Monday, March 21, 2016

Interpreting César Chávez’s Legacy with Students

“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the field is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.”

Huelga 'Strike' César Chávez Photo by Jay Galvin
César Chávez was a Mexican-American labor activist and civil rights leader who fought tirelessly throughout his life to improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. A man of great courage, he championed nonviolent protest, using boycotts, strikes, and fasting as a way to create sweeping social change. Importantly, his work led him to found the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day.

Thursday, March 31st is César Chávez Day, a day aimed at celebrating the life and work of this remarkable individual through education and community service.

Inspired to enrich your classroom with the legacy of César Chávez? 

Start with a lesson

In this immigration lesson plan, students will understand how César Chávez’s adolescence as a migrant farm worker influenced his later achievements.  First, students will analyze how an artist and biographer have interpreted Chávez’s legacy.  Then by reading excerpts from Chávez’s autobiography, students will draw connections between how his early years shaped his later beliefs and achievements around organized labor, social justice, and humane treatment of individuals. Once students have read and critically thought about these connections, they will write a response supported with evidence from the text to answer the investigative question on the impact of Chávez’s early years and development.  This Common-Core and C3 aligned lesson includes extensions and adaptations for ELL students and readers at multiple levels. 

Click here to view the lesson.

Use visuals and picture books

Appropriate for younger students, but inspirational for all ages, picture books have a unique capacity to captivate and educate. The following books all have linked teacher’s guides.

  • Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para Soñar Juntos by Francisco Alarcón pays tribute to those who toil in the fields, and to César Chávez. This is an excellent bilingual book to use in your celebration of National Poetry Month in April.   
  • Amelia's Road by Linda Jacobs Altman explores the daily life of migrant farm working in California's Central Valley from a child’s perspective. According to the publisher, Lee and Low Books, “it is an inspirational tale about the importance of home.” 
  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez follows Chico and his family traveling farm to farm across California where every September they pick grapes and Chico enters a different school. But third grade year is different and Chico begins to find his own voice against the bullies at his school.
  • Calling the Doves / El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Herrera is the current Poet Laureate’s account of his childhood as a migrant farmworker.  Beautifully illustrated and composed in Spanish and English, Herrera describes the simple joys he misses from his native Mexico as well as detailing his personal journey in becoming a writer.
  • A brief video Mini-Bio: César Chávez sets the foundation for older students to learn about the major achievements of Chávez’s life.

Initiate a community service project

Chávez was explicit about the need to serve one’s community. As a class, identify a need in your community and then brainstorm ways that students can make a difference from running a donation drive to decorating school walls in order to welcome all students and families.  Take inspiration from a group of middle school students in Fellsmere, FL for a more intensive service-learning project. They wrote and produced a short news broadcast highlighting the unfair labor practices and strenuous conditions of migrant farmworkers who pick oranges in their community. Then they held a school-wide donation drive for materials farmworkers sorely needed. Their teachers were winners of our Community Grants program and a lesson for this project can be found here.  If you do decide to do an immigration-themed service-learning project, please let us know about it and apply for our community grants (deadline July 1, 2016). 

Extend learning into the present state of migrant farm workers

Have more ideas on teaching César Chávez and his legacy with students?  We’d love to hear them.  Email us at and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Mark your calendars! We’re presenting at Share My Lesson’s Ideas & Innovations Virtual Conference on April 5th, 2016 at 8:30pm EST. Register for our free interactive session “So You Want to Teach about Immigration?” at this link: and please share broadly.

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