Author: Ellen Fisher
Grade Level: 8
Length of lesson:
1 to 2 periods
Download Activity

Historical Context:

  • Theme: Change and continuity in American democracy: ideas, institutions, events, key figures, and controversies
  • Era: The development of modern America (19th and 20th centuries)

Essential Question

How do our attitudes towards race shape our perceptions of history?


This lesson plan fits into our 8th grade unit on Tolerance, specifically, the study of Jim Crow in America. Students will examine their preconceptions about attitudes towards race in Vermont by analyzing primary source documents and historical census data on minority populations in the region.


Maudean Neill, Fiery Crosses in the Green Mountains: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan in Vermont

Primary Source Materials

Census in Schools Materials

Teaching about the Census

Lesson Plan:

  1. 1. As an activator, have students do a quick-write in their journals responding to the following questions: • What percent of the population of Vermont would you guess is made up of minorities? • What would you say the attitude of Vermonters has been historically towards minorities?
  2. Students report out their thoughts to the class.
  3. Post the panoramic photo of the KKK gathering in Vermont (provided in download; you will need to cover the caption at the bottom of the photo). Ask students to respond to the following prompts:
    • Describe the people in this photograph:
      • What are they doing?
      • What are they wearing?
      • Where and when do you think this photo was taken?

    iWhat associations can you make from this photo?

    • Based on what you have observed above, list three things you might infer from this photograph.
    • What questions does this photo raise in your mind?

After several students volunteer responses, reveal that this is a photo of a Klan meeting in Montpelier in 1927.

  1. 4. Census data form: Students use census data to analyze demographic trends of minority populations in Vermont. Print or have students look online at these two census tables:
    New Hampshire – Race and Hispanic Origin: 1790 to 1990
  2. Vermont – Race and Hispanic Origin: 1790 to 1990
    Assign them (individually or in groups) to complete the Census Data Worksheet (provided in download).
  3. Have students work in pairs to read the document (printed or online), “The African Race”, and use the Primary Document analysis worksheet (included in download) to analyze this artifact.


As an informal assessment, have students reflect in an exit card: “In what ways have your perceptions of race in Vermont changed as a result of this lesson?”


4.4 Effects of Prejudice
4.6 Understanding Place
6.4 Historical Connections
6.6 Being a historian
6.11 Institutional Access
6.12 Human Rights