Jackie Robinson
Authored by Michelle Keisel
Suggested for grades 2-3

Background Information

Background Information:

Jackie Robinson was born to a sharecropper's cabin on January 31, 1919. He was the fifth and last surviving child. The Robinson's worked for the Sasser family in exchange for their cabin and a few provisions. The family earned the equivalent of three dollars a week, which could only be spent at the Sasser plantation store.

Jerry Robinson, Jackie's father, left the family in 1919. Later the Robinson family moved to California where Jackie's uncle lived. Life was better there, but the family was still very poor. Jackie's mother worked long hours as a domestic, leaving the children home on their own. Gaining an education was very important to Jackie's mother.

Because Jackie grew up in a time where opportunities were extremely limited for African Americans, he had to fight for everything. Jackie's mother taught him that the future would not just "work out" but that he would have to stand up for himself at all times. He did. He had a temper and a fiery personality, which often got him into trouble. Jackie loved playing practical jokes that could sometimes be cruel. He was also the leader of the Pepper Street gang, he felt comfortable in the gang because the members were a mixture of African American, Japanese Americans, Hispanic, and some whites. The gang got into some minor trouble with the law due to stealing, and other unlawful activities. Jackie decided to leave the gang because it wasn't helping his life in any way. Sports probably also played a part in that decision.

Jackie grew up idolizing his older brother Mack, who was also an outstanding athlete. Mack Robinson was so good in track, he went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany as a member of the U.S. track team. He finished second to Jesse Owens in the 200-meter dash. Having Mack as an older brother helped push Jackie in his own desires.

Jackie did excel in many sports. He went to Pasadena Junior College where he played on the football, basketball, baseball, and track teams. After graduating from there, he received a scholarship to go to UC LA. Jackie enjoyed great success at UCLA, in fact he was at least one of the best players on each team. He was the first person ever to letter in four sports at UCLA.

Jackie left UCLA in 1941 and began playing profession football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs. His football career was ended by the beginning of World War II. In 1942, Jackie left for the army. He served for thirty one months, during which time he was sent to officer's training camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. Jackie was released as a first lieutenant.

Jackie returned home after World War II and played baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American Baseball League. He was so successful that he caught the eye of Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie signed with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers top farm league. He only played with the Royals for the 1946 season before Rickey moved him to the Dodgers to play in the major league. Since Jackie was the first African American baseball player to play in the major league, he had a tough fight. Rickey made him promise to "have enough guts to not fight back" (Rudeen p.28). This was tough for someone who was used to fighting back, but he did it. Because of his willingness to take a stand and because of the courage he showed, he opened the door for other African American players. Three African American players joined the Dodgers the following season. Jackie played for the Dodgers for ten years.After Jackie retired from baseball, he traveled throughout the United States speaking for the rights of all African American people. He also advised the governor of New York on civil rights.

Jackie died from diabetic complications in 1972. His life story continues to stand as an example of courage and the rights and equality of all peoples. There are many tributes that have been given to Jackie Robinson, but one of my favorites was given by Richard M. Nixon, who said that Jackie's sense of "brotherhood and brilliance on the playing field brought a new dimension not only in the game of baseball but to every area of American life where black and white people work side by side" (Falkner p.343).

Falkner, David. (1995). Great Time Coming. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Johnson, Spencer. (1977). The Value of Courage: The Story of Jackie Robinson. La Jolla, CA: Value Communications, Inc. Publishers.

Rudeen, Kenneth. (1971). Jackie Robinson. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

1. Students will be able to describe contributions made by Jackie Robinson.
2. Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the racial discrimination which occurred during the time period that Jackie Robinson lived.
3. Students will be able to identify the traits common to heroes and the traits that they would like to possess.
4. Students will illustrate their understanding of the importance of good physical health by making a poster to display in the school.
5. Students will demonstrate a willingness to improve their community by organizing a service project.
6. Students will demonstrate an understanding of emotions and dealing with them in an appropriate manner.

Time Allotment: Approximately 6 class periods.

Resources Needed:
Two books (described in procedure 2)
Four large pieces of paper (butcher or poster)
Physical education equipment (described in procedure 4)


1. Mini Lecture: Using the above background information, tell the students who Jackie Robinson is and what contributions he has made to our society. Discuss some of the events in his life that may have shaped him to become a hero. Point out that he was not perfect, but that he held many qualities that are admirable and helped him to be strong when he needed to be. Divide students into groups of four or five and have them discuss within their group what qualities they think helped Jackie the most. Have them present their ideas to the class one group at a time.

2. Literature Integration: Read with the students two books that depict racial discrimination of two different minorities. For example, Baseball Saved Us written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee could be compared with Jackie Robinson written by Kenneth Rudeen and illustrated by Richard Cuffari. Use the books to engage students in discussion. Comparison of the two books could be done using a Venn diagram. Explain that during this time period many groups of people experienced discrimination (e.g. Jewish, Japanese Americans, Physically or Mentally Challenged individuals).

3. Carousel Brainstorming: Place a large piece of paper on each corner or wall in the classroom. Individually label each piece of paper with a heading. Some examples of headings would be: Who do you consider to be a hero?, What characteristics, or traits, are common among people we consider to be heroes?, Which traits do you think are the most important?, and Which traits would you like to possess? Break students up into four groups. Have each group start at one piece of paper and in a set amount of time, list as many examples as possible that would fit under each heading. When the time is up the groups rotate around the room until each group has visited each piece of paper. Discuss some of the responses that the students wrote and how most people that we consider to be heros share some of the same traits. Have the students write a one page paper on what they think makes a person a hero and what traits they hope to possess.

4. Physical Education Activity: Discuss with the students the importance of physical activity and taking good care of our bodies with physical exercise. Some points to emphasize would be: Exercise gives a strong mind and body, Importance of eating a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plenty of fluids, etc. and Importance of good hygiene. Point out that Jackie's excellent physical condition helped to enable him to become such a success in sports. Set up in the gym four fitness areas- football, basketball, baseball, and track. In the football area students could throw a football through a suspended tire, the distance away from the tire would depend on the students ability. In the basketball area students could practice dribbling and passing a basketball along with shooting baskets. In the baseball area students could play pass with a ball and baseball mitts. In the track area students could try long jumping. Make sure to emphasize cooperation rather that competition and how it is better to compete with oneself rather than each other. Have students make a poster illustrating what they have learned about the importance of regular physical exercise, eating healthy, or good hygiene. Display posters for the learning of other students.

5. Service Project: Discuss (using the above background information) with the students about the Pepper Street gang that Jackie was involved in during his youth. Compare the activities that his gang were involved in (stealing, throwing dirt clods at cars, and sitting in white sections of theaters) to gangs today. Talk about some of the problems associated with gangs (violence, vandalism, lack of respect for others, etc). Ask students what might be done to prevent the growth of violent gangs in their community. What helped Jackie decide to leave his gang? Help students organize a service project that might help their community. For example: a clean up of graffiti or other vandalism, promotion of youth sports or other activities that might give youth a better environment and support system, any others that the students may come up with.

6. Role Play: Have students role play situations that would involve controlling anger and other emotions. After each situation is acted out, discuss with the students why they may have felt certain emotions and what would be an appropriate manner to control them. Point out that sometimes it is okay to feel frustrated or angry but that it is important not to hurt others. Some examples of a role play situation would be: "Tommy hits you for no reason on the play ground. What is your reaction?", "Your friends make fun of you because of the clothes you wore to school. What do you do?", or "Your teacher punishes you for doing something that you did not do. How do you feel?"


1. Contributions to the group discussions will be assessed through informal observation during the mini-lesson procedure.

2. Contributions to discussion of racial discrimination and Venn diagram, if used, will be assessed informally through observation.

3. Contribution to carousel brainstorm will be assessed informally through observation.

4. Hero papers will be assessed.

5. Posters will be assessed according to creativity and legitimacy.

6. Service project will be assessed according to willingness to participate and the effort involved.

7. Contributions to role play will be assessed informally through observation.