 issues of The Tiger, the student newspaper at Little Rock High School.



Students publish their diary entries for their classmates to read.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NPH.K-12.6 Respect for Others
NPH.K-12.7 Understanding Challenges

NSS-C.K-4.2 Values and Principles of Democracy
NSS-C.K-4.5 Roles of the Citizen
GRADES 5 - 8
NSS-C.5-8.3 Principles of Democracy
NSS-C.5-8.5 Roles of the Citizen
GRADES 9 - 12
NSS-C.9-12.3 Principles of Democracy
NSS-C.9-12.5 Roles of the Citize

NSS-USH.K-4.1 Living and Working together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago
NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage
GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-USH.5-12.9 Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
NT.K-12.5 Technology Research tools

Click to return to this week's Lesson Planning article, Lessons in Black History.

See additional lessons and resources on Education World's special Black History Month archive page.


Updated 2/07/2012


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