Ayanna the Brave

African-American children lead sit-ins in Oklahoma during the late 1950s

By Spencer Kayden
From the February 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will read a play about the lesser-known sit-ins led by African-American children to protest segregation in Oklahoma City restaurants. As they read, students will identify the big idea: how an important act leads to major changes.

Other Key Skills: key details, inference, main idea, summarizing, drawing conclusions

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Answer Key (1)
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Header icon Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Plays in the Classroom

Keep the learning going and make connections with two plays from our archives: The Unstoppable Ruby Bridges and The Day Mrs. Parks Was Arrested.

Teaching Civil Rights

The play ends with Mrs. Luper telling Ayanna that the sit-in at Katz’s would be the first of many. Help students get a better understanding of the sit-in movement with this video about the 4 college men who led the famous Woolworth’s sit-in (which, you’ll want to remind your students, came 2 years after Ayanna’s sit-ins).

Ayanna Today

Hear more from Ayanna with this video where she explains more about the sit-in experience.

From the Archives

This play will spark a meaningful discussion about how your students can change their community for the better. Share stories from Storyworks Jr. of other children who’ve made a difference in their community, like The Girl Who’s Saving the Bees and This Kid Is Changing Her City.

Different Sit-Ins

Introduce your students to a completely different kind of sit-in in our play The Woman Who Lived in a Tree, about Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a tree for more than 2 years to prevent it from being cut down.

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Social studies: U.S. history, civil rights, geography 

Social-emotional learning: Social awareness (appreciating diversity, respect for others); responsible decision-making (solving problems); relationship skills (teamwork)

Key Skills

big idea, key details, inference, main idea, summarizing, drawing conclusions

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan


Set a Purpose for Reading, Explore Text Features (10 minutes)

  • This play has a Civil Rights Kit, which offers background information and further context. Play the Vocabulary Slideshow (containing words such as segregation) before reading the play.
  • Look at pages 20-21. Point to the label “Historical fiction.” Explain that historical fiction is a story about real events, people, and settings. Read the title and subtitle. Explain that Ayanna Najuma, the main character, took part in sit-ins at Oklahoma City restaurants in the late 1950s to protest unfair treatment of black people. Ask: Why do you think this play is called Ayanna the Brave?
  • Point to Ayanna in the photograph on page 20. Ask: How do you think she and her friends feel as they sit at the lunch counter during this sit-in?
  • Direct students to the photos on pages 22-25. Read aloud the titles and captions with the class. Point to page 22. Ask: Why is Ayanna’s sister standing next to the table? How do you think she feels?
  • Point to the photo, title, and caption on page 24. Explain that this sit-in started a larger movement that spread to other states like North Carolina. Although the events in this play are not as well-known, they’re very important.
  • Have a student read the Think and Read box on page 20. Ask students to think as they read the play about what Ayanna was thinking and feeling during the sit-ins at the Katz lunch counter.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • Project or distribute our vocabulary activity and complete it as a class and play the slideshow of civil rights terms, if you haven’t already played it


Bridging Decoding and Comprehension

  • Storyworks Jr. read-aloud plays provide a perfect opportunity for students to build fluency.
  • Point to the words looking around nervously in column 2 on page 22. Explain that these words tell readers how to perform an action in the play. Ask volunteers to read the dialogue and demonstrate the appropriate action.
  • Remind students that fluent readers stop for periods, question marks, and exclamation points. They pause for commas; they read the way they talk to each other. 


Reading and Unpacking the Text

  • Before reading: Explain that the named characters in the Characters box are real people who participated in the Oklahoma City sit-ins. Say that an Epilogue is a section at the end of a play that explains how the full story ended.
  • First read: Continue reading the play as a class
  • Second read: Project or distribute the Close-Reading Questions. Discuss them as a class, rereading lines or scenes as necessary.
  • Separate students into groups to discuss the Critical- Thinking Question. Have groups share their answers with the class. 

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • In Scene 1, what do you learn about Ayanna’s life in Oklahoma City? (key details) Unfair rules, called segregation, separated African-Americans from white people. They couldn’t go to the same schools, eat in the same restaurants, or sit next to each other on buses.
  • Why does Ayanna look around nervously in the New York City restaurant? (inference) She’s afraid because she doesn’t know what will happen to her group in a place that serves both African-American and white people.
  • In Scene 2, what surprises Ayanna and her friends about the restaurant? (main idea) They’re served their food by a white person who treats them respectfully.
  • In Scene 4, after the waitress refused to serve the group, Ayanna asks, “But why do we have to live this way?” What does she mean? (big idea) She’s asking why there are unjust rules separating black and white people.
  • Why doesn’t Calvin react when a white customer pours a drink on him? (inference) He’s been trained not to react because he’s part of a peaceful protest.
  • In Scene 6, what happens on the third day of the sit-in? (summarizing) When the store manager serves the kids, they realize that they won.
  • Why does Mrs. Luper say “Now it’s on to the next restaurant”? (drawing conclusions) This sit-in is just the beginning. They’ll have to take part in many more before all restaurants serve African-Americans.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • In the Epilogue, Ayanna says ,“We were just kids, but we took a stand and helped change America.” What does she mean? (big idea) Ayanna is talking about the importance of standing up for what’s right. The sit-ins started by kids playing an important role in ending segregation in America.


Exploring the Big Idea (30 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Have students complete the Big Idea Activity. They should also write a response to the Think and Write question on page 25. To help them come up with a topic for their letter, encourage students to think about what they wish were different in their school, their town, their state.
  • Show the video in the Civil Rights Kit, “How Kids Changed the World.” Discuss how it relates to the big idea of this play.
Header icon Differentiate and Customize
For Small Groups

Divide your class into groups and assign each group one scene from the play. Remind them to work on fluency by paying attention to punctuation marks. Each group will perform its scene in class. Afterward, ask how playing real-life kids who took part in these sit-ins helps students better understand how Ayanna and her friends felt.

For Second-Graders

Help students identify key events from the play that took place before, during, and after the kids’ 1958 Oklahoma City sit-ins. Write students’ answers under the correct heading and read them aloud.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to imagine a meeting today between Ayanna and a white customer who left Katz lunch counter during her 1958 sit-in. How do they feel about their experiences now? Have students write a scene about this.