Ken Burns Classroom

Taking the Measure of the Man

Overview: Students explore the highs and lows of Jackie Robinson’s first year as a Brooklyn Dodger and how his race played a role in the formation of different expectations people had of him. They will examine an instance of the harassment Robinson experienced on the field, analyze how he dealt with it, and explore ways aggression, prejudice, and bullying can be addressed.

Lesson Objectives: In this lesson, students will do the following:

  • Explore the unique conditions Jackie Robinson faced as he entered Major League Baseball.
  • Review the highs and lows of Robinson’s first year as a Brooklyn Dodger.
  • Analyze how Robinson’s race played a role in forming the different expectations people had of him.
  • Examine the harassment Robinson experienced and how he reacted to it.
  • Consider the difference between implicit and explicit racism.
  • Assess the issue of bullying and strategies to address it.

Lesson Procedure

  1. Before showing the video clip, review with students the “gentleman’s agreement” to keep African-Americans out of Major League Baseball, how American institutions like sports and the military tried to integrate, and the terms implicit (unconscious bias or judgment of someone) and explicit (intentional) racism.
  2. Distribute the 3-2-1 Strategy Chart to all students and have them complete their charts as they watch the video clip.
  3. Watch Video Clip: Play the Jackie Robinson clip “Jackie Enters the Majors” (duration: 3.5 minutes) for the class. A description of the clip is below:
    • April 15, 1947, opening day at Ebbets Field: Playing first base for the Dodgers was number 42, Jackie Robinson. He played a good game and the Dodgers won. The black press declared Jackie’s arrival as a landmark event. The white press just reported on the game and didn’t acknowledge Robinson’s entry into the majors. The first week of play was without incident. But when the Dodgers played the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets Field, the Phillies came with their sharp-tongued manager from Alabama, Ben Chapman, who did his best to upset Robinson. But Robinson kept his cool and played his game.
  4. Chart Activity: After watching the clip, have students complete the 3-2-1 Strategy Chart. Then organize a “four squares activity” with a quarter of the class in each of four corners of the room. Have students share the facts they gathered by going to at least two people in other groups to give a fact and get a fact. They can also clarify details of the facts.
  5. Bring the class together and have students ask the questions they generated in the second section of the chart. Hold a general class discussion to find answers to their questions. Then have students share their most memorable moments of the clip.

Teacher Tip: During the discussions, keep in mind several key points presented:

  • The different but intertwined reasons both Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson wanted to break the color barrier to integrate Major League Baseball.
  • The historical and symbolic significance of Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball.
  • The varying expectations Branch Rickey, teammates, and fans may have had of Robinson.
  • The behavior of other players toward Jackie Robinson and the approach Robinson took as a result.
  1. Post-Viewing Discussion/Activity: Place students in small working groups to discuss the following questions. Then have each group prepare a brief plan addressing the last two questions.
  • What were the different expectations people (Dodgers management, white fans, African- American fans, and Robinson himself) had of Robinson, and how did his race play a role in these different expectations?
  • Do you think African-Americans and other minority groups today face similar situations where they are expected to act or be a certain way?
  • What happens when people don’t meet others’ expectations, and in what ways are these expectations a result of implicit and explicit attitudes? Where do you draw the line between prejudiced and racist attitudes versus behavior?
  • Why might it have been challenging for Jackie Robinson not to retaliate against the insults and abuse he encountered while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers?
  • Do you think Robinson’s strategy of not retaliating was effective?
  • Beyond the ballpark and in a broader context, how can bullying, aggression, and prejudice be addressed? What types of value characteristics might surface in addressing this behavior? What would you do if you witnessed or experienced forms of bullying or aggression?

Assessment Suggestions: At the conclusion of the activity, evaluate students on the following:

  • Active participation during discussions and activities.
  • Completion of graphic organizers from the activity.
  • Quality and viability of plan on addressing bullying, aggression, and prejudice.

Extension Activity: In his first few years in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson faced many incidents of intimidation beyond the normal competitive atmosphere of professional athletics. In essence, competitors like Ben Chapman were bullying Robinson. Have students work in small groups to discuss actions that they know would be characterized as bullying. Have them describe what about these actions makes them intimidating to some people. Then have students come up with reasons some people bully others. Have them describe effective actions people can take when they are being bullied or witness someone being bullied.

Standards: McREL

  • United States History
  • Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
  • Level III (Grade 7-8) Understands individual and institutional influences on the civil rights movement (e.g., the origins of the postwar civil rights movement; the role of the NAACP in the legal assault on the leadership and ideologies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X; the effects of the constitutional steps taken in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government; the shift from de jure to de facto segregation; important milestones in the civil rights movement between 1954 and 1965; Eisenhower’s reasons for dispatching federal troops to Little Rock in 1957)
  • Level IV (Grades 9–12): Understands significant influences on the civil rights movement
  • Historical Understanding: (1) Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns; (2) understands the historical perspective

Common Core

  • CSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3: Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.



About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: 3-2-1 Strategy Chart


NAME: _________________________                        DATE:  __________________


List three facts you didn’t know about the Jackie Robinson’s experience with racism and harassment in his first year in Major League Baseball.






Write two questions you have after watching all the video clips.





Describe one memorable moment you recall from the video clip and why it made an impression on you.