Skip to content Skip to navigation

Part One: Dividing Line

Aerial illustration of young demonstrators facing fire hoses

Inspired by actual events: student demonstrators face fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963

Drawing by Evan Bissell


To call on prior knowledge and to prime the students for the lesson, begin with the following “anticipatory set” activity, called “Dividing Line.” This activity invites the students to form an opinion about a provocative statement and to prepare a brief defense of it. Tell students that they are going to be learning about the role that young people played in the African American freedom struggle, specifically in the Birmingham campaign, and write Malcolm X's statement: “Real men don’t put their children on the firing line,” on the board.

Have students write several sentences in response to the provocative statement followed by a number between one and ten reflecting their level of agreement or disagreement with the statement. Have students form a line across the room in numerical order and then split the line in half so that students are facing one another. The object here is to have the extremes of the line (ones and tens, twos and nines) pair off with one another for a brief exchange of their views. In addition to requiring students to take a stand, “Dividing Line” encourages them to back up their opinions with reasons and to defend them in a brief exchange with someone who likely holds very different views.

After students have had several minutes to discuss their positions, have some of the ones, twos, nines, and tens share their discussions with the class.