Street Fight

PBS Premiere: July 5, 2005Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan

Download the Lesson Plan

OVERVIEW: This lesson plan is designed to be used in conjunction with Street Fight, a 90-minute long documentary about the 2002 mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey. The film follows the campaign of Cory Booker, a 32-year old Rhodes Scholar/Yale Law graduate running against Sharpe James, the four-term incumbent twice his age. An urban David and Goliath story, the film chronicles the young man's struggle against the city's entrenched political machine, which routinely uses strong-arm tactics to hold onto power. The battle sheds light on important questions about democracy, power, poverty and race.

You can obtain copies for educational use from Bullfrog Films.


In this lesson, students will:

  • Examine the 2002 Newark mayoral election
  • Understand the electoral process from the viewpoint of a politician
  • Debate issues of race and ethics in politics
  • Identify the key platforms for each campaign
  • Critique different campaigning methods
  • Take notes, debate opposing points of view, and write paragraphs explaining their own point-of-view.


History, Civics, Government, Social Studies, Language Arts

- Student Handouts
- VHS/DVD of "Street Fight," VCR/DVD player & monitor

Four 50-minute class periods


Street Fight is an excellent tool for the high school or junior high school classroom because it allows students to learn about electoral politics through an exciting, real-life race. This lesson plan takes advantage of students' natural interest in issues that directly affects their lives: the debate over race, politics, and ethics in America.


Class 1:

  1. Let students know that they are going to do a brief unit examining current debates regarding the electoral process in Newark, New Jersey.
  2. Distribute Worksheets 1 and 2. Students can write in note form rather than full paragraphs. However, let them know that you will be asking for their answers during the next class period.
  3. In preparation for showing Street Fight, remind students of the questions on their research handout and assign them to take notes during the film, which will provide the answers to those questions.
  4. Show the first part of "Street Fight."
    While showing the film, pause it at specific points to ensure that the students understand the key points that you are trying to make.
  1. Stop the film after scene one, which ends with the filmmaker's narration, "In Newark, I'm discovering, elections are not about media consultants. They're not about sound bites or photo ops. In Newark, elections are won and lost on the streets." Question students about what is unusual in this first scene (which takes place in the projects).
  2. Stop the film again around scene four (Cory in his apartment), which begins with him speaking, "How you doin'? What are you doing out this late? It's almost 10 o'clock!" See what the students have learned about Cory Booker and introduce Sharpe James.
  3. Stop the film after scene 6, which ends with Pablo speaking at a staff meeting, "There are people putting a lot on the line for us, and if Sharpe has any idea, you know, he will crush these people." Have students complete their worksheets and discuss.

Class 2:

  1. Show the remainder of Street Fight. Stop just before election results are announced.
  2. Ask your students to list all of the accusations that Sharpe James made about his opponent, Cory Booker and vice versa. This exercise is both fundamental and educational, because you will be able to ask the students why they feel that these statements were successful or ineffective in each candidate's campaign.
  3. Discuss and/or debate Sharpe's first attempted interview and the subsequent unlawful police searches, which were caught on camera.
  4. Poll the students and find out who would win the election if it were held in the class room. Create a "Sharpe" side of the board and a "Booker" side of the board. Then have students write their names on an index card and have each student tape their card under the candidate they think will win the actual election. Leave their names taped to the board.
  5. For homework assign the students to write a paragraph that supports their prediction.

Class 3:

  1. Review the previous day's predictions.
  2. Have two or three students read their paragraphs and then give students a chance to change their predictions.
  3. Show the final scenes of the film (by this point the students should be very excited to watch the conclusion).
  4. Ask students to share what they have learned about the mayoral election in Newark. Discuss and summarize, helping students to see which methods of campaigning were effective, and which methods ended up hurting the other opponent's "image." Wrap up the discussion by asking students to identify the controversy behind Booker's candidacy. Be sure to discuss James' racial accusations that Booker is "white," which helped James to maintain his popularity in the Newark community and win the mayoral election.
  5. Encourage students to share their reactions to the film. For general discussion questions see the discussion guide. See Discussion Guide »

ASSESSMENT: Collect worksheets (Worksheet #1 and #2) and use it to assess student comprehension.


  • Choose a current election on which to focus. It can be national, state, local, or even a school office as long as the outcome has not yet been decided. An election like that in the film, where the outcome isn't easily predictable, will work best. Tell students that they are going to do research to see if they can predict the outcome of the election.
  • Let students research local voting patterns. How many people in their community are registered? How many are eligible to vote? Are some parts of the community over or underrepresented? Who is trying register voters or run "get out the vote" campaigns in your community? How might you help?
  • Have students go home and interview people in their community about things they think politicians could do to improve the neighborhood. Then let the students create a campaign in which they write a brief speech explaining why they want to run for "mayor of their neighborhood." Students can also create campaign slogans, posters, or storyboards for political advertisements. Hold a classroom convention by hanging up the signs around the classroom and having students read their announcement speeches.
  • Study the history of the Voting Rights Act. Compare U.S. voting laws and voter participation rates with rates in other countries. Let students lead a discussion about why they do or don't intend to vote and why the majority of Americans who are eligible don't vote.
  • After viewing the film, assign students to debate: Yes I would run for office / No I wouldn't run for office.
  • Assign students to read and review Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists (University of California, 2001).
  • Invite a campaign staffer to discuss their research methods with the class, including how they gather information and what they do with the information that they gather.


I. Before You Watch

  1. People choose whom they vote for in any election based upon their own personal criteria and beliefs. Examine the following qualities and rank how important they are to you, in a candidate. (Ex: 1 = most important to you; 10 = least important to you)
  2. Write two qualities that were not mentioned on this list, which you look for in an ideal candidate.

II. Before You Watch

  1. Write down three things that you have learned thus far about each candidate.


Sharpe James1.
Cory Booker1.

III. After You Watch

  1. 1. Explain which candidate you have decided to vote for in a well-developed paragraph. Be sure to include specific details from the movie.


I. Before You Watch

  1. List two reasons why you think someone would vote for either of these candidates.
  2. List two reasons why you think a person would not vote for either of these candidates.
Would VoteWould Vote
Cory Booker1.1.
Sharpe James1.1.

II. While You Watch

  1. 1. List three to four things that seem unfair to you so far in the film.

III. After You Watch

  1. Who do you want to win the mayoral election? Why?
  2. Who do you believe will win the election? Why?



Standard 19: Understands what is meant by "the public agenda," how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media
Standard 22, #5: Understands the process by which United States foreign policy is made, including the roles of federal agencies, domestic interest groups, the media, and the public; and knows the ways in which Americans can influence foreign policy

Language Arts

Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Standard 2: Uses the rhetorical and stylistics aspects of writing
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Standard 9.2: Uses a variety of criteria (e.g., clarity, accuracy, effectiveness, bias, relevance of facts) to evaluate informational media (e.g., web sites, documentaries, news programs).

Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media

Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Standard 2: Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning
Standard 3: Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.
Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques

Source: McCrel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)