When commemorating and celebrating Black History Month, it is critical to involve your students in activities that get them thinking critically about all the facets of the African American experience. Lessons should incorporate history, politics, human experience, art, and literature.
The history of people of African descent in the U.S. is American history, and Black History Month offers the opportunity to dig deeper. Each February gives us a chance to support students as they discover the impact African Americans have had on culture, society, politics, and science. The key for social studies teachers is to avoid pigeonholing the achievements of Black Americans to just one month. Although the emphasis during February is on African American history, this subject should be included in social studies education year round.
Origins of Black History Month
Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and historyCarter G. Woodson
The distinguished Black author, editor, publisher, and historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875 – 1950), penned these words as he worked to establish Negro History Week (the precursor to Black History Month) back in the opening decades of the 20th century. Woodson believed that African Americans should be aware of their past so they can participate intelligently in the country’s affairs. He strongly held that Black history, which others have tried so hard to obliterate, provides a strong foundation for young African Americans to build on to become productive citizens.
Woodson’s numerous scholarly books and many magazine articles on the contributions of Blacks to the development of America supported his message that Blacks should be proud of their heritage and that all Americans should also understand it. This championing of African American history earned him the nickname the “Father of Black History”.
Expand Your Horizons
While teachers typically tend to stay with the same few topics during Black History Month (think civil rights, historical Black leaders, and significant achievements), there are also plenty of other important concepts to consider introducing your students to, such as:
- African American mental health (grades 9-12) (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- Stereotypes and microaggressions (grade 1) (Teaching Tolerance)
- Impact of Black culture (grades 3-12) (Scholastic)
- The Music of African American History (grades 9-12) (National Endowment for the Humanities)
- Loads more lesson plans from the NEH here
- Suffrage for Black Women (grades 9-12) (Retro Report)
- A history of redlining (grades 9-12) (Zinn Education Project)
The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity (grades 9-12) (National Archives Museum Online panel discussion, Thursday, February 25, 2021, 7-8 p.m. EST)
African American History Month Teaching DO’s and DON’Ts*
- Incorporate Black history year-round, not just in February. Use February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.
- Continue Learning. Explore how to provide an in-depth and thorough understanding of Black history. What textbooks include is limited, so use the textbook as one of many resources, but be sure to explore multiple resources and allow for opportunities to learn along with your students.
- Reinforce that “Black” history is American history. Make Black history relevant to all students.
- Connect issues in the past to current issues to make history relevant to students’ lives. Making the subject matter relevant to student’s lives drives the point of a lesson home.
- Include the political and social context of the community’s struggle for social justice. For example, talk about Daisy Bates’ political affiliations and her political ideologies. You see her bravery not as just a personal act but as coming out of community determination.
- Stop your “regular” curriculum, to do a separate lesson on Rosa Parks, on the Civil Rights Act or on Martin Luther King Jr. This trivializes and marginalizes anything you are teaching, making these leaders a token of their culture and ethnicity. Students will get the message that the diversion is not as important as the “regular” curriculum.
- Focus on superficial cultural traits based on stereotypes. It’s okay to celebrate Black music, but teachers should also explore the political and social contexts that give rise to musical forms like hip hop.
- Talk about Black history in solely “feel-good” language, or as a thing of the past. This fails to help students examine how racism manifests itself today. Be sure to draw connections between how events or people’s actions in the past affect society today.
- Limit the presentation to lectures or reading. Be sure to allow students an opportunity for discussion and reflection.
- Shy away from controversial, ambiguous, or unresolved issues. Share the real-life experiences about racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways.
- Think that you can’t talk about black history because you’re a white educator. You do not need to be a person of color to talk about race. But you do need to be comfortable in your own skin, build your knowledge about the topic and be in alliance with educators of color for support and feedback.
- Don’t simply focus on the famous people. Use Black History Month as an opportunity to highlight the often-unacknowledged contributions that people of color make every day.
Resources for Teaching Black History Month
Help Teaching has the following resources
Civil Rights Test (HS)
Triangular Trade (MS)
Benjamin Banneker (older ES)
Pre-Civil War – African-American History (older ES)
Nat Turner (older ES)
Sojourner Truth (older ES)
Underground Railroad (older ES)
Harriet Tubman (older ES)
Frederick Douglass (older ES)
Emancipation Proclamation (older ES)
Jim Crow Laws (MS)
Booker T. Washington (older ES)
Granville T. Woods (older ES)
Buffalo Soldiers (MS)
W.E.B. Du Bois (MS)
W.E.B Du Bois Quotes (HS)
The Great Migration (HS)
Harlem Renaissance (HS)
Tulsa Race Riots (MS)
Tuskegee Airmen (MS)
The Civil Rights Movement (older ES)
King Quotes (grades 11-12)
Letter from Birmingham Jail (grades 11-12)
Medgar Evers (MS)
Madam C.J. Walker (MS)
School Desegregation (older ES)
Greensboro Sit-Ins (older ES)
The Freedom Rides (MS)
Emmett Till (older ES)
Malcolm X (MS)
Selma March (older ES)
Civil Rights Test (HS)
Shirley Chisholm (MS)
Maya Angelou (MS)
Read-Aloud: Martin Luther King, Jr. (older ES)
Martin Luther King Jr. Spelling (younger ES)
A Dream Like Martin Luther King Writing Prompts (younger ES)
Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Prompt (older ES)
Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline (older ES)
Martin Luther King Jr. Words (older ES)
Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)
Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)
You may also find this list of Black History Month Readings – 30 Titles for Grades K-12 helpful.
KidsKonnect.com has the following resources
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day Facts & Worksheets
- The March on Washington Facts & Worksheets
- Civil Rights Movement Facts & Worksheets
- And many other Black History Month resources
BusyTeacher.org has the following free ESL resources
- Crisis Point: An ESL Class on Police Shootings and Black Lives Matter
- Should We be Talking about This? Addressing the Topic of Racial Identity in the U.S.
- Human Rights Lesson Plan: Racism
- Malcolm X
These groups and institutions can also help you teach about African American history
- The African American Museum in Philadelphia is hosting a series of Black History Month online events at a nominal cost
- Teaching Tolerance provides free resources
- Here are some lesson plans specifically for preschoolers from Gayle’s Preschool Rainbow
- The National Education Association offers free lesson plans on the African American experience for all age groups, K-12
- 10 Ideas for Teaching Black History Month from the ADL
- Georgia Public Broadcasting offers these resources to help teach students about the significant events and people in African-American history in the United States:
- Civil Rights Movement Virtual Learning Journey (grades: 4-12)
Brimming with comprehensive, cross-curricular content, including videos, primary source images and documents, compelling photo galleries, interactive maps, artwork, music, and more, this virtual collection invites students into an engaging exploration of some of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement.
- Purpose of Black History Month (grades: 2-6)
Students discover the purpose of Black History Month as well as other historical facts, firsts, and figures about the month-long celebration with a downloadable backgrounder.
- The March on Washington (grades: 3-12)
Help students understand the significance of the 1963 March on Washington and the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement with this collection of multimedia educational resources.
- History of Hip-Hop (grades: 9-12)
Use this collection of interviews from National Public Radio (NPR) with high school students to chronicle seminal people and events in the hip-hop movement.
- Honoring the Life of Maya Angelou (grades: 7-12)
Maya Angelou’s talent was not defined by just one medium. Throughout her life, she was a poet, novelist, dancer, playwright, actor, and educator. In this lesson from PBS NewsHour Extra, students learn more about her extraordinary life.
- The Underground Railroad (grades: 5-12)
Students in all grades can make decisions as they follow Harriet Tubman and escape from a slave owner in this online interactive.
- Opening a Dialogue with Youth About Racism (grades: K-12)
To help those who may not know why, where, when or how to begin this conversation, USC Rossier has created Speak Up: Opening a Dialogue With Youth About Racism — a collection of interviews, resource guides, and op-eds aimed at answering some of the questions that can make these topics difficult, and prompt needed discussions about identity, inequality and education for children of color.
- Civil Rights: Internet Activism and Social Change (grades: 9-12)
Examine social media’s influence in America’s Civil Rights movement and its role in democratizing the media. The video answers the question, “How does social media support the work of social change protesters?”
These are just a few of the many free resources available online for teaching about African American history.
Image source: Vectoreezy.com
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