Lesson Title: César E. Chávez: An Instrument of Change in a Democracy Grade Level

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Lesson Title:

César E. Chávez: An Instrument of Change in a Democracy

Grade Level:

Grade Three Lesson 4

Unit of Study:

Our Nation’s History: Meeting People, Ordinary and Extraordinary, Through Biography, Story, Folktale, and Legend

History-Social Science Standard:

3.4.2 Discuss the importance of public virtue and the role of citizens, including how to participate in a classroom, in the community, and in civic life.

Correlation to K-8 California Adopted Textbooks:

Harcourt-Brace. Unit 1: What is a community? Lessons 2 and 3. Unit 3 Intro: Communities Grow and Change. Unit 4 Intro: People working together. Unit 5: Living Together in a Community, State, and Nation. Lessons 1, 2, 4, 6.

McGraw-Hill: Communities. Unit 3: Building a government. Chapter 8: Citizens make Communities work.
Setting the Context:

César E. Chávez dedicated his life to making the world a better place by helping farm workers. He knew about their hard lives because he had worked in the fields throughout his life. César wanted to change things. He began to read books about leaders. He learned how some leaders made life better for others. In 1952, he met Fred Ross and started working for the Community Service Organization. This group helped Mexican-Americans in California. César helped people register to vote and he taught them about their rights.

César believed that farm workers needed a union, so he started the first union for farm workers in the United States called the National Farm Workers Association. It later changed its name to the United Farm Workers. The union worked to seek fair treatment and better pay for workers. César traveled all over California to hear farm workers’ problems. The workers listened when César talked about the union. The union’s saying was “Viva La Causa” meaning “Long Live the Cause.” César got many people to join the union. César did not believe in using violence. He brought attention to the problems of farm workers by leading marches, strikes, and boycotts.
In March, we celebrate the life and work of César E. Chávez. He was a man who believed in using nonviolent methods to gain justice and equality for all people.
Focus Questions:

What was life like for a migrant farm worker in the 1960s?

How did César E. Chávez’s civic participation impact the life of farm workers?

What nonviolent methods did César E. Chávez use to create societal change?

What can we do to participate in our local community?
Expected Learning Outcomes:

Students will be able to describe a day in the life of a migrant farm worker in the 1960s.

Students will be able to summarize why Chávez was an important person in American history.

Students will be able to state the nonviolent methods used by Chávez and explain their effects.

Students will be able to develop an action plan to solve a community problem.

Role-play or write a first person account of “A Day in the Life of a Migrant Farm Worker.”

Create a Power Point presentation, mural, or other visual that explains the impact of Chávez’s work on society.

Complete a Cause and Effect graphic organizer of the nonviolent methods used in The Movement and their effects.

Create an action plan to solve a community problem, then do the plan and write a reflection paper on the experience.
Key Concepts:

change, diversity, interdependence

environment, human-environment interaction/human-land relationships, work
Essential Vocabulary:



civil rights

labor leader
Primary Sources:

Interviews, first-hand accounts, photographs, quotes


Photographs, video clips, graphic organizers



Display the quote and show picture (click here) of César E. Chávez.

Society is made up of groups, and as long as the smaller groups do not have the same rights and the same protection as others – it is not going to work. Somehow, the guys in power have to be reached by counter power, or through a change in their hearts and minds, or change will not come.”
Lead a discussion about the quote. What “groups” are in society? What does Chávez mean by “the smaller groups?” What do you think rights are? Why does Chávez think that all groups of people need the same rights and protection as everyone else? Do you agree with Chávez? Why or why not? Who are “the guys in power?” Tell students that Chávez talks about a “counter power”, but is not referring to power by violence. His goal was to create awareness in “the guys in power” - the government - through peaceful protests and creating a union as we learned in lesson 2. Through these efforts, he felt he could influence “hearts and minds” and create change in society.
Making Connections:

Read aloud the book Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., New York, 1998). In this story, a young girl notices things in her neighborhood that are not beautiful. After learning in school about the word “beautiful,” she begins searching for beautiful things in her neighborhood. She acts on her ideas and feels powerful and she plans and then creates change in her community.

After the read aloud, ask students to think about how the girl created change? What would have happened if she did nothing? Do you think she will influence others to also create change? How might she do that?
Begin a brainstorm chart of problems in the local community that are of personal concern to the students. Later, students will use the list to create a plan of action to solve a community problem.
Vocabulary Activities:

  1. Click on “Vocabulary Activities”. Students will hear and read a sentence with the vocabulary word in context. The words will be highlighted. Students can click on the word to read a definition of the word.


When people use violence to solve problems, people get hurt or die.

César Chávez did not want humans to be hurt. He showed he was unhappy with nonviolence.

César Chávez believed everyone should have equal civil rights.

César Chávez organized the first successful farm workers union. He became a labor leader.

Violence - the use of force

Nonviolence - belief or practice of peaceful methods in pursuit of a goal; lack or absence of violence

Civil Rights – the rights all people are given, such as fair treatment and equality for citizens

Labor leader – leader of people who do manual work

  1. Click the “Vocabulary Practice” icon. Students will play a game of concentration as they match words to the correct definition or use Appendix A.

  1. Click the “Vocabulary Practice” icon. Students will be able to make an illustration and write a sentence for each vocabulary word or use Appendix B. Print documents and share them with small groups or the class.

  1. Print out the vocabulary word cards and display in the classroom for future reference and environmental print. (Appendix C)

  1. Click the “Concept Attainment” icon or use Appendix D. Students will view a list of words or phrases. They all relate to the topic of César E. Chávez and The Farm Workers Movement. Students will group the words into different circles using each word only one time. They will then create a label for the category in the rectangle above the circle. Students will look at each grouping and write a statement about each one. There are many possible groupings. This open-ended activity allows for higher level thinking while students work with vocabulary words and concepts from all lessons and readings covered to this point.

Guided Instruction:

  1. Begin by having a few students share their “I Am a Farm Worker” poem from lesson 2. Tell students that today we are going to look more specifically at what a day in the life of a farm worker might have been like in the 1960s when César E. Chávez was working to protect their rights. Click on primary source photos, oral interviews, and quotes from the CDE Web site that depict the life of a migrant farm worker prior to the farm workers’ union. Use one of the primary source photos of farm workers and have students do a Tableau Activity in which students pose in the same position as the people in the photograph and are “interviewed” by other students. This is an opportunity to reinforce the essential vocabulary.

Practice/Assessment Opportunity:

This activity is an excellent opportunity to observe and assess student learning.

  1. Conduct a mini-lecture/review on how César had ideas that he turned into actions to help migrant farm workers. Click on the “Slide Show” icon for accompanying visuals.

Include the following points:

  1. César saw how bad conditions were for farm workers and he wanted things to change. (migrant camp)

  2. He began to read books about good leaders and learned how some leaders made life better for others. (Gandhi)

  3. He met Fred Ross and started working for the Community Service Organization. They helped Mexican-Americans in California by helping them register to vote and teaching them about their rights. (César and Ross)

  4. Farm workers told César they could not get jobs because farm owners were hiring workers from Mexico instead. This was against the law, but it was a law that wasn’t being enforced. (farm workers protesting)

  5. César made the government look into the problem and finally the owners agreed to hire workers who were American citizens. (César)

  6. César believed farm workers needed a union because other kinds of workers had unions. (César with union signs)

  7. César went from town to town talking to farm workers about the union. (talking at microphone)

  8. He started the first farm workers union in 1962. It was called the National Farm Workers Association. It later changed its name to the United Farm Workers. (César with UFW flag)

  9. Some farm owners were treating grape pickers badly and paying them unfairly. César led the union’s first strike. (farm workers on strike)

  10. The farm owners became angry because they lost a lot of money. (farm workers on strike)

  11. César wanted other people to know how grape workers were being treated, so he started a boycott asking everyone to stop buying grapes and grocery stores to stop selling them. (boycott signs)

  12. César led a march to Sacramento in 1966. The march gained attention of the government and the public. (marching)

  13. César went on a fast in 1968. He did not eat for 25 days. He fasted to show workers how to be strong and create change in a peaceful way. (fast breaking)

  14. After 5 years, the workers won. The grape growers raised the workers’ pay and agreed to work with the union to improve working conditions. (César smiling)

  15. César wanted to stop the use of harmful pesticides because they were making the workers sick. (plane flying over fields)

  16. César went on a 36-day fast to bring public attention to the problem. (fast breaking)

  17. César traveled and gained support for the farm workers worldwide. (César close up)

Lead a discussion and have students give their opinions on the different nonviolent methods that César used.

Read the interview or excerpts of the interview entitled “César E. Chávez: Apostle of Nonviolence” from the Observer, May 1970. (Appendix E) Discuss César’s words and philosophies, as well as his view on religion.
Practice/Assessment Opportunity:

  1. In pairs, small groups, or individually, have students create a Power Point or Hyper Studio presentation, mural, or poster on the work of César E. Chávez, focusing on his nonviolent leadership and his ability to conquer challenges.

Click on the “Nonviolence Cause and Effect” icon. Here students will match the nonviolent method of protest with its effect or use Appendix F.

Practice/Assessment Opportunity

  1. Print out the Cause and Effect graphic organizer (Appendix G) and have students write a sentence for each row. Have students add an illustration of the UFW flag.

César Chávez valued community activism and community involvement. Using the list of community problems that the students brainstormed earlier in the lesson, ask students to think about how they might participate in the community to help solve one of the problems. Together select a problem in your community. Let the students select the project they would like to undertake that would make their community a better place to live. Students need to reflect on the successes and failures of the project and what they can do to improve it the next time. For ideas, click on “Service Learning Ideas” or use the book entitled The Kids Care Book by Joan Novelli and Beth Chayet.

Practice/Assessment Opportunity:

  1. Complete the “Community Problem” planning sheet in small groups or as a whole class. (Appendix H) Use it to develop an action plan to solve the community problem. This may take several weeks, a semester, or even an entire school year. At the end of the project, have students reflect on the experience in a journal.

Integrating Language:


Oral interviews

Report writing

Oral presentations

Cause and effect sentence writing

Journal writing

Document the Service Learning Project and make a presentation to community organizations, school board, or city council.

Service Learning:

Item 5 in this lesson is dedicated to a planning and completing a Service Learning project.

Appendix A

Cut the cards apart. Match each word to its correct definition.

Word Definition


Leader of people who do manual work


Belief or practice of peaceful methods in pursuit of a goal; lack or absence of violence

Civil rights

The use of force

Labor leader

The rights all people are given such as fair treatment and equality for citizens

Appendix B


Civil rights


Labor leader

Appendix C



Civil rights

Labor leader

Appendix D
Concept Attainment
(print several copies of this paper for each group)

Word Phrase for Content Attainment

Appendix E

César E. Chávez: Apostle of Nonviolence

From the Observer, May 1970


Appendix F
Cut cards apart. Match each nonviolent method of protest with its effect.

Nonviolent method



A peaceful way of protesting by asking people to not buy a certain item

Negotiating power with the farm owners and government leading to improved treatment and pay


When a group of people stop working to protest unfair conditions at their jobs

Gains attention and sympathy from the public


A peaceful way to protest by not eating food and only drinking water for a period of time

Gains attention of government and public


A peaceful way to protest by walking a distance with signs

Farm owners have no one to work on the farms and the crops rot causing the farm owners to lose money

Union Leader

A leader who organizes a group of workers

Farm owners cannot make money because no one is buying their product

Appendix G
Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer
Appendix H

Community Problem Planning Paper

What is the problem?

Why is it a problem?

Who is responsible?

What are some possible solutions to the problem?

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