As a literacy coach, one of my responsibilities is to help the teachers at my school incorporate more reading and writing across the curriculum.
This is one strategy I have used to help build background knowledge before beginning a unit of study. The activity is designed to be a quick introduction to an important figure (and the issues of the Civil Rights era), not a comprehensive research assignment. It includes guiding questions to help students find important information about the historical figure. After researching, the students write a paragraph to synthesize their findings and explain why this person is worthy of study.