Mr. Lincoln's Way

The Story
From Leah Polacco

"He led Eugene to the window of the atrium. It was alive with the songs of the birds. ‘I see sparrows, jays, cardinals, nuthatches and the mallards. Don’t all of those beautiful types and colors make this a beautiful place to be – for all of them?’"
In Patricia Polacco’s new book, Mr. Lincoln’s Way, a bully overcomes his prejudice when an African American principal invites him to help attract birds to the school atrium.

The Artwork

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Activity Ideas

Mr. Lincoln's Way Activity Ideas

Patricia Polacco frequently speaks on the topic of teasing and warns her young audiences that racism is an “adult form of teasing.” Her book, "Mr. Lincoln's Way" is the story of a bully that overcomes his prejudice when an African American principal invites him to help attract birds to the school atrium. Using the story of Eugene and Mr. Lincoln as a guide, the following lesson plan focuses on educating children on topics such as racism and prejudice, while devising a way to put a stop to discrimination in your classroom and school. While prior lesson plans on average, target a third grade audience, this particular plan may not be suitable for children in grades K-3.

The following are terms and definitions your students should be familiar with when discussing "Mr. Lincoln's Way" and the topic of racism. Prior to the discussion, you may want to prepare a handout for your students, so the definitions are clearly accessible throughout the following activities.

Race: An arbitrary classification of modern humans based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape; a group of people of common ancestry.

Racism: 1. Prejudice or animosity against people who belong to other races; 2. The belief that people of different races have different qualities and abilities, and that some races are inherently superior or inferior.

Prejudice: An unfounded hatred, fear, or mistrust of a person or group, especially one of a particular religion, ethnicity, nationality, or social status.

Bias: An attitude that always favors one way of feeling or acting over any other; prejudice.

Discrimination: Unfair treatment of one person or group, usually because of prejudice about race, ethnic group, age group, religion, or gender.

Stereotype: An idea that many people have about a thing or a group that may often be untrue or only partly true.


1. When you have finished reading "Mr. Lincoln's Way," write the following quote on the board: "He led Eugene to the window of the atrium. It was alive with the songs of the birds. ‘I see sparrows, jays, cardinals, nuthatches… and the mallards. Don’t all of those beautiful types and colors make this a beautiful place to be – for all of them?’" Ask your students to discuss the meaning of this quote. What was Mr. Lincoln hoping to accomplish by inviting Eugene to help attract birds to the school atrium? Does the idea that many different types of birds can live and survive peacefully together, act as a metaphor for our nation? How so?

2. Have your students refer to their definitions handout when verbally answering the following questions. Ask your students, is racism a form of prejudice? Next clear a space on your board and write the words "Prejudice means to discriminate against someone based on..." Have your students list general examples of prejudices, such as those listed in the definition of "discrimination" (above). You can start by writing the word "race," as your students should have already agreed that racism is a form of prejudice. Certain words such as "ethnicity" might be too big for some students to understand, so make sure you discuss the definition of each example mentioned.

3. Next, ask your students to list some examples of discriminations in our nation's past. Or, share with them the following examples:
*In the 17th and 18th century millions of African Americans were taken from their homeland and forced into slavery.
*For many years, European settlers who immigrated to America forced Native Americans from their land.
*Women were denied the right to vote in America because they were considered the inferior gender.
*Japanese American citizens were unfairly imprisoned in camps in the United States during World War II simply because their ancestry was Japanese and the United States was in a war against the country of Japan.

Next, ask your students to list some examples of how America has fought against discrimination. Or, share with them these examples:
*The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution, which abolished slavery.
*The Fifteenth Amendment, which made it illegal to deny people the right to vote because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs.
*The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.
*The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate against other persons in a public place or facility based on their color, sex, or religion.

4. Ask your students to discuss the following question: Even though our nation has made great effort to put an end to discrimination, does it still exist today? During this discussion, encourage your students to refer to the list on the board, with more specific examples, "Prejudice means to discriminate against someone based on..." Where do these prejudices exist? What are some specific examples of how they exist in today's society?

5. Next, erase the board completely and replace the list of prejudices with this statement: "We can help put a stop to discrimination by..." Have your students brainstorm ways of ending discrimination in their classroom, school, household, and community. Some examples should include: Make friends with someone you don't know; If someone is being treated unfairly or teased, report it to your teacher or another school official; Stand up for children that are treated unfairly because of their differences. When your list is complete, divide your students into pairs (it is recommended that you pick each student's partner, particularly someone that he or she does not ordinarily interact with). In pairs, instruct your students to pick one way of ending discrimination as previously listed, that he or she wishes to carry out. His or her partner than becomes that individual's "Accountability Partner." Over the following week, set aside time each day for your students to meet with their accountability partners to report their successes in putting a stop to discrimination.

6. As an in-class activity, have your students draw a picture of a bird... any color, size, shape, or kind will do! Next to the bird, have each student write his or her name and list the characteristics that he or she feels make him or her unique. For example, have each student list his or her hobbies, dreams, religious preferences, heritage, nationality, etc... Any information they wish to share with one another. When the drawings are complete, create your own classroom atrium, by decorating a wall or bulletin board with the drawings. Be sure to allow classroom time for your students to share their drawings and personal information with each other.

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