artwork from The 1619 Project

Activity November 4, 2021

Activities for Using The 1619 Project Books in Schools of Education

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Lesson Summary: Professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison share activities utilized in school of education courses to engage students with "The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story" and "The 1619 Project: Born on the Water."

In 2021, more than 25 professors and K-12 teachers participated in a Penguin Random House-Pulitzer Center 1619 Project pilot program for educators—gaining early access to two books that have grown out of the original magazine project: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and The 1619 Project: Born on the Water. Pilot program participants included professors from schools of education around the United States who engage with future teachers on the subject matters they will instruct and methods they will employ in their classrooms.

A group of professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison utilized the texts in a range of courses. Professor Simone Schweber shared that in the undergraduate survey course titled “School and Society,” students “used the material to set the stage for talking about the present-day racialized inequities baked into U.S. schooling and all of the interlocking systems that reproduce inequality via schools,” including housing, health care, and the passage of wealth between generations.  

In the schools of education courses, The 1619 Project books allowed professors and students not only to explore the history and legacy of slavery in the United States but also to enable discussions about how to teach these histories in contemporary classrooms.  

Below, professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison share activities utilized in an elementary social studies methods course and a secondary social studies methods course to engage students with the texts.  

Activity One: Using The 1619 Project Book Resources in a Jigsaw Activity


Course: Elementary Social Studies Methods
Instructors: Simone Schweber, Professor; Janel Anderson, Dan Berman, Lauren Lauter, Instructors

Through a jigsaw activity with the readings, “small groups of students read each chapter, became experts about it, and talked about the chapter together. Groups were then re-formed with one person from each of the chapter groups in a new group, so that the expertise across the book was represented in each new group.”

These newly formed groups explored how this new understanding (from the various chapters they became experts on) should shape how we teach—not only what we teach.” 

Activity Two: Using The 1619 Project Book Resources with The Final Word Pedagogy


Course: Secondary Social Studies Methods
Instructors: Thomas Owenby, Teaching Faculty
Resources Used: “Traffic” by Kevin Kruse and “Rainbows Aren’t Real, Are They?” by Kiese Laymon

After instructing a close reading activity, Professor Owenby “transitioned students into a discussion of the pieces using The Final Word (from linked resource and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Discussion Project), a discussion-based pedagogy that aims toward intellectual engagement and collaborative inquiry. Students shared their selected quote, along with their analysis, wonderings, and questions. Their group mates listened silently, taking notes in preparation for their opportunity to respond. After each group member responded to the first participant, that participant then shared out their response and lingering questions.” The class “continued with this protocol until each person finished speaking.”

“In the whole group debrief that followed, students identified connections between ‘Traffic’ and ‘Rainbows Aren't Real, Are They?’ and the social studies content and skills they are addressing in their school-based placements. One student expressed excitement at sharing a portion of Kruse's essay with her Modern U.S. History students toward the goal of deepening the students’ understanding of the enduring effects of decades of infrastructure-based segregation. Another student commented that they felt confident that their middle school students would be extremely engaged and stimulated by a Final Word-type discussion of ‘Rainbows Aren't Real, Are They?’”

Professor reflections edited for clarity.

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