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Discrimination, Friendship and Baseball

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 

GRADE LEVEL: Language Arts/Grade 1 (can be applied to K-4th) FOCUS QUESTIONS: What is friendship? What does it mean to be a good friend? What can we learn about friendship from the story of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese? How should we react when we encounter difference? How can people be good friends with people who are different from them? MATERIALS: Teammates by Peter Golenbock (Golenbrock, Peter. Teammates. Illus. Paul Bacon. San Diego: Gulliver Books, 1990. Print.) big paper & markers / chalkboard & chalk STANDARDS: TEK/S §117.7. Theatre, Grade 1 1. (4) Historical /cultural heritage. The student relates theatre to history, society, and culture. The student in expected to: a. imitate life experiences from various historical periods in dramatic play; and b. identify diverse cultural dimensions in dramatic play. §110.12. English Language Arts and Reading, Grade 1 10. Reading / Comprehension of Literary Text / Literary Nonfiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features of literary nonfiction and respond by providing evidence from text to support their understanding. MATERIALS NEEDED: Teammates by Peter Golenbock (Golenbrock, Peter. Teammates. Illus. Paul Bacon. San Diego: Gulliver Books, 1990. Print.) big paper & markers / chalkboard & chalk



Count off the group in 1’s and 2’s – 1’s on one side of the room, 2’s on the other.

“In a minute, I’m going to make a statement that may or may not be true for you. If the statement I make is true, I want you to cross to the other line on the other side of the room.”

Explain that they can show us how much they agree or disagree with a statement by how they cross the room, and demonstrate these differences.  “If you really agree – this is very true for you – you can dance across the room like this.  If you only kind of agree you might take very small steps across the room – like this.”

Start with statements that will be true of everyone:

I am a student at this school.

I am in the first grade.

Make the following statements:

I am wearing (color) shoes.

I have freckles.

I wear glasses.

I have short hair.

I am wearing jeans.


“These are all things that we might know just from looking at people, right? Now here are some statements that we wouldn’t know the answer to just by looking at someone.”


I have a brother.

I like ice cream.

I like playing outside.

I have a pet at home.

I like cats best.


“Okay, everyone who just said they like cats best come to this side of the room. And everyone who likes dogs best go to the other side.”


Move to speak to the cats’ side of the room. Ask them what they like about cats.  Ask the dog people what they like about dogs. Ask the cat people if they think they could be friends with a dog person. “What would be hard about being friends with a dog person? Dog people, do you think you could be friends with a cat person? But you two are so different!”

Transition: “Hang on everyone – what do you think it means to be a friend?  What do you think makes a good friend?  Let’s think a bit about what we mean when we think about a friend.”

Ask the students to sit right where they are and face the chalkboard for this next activity.  They should stay in their cat / dog groups.



Write “FRIEND” on big paper or the chalkboard. Circle it, making it the hub of the word map.

“What is a friend?  What are some words you would use to describe a friend?  Is it good to have a friend? What are some of the things that you gain from having a friend? From being a friend?”  

Scribe words from the class onto the paper, making a word web.

“Let’s go back to our dog people and cat people – do you think it’s possible for you to be a friend to someone so different from you?  What might be hard about that? Sometimes being friends can be difficult, especially because people can be so different from each other.”  

Transition: “Now we’re going to read a story about two men who became friends even though they were different from each other.” 

Have students scoot together to form one clump from our two cat and dog people clumps.

“This story takes place in the 1940’s – a very long time ago.  Our country was different then than it is today, and many people were treated unfairly because they were seen to be different. This was especially true for African Americans.  There were even special laws that were put in place because the people in power thought that African Americans were different, were not as important as white people. These laws were unfair, and told African Americans where they could go and what they could do. As we read the story, I want you to think about how different people we meet in the story might be feeling, based on what they say and what’s happening to them.” 

Make sure the students can all see the images as you read.

SHARING THE STORY: (can move to different location if necessary)

Read Teammates by Peter Golenbock to the class.

Teammates explores the friendship of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, who played together on the Brooklyn Dodgers.  It also provides a simple, straightforward explanation of the segregation and prejudice present in the US at that time.  It uses concrete examples to communicate how African Americans were discriminated against, and why Jackie Robinson playing in the major leagues was a truly remarkable act of courage and conviction.

This book is recommended for students in Kindergarten through 4th grade, so while the story is simple, there are some words that may be difficult for students.  Take your time reading this story to them, and give them time to ask questions if there are words or notions that they do not understand.

Stop on the second to last page.


Draw a silhouette of Jackie Robinson on a big piece of paper.  

“Now we’re going to think about some of the things Jackie Robinson might have heard during this story.”  

Show the images from the book that represent each of these people / groups as we ask students to imagine what they would say:

“What’s something Branch Rickey who recruited him might have said?”

“What about his old teammates from the Monarchs in the Negro League?”

“What might these new teammates say?”

“What might these fans at the ballgames say to him?”


Use the picture on the page where we stopped the story to move to the next activity.


Transition: “Now, look at this picture of Jackie Robinson.  I want to invite you - just where you are in the room - to stand up make your body look like Jackie’s body in this picture.  Let’s button up our jerseys mime these activities with the students), put on your cleats, put on your cap, and grab your glove.  Now look again at Jackie - how is he standing, where is he looking, how is he holding his hands?”


Once students are in statue, read some of the things Jackie has been hearing, created by Role on the Wall Part 1.

“What are some of the things that Jackie Robinson might be feeling right now, hearing these things people are saying to him?”  


Give students a moment to think, and then take these responses one at a time from raised hands. Scribe these responses on the inside of the Role on the Wall image.  

“What is something that Jackie might say as this statue you’ve created?  Find a partner and share what you think Jackie might say with him or her.”  

“Now, raise your hand if you’d like to share what you think Jackie might say.”  


Spotlight 3 or 4 of these statements.  

Divide the class into two groups again, forming two lines.  Explain that one group is going to portray Jackie Robinson, and the other is going to embody Pee Wee Reese. 

Show them the picture on the page where we stopped reading.

Have the actor embodying Pee Wee Reese cross to the actor embodying Jackie Robinson and freeze. Have the class consider their statue and character and think about what their character might be saying to the other.


“What might Pee Wee say to Jackie?  What might Jackie say to Pee Wee? Is he coming to say something nice or will he be mean like the fans in the stands? Does Jackie want to talk to Pee Wee right now? What are all the different things that might happen next?”   


Have the students say their lines to one another.  Ask for pairs to volunteer to share their lines.  Spotlight 3 or 4 of the pairs.   


Transition: “Those are such great thoughts.  That moment could have happened many different ways – and all of you thought about the things that Jackie and Pee Wee were hearing from others and the things they might have been feeling themselves based on our story.”

“Now let’s finish our story and see what happened next in the real history.”

Finish reading the story.



Refer to the word web we built earlier.


“Which of these words describes how Jackie and Pee Wee treated each other?”

“What might have made it difficult for Pee Wee and Jackie to be friends?”

“Why was it important for them to be friends, even though it might have been hard for them?”


“People treated Jackie Robinson the way they did because of the color of his skin - because they saw him as different. Think about when we played Cross the Room earlier. Those are some of the differences we have just in our classroom. What are some other ways that people might be seen to be different - maybe some ways that you see in our school?”

“How can we be like Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson?  What are ways that you think we could be good friends to people who different from us in our school?”