Rosa Parks

3, 4, 5

This lesson explores the heroic actions of one American woman--Rosa Parks. Students will read about her refusal to give up her seat to a white person and the resulting bus boycott that ended segregation on the city buses in 1956. Rosa Parks' acts of philanthropy brought a community of people together for the common good and resulted in major social change in her community and in the nation. Students will identify the relationship of individual rights and community responsibility.

Lesson Rating 
PrintThree to four 30 minute class periods

The learner will:

  • review the characteristics of a hero and relate them to Rosa Parks.
  • explain why acting philanthropically is good for the individual and community.
  • identify the relationship of individual rights and community responsibility.
  • identify community as the degree that people come together for the common good.
  • write a letter to someone he or she admires to ask a question or make a statement.
  • Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth by Rosa Parks and Gregory Reed (see Bibliographical References)
  • Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, James Haskins, and Jim Haskins (see Bibliographical References)
  • Letter-writing materials and stamps for mailing

Biography: Rosa Parks

Parks, Rosa and Gregory J. Reed. Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth. Lee and Low Books, 1997. ISBN: 1880000458

Parks, Rosa, James Haskins, and Jim Haskins. Rosa Parks: My Story. Puffin, 1999. ISBN: 0141301201

Time (a good site for a summary of Rosa Parks' life as well as links to other resource sites)


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Set up eight chairs in two columns like a bus. Have eight students sit in the bus seats and tell them (and the class) that they have been working all day and they are tired. They are riding the bus home on a half-hour trip. Tell them that you are a new passenger getting on the bus. Role-play that you are getting on the bus. Pick one student (not a sensitive one) and tell him or her that he or she must get up and give you his or her seat. If the student hesitates, say "You know the law, people with (red) shirts must give up their seats if someone with a (blue) shirt comes on the bus. So get up or I will have you arrested." Hold a discussion about what happened and the feelings of the people involved. Guide the students to the conclusion that the law is not fair and that it is the responsibility of the individual and community to do something about the law.

  2. Introduce the class to the story of Rosa Parks. Either tell it or read it using one of the many sources available at the library. Read some of the letters from the book, Dear Mrs. Parks. Hold a discussion about Rosa Parks' actions. Ask students to describe how she acted as a hero and philanthropist then and continued to act as a philanthropist. Discuss how she was acting in her best interest, but also doing something good for the community.

  3. Using the definition of hero developed in previous lessons, have students support the idea that Rosa Parks was a hero.

  4. Have each student write an outline briefly describing the major events from the story of the bus boycott. Then, group students in teams of three or four to discuss and write an explanation of how individual rights and community responsibility are related.

  5. Locate the city of Montgomery, Alabama, on a map. Compare and contrast this city in 1955 with the learners'own community. Discuss whether they think an act of discrimination like Rosa Parks experienced may have happened in their own community in the past or if it could happen in the present.

  6. Read more of the letters to Rosa Parks from Dear Mrs. Parks. Discuss how philanthropic activities can bring about social change. Define social change. Challenge students to think of examples of this unrelated to Rosa Parks.

  7. Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good. Discuss the community that developed around Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. For what common good did they come together?

  8. Ask students to propose for what common good they would make an extra special effort. Then, have each student choose a person related to that "cause" and write a letter either asking a question or praising efforts. Monitor the students' work to assure that the letters are sincere and show their best work. You can send letters to famous people in care of publishers or the organizations with which they are involved.


Students will demonstrate their understanding of the work of Rosa Parks in their written outlines and explanations of individual rights and community responsibility. Monitor student letters to assure that students use quality writing and express sincere feelings about the contributions of the people to whom they choose to write.

Cross Curriculum 

Students will work in interest groups within the classroom to identify a need in the school or community. They will make a plan to meet that need or provide some help. Refer to the Grades 3-5 Social Studies Unit entitled "Real Heroes" on the Learning to Give Web site (click on "Teaching Materials" in the left-hand frame of the Home Page, then Grade Level). The unit has several lessons which tie in nicely with this unit. One lesson has students attempting to fill a need, as suggested here. Another lesson has students identifying their heroes. In another lesson, students identify the attributes of a hero and contrast a hero with a celebrity.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.5 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibility.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.9 Describe how philanthropic activities can bring about social change.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify why people practice philanthropy related to their own self-interest.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.1 Provide a needed service.