Nation In Crisis

Middle School – Lesson Plan Activities

Commonwealth Theater Center invites you to use the activities below to supplement your instruction surrounding the performance of Nation In Crisis.

These Lesson Plan Activities were developed and compiled by Meg Caudill, Education Resource Manager, and Mera Kathryn Corlett, Artistic Associate. Questions? You can email Mera by clicking her name.

Monologue Project

Nation in Crisis looks at 8 different perspectives from the era, but it by no means encapsulates everything from Civil Rights history. 

For a class project, have your students extend the program by adding new monologues that they write, design, and film. In the videos below, you’ll meet professional artists from the Nation In Crisis team at Commonwealth Theatre Center. Each person/video will share details and advice on how to approach a part of your monologue project.

Part 1 - Writing

After watching the video, ask students to choose someone from Civil Rights history that they want to learn more about. The List of Prominent Civil Rights Figures is a great resource for students to start searching through. Once they have decided, have students use the Monologue Project Worksheet to build their monologue.

Part 2 - Costume

When students have completed writing their monologues, watch the video about costume design. Explain that they need to research the clothing that was popular and think about how their character would have dressed. Point out that the costume designer from Nation in Crisis had to be creative in making the costumes look like they were from a different time period. State that you want students to be creative as well. 

Part 3 - Set / Camera

Continue learning about the design elements of the Nation in Crisis production by watching the video about set and camera work. Ask students to think about how they will capture their monologue. Will they use one long shot or a variety of angles? In their time outside of class they should play around with some ideas and practice in front of the camera.

Part 4 - Acting

Have students watch this final video from the Nation in Crisis actor, Jacqui Blue. It is now their turn to build their own production. Have each student film their monologue. 

Decide what you want to do with these monologues. You can edit them together to create your own production. If you chose to do this, be sure to ask the class to generate a title for the program.

If you share your creations on social media, please be sure to tag Commonwealth Theatre Center and use the hashtag #NationInCrisis.

A Picture is worth 1,000 words

Tableau is a french word meaning frozen picture. They are often created to represent a scene from a story or history. For this activity, students will choose a picture from the accompanying google slide options and will recreate the picture to the best of their ability (this can be done socially distanced in person, or virtually over zoom, google meet, etc.)

Directions: Click the button above to access the images and share them with your students. Ask them to notice the body language and facial expressions of those pictured. 

  • What do they think is happening in the photos? 
  • What emotions do they see? 
  • How does the body language give us information about the events?

In groups, have students select an image to recreate. As they are working to build the tableau they should think about something they might say or do if they were the character they’re portraying. When the students are ready to present, have them freeze in position on the count of three. You can bring the tableau to life by unfreezing each person in turn and having them say something, or show a movement, as their character.

Optional Activity for High School students: Compare these images from the civil rights movement to more modern images. How has the civil rights movement impacted the way we affect change today?

Freedom Riders

In 1961, civil rights activists rode interstate buses through the south where the segregated states were not enforcing the rulings of the Supreme Court decisions that declared segregated public buses were illegal. These groups were known as Freedom Riders.

For more information about the Supreme Court Rulings, you can refer to cases such as Morgan V. Virginia (1946)Keys V. Carolina Coach Co. (1955), and Boynton V. Virginia (1960).

As a class, read through the events of the Freedom Riders Timeline in the link above. (You are welcome to edit the information as needed to accommodate the age group)

Questions for Discussion:

  • Why did the Freedom Rides employ nonviolent direct action? How did their actions expose injustice? Why was it such an effective strategy for bringing about change during the civil rights movement?
  • What does the story of the Freedom Riders suggest about the role of citizens in shaping democracy? What is the importance of civic engagement? How do you participate in public life? (Link to PBS article "What Came Next")

Digging Deeper:

  • How do you think the presence of journalists on the buses impacted the nation’s reactions to the events? (Link to PBS article "The Power of the Press")
  • “Jail, No Bail” was a strategy adopted by Civil Rights activists, including Freedom Riders, who decided that paying bail fines only financially helped the cities that were oppressing them. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader Diane Nash stated, "We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants." In the summer of 1961 over 300 Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi which overwhelmed the system by filling up the jails (which cost the state money to house them.) How do you think this impacted the Federal Government’s decision to step in and order the states to enforce the desegregation laws?


  • The Freedom Riders used songs to unite them in their mission and tell the story of their travels. Those who were arrested in Jackson spoke about singing to each other from their cells to keep up morale (and also to annoy the warden.) Check out some of the lyrics to songs written during that time by visiting the 20th Century History Songbook website. You can also listen to the song “Buses Are A-Coming" as you learn more about the Freedom Rides (watch video up to 2:30 mark). What lyrics would you use to tell about the events of the Freedom Riders? Is there a familiar tune you might use to sing your song? (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain, I’m a Little Teapot, etc.)
  • The second wave of Freedom Riders was organized by a group of college students led by Diane Nash. Most of them were 17, 18, or 19 years old when they chose to join the movement and rally for equality. Imagine that you were one of those students deciding to be part of the Freedom Riders. Write a letter to your parents explaining why you have chosen to be part of this journey.

Unpacking Redlining


The discriminatory practice of refusing to lend money or extend insurance for homes located in areas with large minority (primarily Black) populations. This practice made the entrance point for homeownership significantly more difficult and reduced property value in these communities.

For this activity, break the class into 6 small groups. To begin, ask students what they think the term redlining means. Allow a few minutes for students to discuss what they know and then watch the video. 

It is important that groups are created with as much representation as possible. Do not have segregated teams.

Assign each group one of the characters cards and hand them a question sheet.

Give the instruction that each team will read about the character they have been assigned. Explain that the characters are not fictional, they were real people who were impacted by or part of Redlining. After reading the information about their character, groups should discuss what was interesting and work together to complete the Redlining Character Worksheet. Before starting the group work, you should acknowledge that some of the stories are upsetting and that you are available if a student should need guidance.  Allow 10 minutes for this first part of the activity.

After returning, ask students to think about the person they just learned about. Explain that everyone is going to break into new groups. In these new groups, one person from each character team will be represented and will be responsible for interacting as that person. Participants are invited to ask questions as their role and to respond in a way that they think their character would answer. Remind students that this is just a class activity and not a play; therefore they should speak in their usual voice. The environment for these interactions should be as if you are meeting at a park or a party. The aim is to get to know the people in the room, not debate or change their minds. These people are locked in history and their actions cannot be changed.

Allow about 15 minutes for these new groups to meet. When everyone returns, use the remaining time for a class discussion. What surprised you? Who did you meet that taught you something? 

For work outside of class time, have students write their reflections about the experience and visit Redlining Louisville to learn about Louisville’s history of Redlining.

This activity was adapted from a lesson created by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca titled How Red Lines Created White Wealth. The original lesson plan can be found here. It is designed for in-person classrooms. 

Walking for Justice

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom happened on August 28, 1963. On this date over 250,000 people marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to hear Civil Rights leaders address the crowd. People came from all across the country, each marching with strength and courage to make our country a better place. 

Ask your students to think of what they are willing to stand up for. Have them use the shoe template to tell a time when they walked for justice. After, have students share.

This activity was adapted from a lesson created by Deborah Menkart titled Big Shoes to Fill: A Teambuilding Lesson. The original lesson plan can be found here