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Lesson Plan Baseball, Race and Ethnicity: Rounding the Bases

Students use primary sources focused on baseball to explore the American experience regarding race and ethnicity.


Students will:

  • analyze historical images;
  • create an original argument using primary sources;
  • pose historical questions after analyzing and reflecting on primary sources;
  • employ search strategies to obtain primary historical data from targeted collections of sources;
  • place the developments of race and ethnicity in America in historical context.

Time Required

Five classes

Lesson Preparation

  1. Review lesson.
  2. Review information on Using Primary Sources in the Classroom.
  3. Learn how to search the Library of Congress digital collections.
  4. Review Citing Electronic Resources.
  5. Reserve Internet-accessible computers for student use.
  6. Reserve books from school and local libraries.


Lesson Procedure

Activity One: Introduction

  1. Demonstrate to students how one can study U.S. history and culture by examining the topic of baseball. Show selected items from "Baseball Across a Changing Nation" Primary Source Set. Introduce the timeline Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson as appropriate.
  2. Provide students with enough time to carefully observe the images and reflect on the comments. You may wish to let them take 5-10 minutes to write down their impressions in a journal.
  3. Discuss the students' observations of the images.
  4. Explain the objectives of the lesson to the students. Emphasize that the heart of the lesson is observation, analysis, and evaluation of primary sources.
  5. Have students review this primary document image of baseball.
  6. Have students share their observations about these images with a partner, answering the following questions:
    • What do you see?
    • What does this primary source tell you about baseball in early America?
    • What do the sources tell you about U.S. culture at the time the image was made?
    • Why do you think this way about early baseball and U.S. culture?
  7. Explain that the students will trace the development of Americans' ideas about race and ethnicity through the history of baseball.

Activity Two: Research

  1. Divide students into five groups based on the following time periods: 1860-1879, 1880-1899, 1900-1919, 1920-1939, and 1940-1959.
  2. Briefly introduce students to the following collections:
  3. Have students spend some time browsing the collections to get a feel for the sources available. They should be directed to consider specific words, including words that may not be in use anymore, that would be helpful in retrieving appropriate source material.
  4. Have each student search the digital collections to find one image and one textual document from the time period assigned to his or her group. Strongly encourage students not to choose the first sources they come across in their search. The image and text selected should capture the developments, trends, or patterns of race or ethnicity during the assigned time period, as seen through the lens of baseball.

Roundtable Discussion

  1. Once each student has selected his or her primary image and textual document, bring students together for discussion in groups. The outcome of the discussion will be the selection of one primary image and one primary document that best captures the developments, trends, or patterns of race or ethnicity during their time period.
  2. Assign each group member a particular task in the discussion. Emphasize that all members are responsible for contributing to the discussion. Be sure that the students understand that they will be required to evaluate the quality of their discussion.

    Assign these roles to group members:
Researcher Discussion Leader Recorder
You must identify and explain important events, people, and patterns during this time period.
You may reference your notes, your text, or Library of Congress digital collections.
Ultimately, your job is to set the historical context for the discussion.
You must keep the discussion on track and focused.
You must ensure that all members' ideas are shared.
Remember that you are trying to characterize or capture the developments regarding race and ethnicity in America during this time period.
You must take notes and try to capture the group's discussion.
Focus on why group members selected the sources that best represent the changes or challenges of race and ethnicity during your time period.
Include comments from each member including yourself.

Examine the primary sources (images and documents) selected by your group. List ideas from the sources that provide insight on how they reflect American attitudes regarding race.

Decide which one image and one textual document best capture your era.

Final Product

  1. Student groups create a newspaper page that contains the following elements:
    • a creative newspaper title;
    • the group's time period;
    • a visual image from their time period;
    • a textual document from their time period;
    • an editorial analyzing how Americans' ideas about race and ethnicity are illustrated in the group's baseball sources; and
    • proper citation of the sources used.
  2. You may wish to engage the whole class in a discussion at the end of the unit. For example, the class may identify trends or patterns regarding race and ethnicity that emerged during the unit activity. They may discuss further what the history of baseball suggests about the history of the United States.


The unit may be extended by further reading, writing, and research on the topics of race and ethnicity and the history of baseball, such as the following.


  1. Provide students with an opportunity to react to this statement made by Jackie Robinson: "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
  2. Have students write an essay addressing the following questions:
    • How can you relate this quote to the current debate about Native American sports mascots?
    • What role does respect play in the discussion between those who seek to get rid of Native American mascots and names and those who seek to keep them?
    • What does the debate reveal about American culture today? How "far" have we come since Jackie Robinson spoke these words?


Students may research the history of minorities in baseball, focusing on one of the following topics:

  1. Have students research minorities in administrative positions in baseball since the 1970s. For example, students might examine the careers of Frank Robinson or Henry Aaron, both important African-American pioneers in baseball management. Students should address the following questions:
    • What trends do you perceive?
    • Why are more Hispanic, Latino, and Asian players becoming a part of major league rosters?
    • What does this trend portend for the future?
  2. Have students research the increasing diversity of major league players since the 1970s.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate student participation, interim and final products according to the criteria you establish. Points to consider might include:


  • How clearly did you express your understanding of the sources?
  • How effectively did you relate your ideas to the context of the time period?
  • Were you able refer to specific people, events, policies, or patterns?

Page Craftsmanship and Organization

  • Was the paper engaging and informative?
  • Were the sources powerful and interesting?


  • Did the editorial refer to and demonstrate knowledge of the time period?
  • Was the information accurate and/or valid?


  • Was there a bibliography with sources, authors, publisher, date, and location?


Jennifer Schwelik & Greg Deegan