Black History is one of my favorite parts of history to teach. It is filled with stories of triumph and perseverance. There are some pretty sad parts as well, but this is not a part of history we should shield our students from. Yes, its ugly, yes it is sad but we are teaching a new generation of students to think and to form their own opinions and as educators, we have to allow them to do that even with one of the ugliest parts of American history.
When I teach these Black History I discuss historical events, biographies and we have a ton of read-alouds. I am sure to put lots of African American books on my shelves and expose them to as much Black History as I can. My most favorite black history month activities are the 5 below. Needless to say, we definitely spend more than 29 days discussing these topics.
By far one of the most important parts of teaching any subject is exposure and read-alouds do just that for black history. We read a ton of books during black history month. For my older students, we read The Watsons Go to Birmingham. This book tells the story of an African American family from the north visiting the segregated south for the first time. I pair this with the picture book Martin’s Big Words. If you don’t have this book on your bookshelf, you need it! Although Martin’s Big Words is intended for a younger audience it has many hidden clues and suttle details that pay homage to the civil rights era. My goal was to do a read-aloud every day most days I read and some days we listened to someone else read it. We used Storyline online, which features famous people reading children’s books and if you can’t find it their youtube is always a great resource. Some other great reads include:
- 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World
- If You Traveled the Underground Railroad
- Ruth and the Green Book
- Jazz on a Saturday Night
- The Story of Ruby Bridges
- When Marian Sang
- Benjamin Banneker and the Tick- Tock Clock
- Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
The Harlem Renaissance
Let me just say this is my all-time favorite part of history. But it is a part that many may skip over. Some of my favorite black history month ideas are reading books about the Harlem Renaissance and researching biographies of famous African Americans who lived during the Harlem Renaissance. One of my favorites is Ella Fitzgerald. Ella had a hard life but was able to overcome it and became a huge star, even becoming one of the first African American women to win a Grammy. These are the stories we want our students to hear and relate to. Although Ella had a rough childhood she still became successful. I use 6 Harlems Renaissance Flipbook to study Ella and several other famous African Americans from the Harlem Renaissance.
You can also listen to the cool sounds of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. We read poetry from Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston. My students love hearing me read, Jazz on a Saturday Night , I love it too. Jazz on a Saturday night depicts a fictional Jazz band filled with musicians from around the time of the Harlem Renaissance. The book comes with a CD and you read the book to the beat of the music. After you read this aloud put the book and CD in your listening stations. Students love reading this to the music and it’s a great fluency practice.
One of my student’s favorite black history activities is to research and create biographies. In my class, we add a little spin to our biographies by creating biography lapbooks. Each student picks a famous African Americans and creates a lapbook about their life. They include a short biography, a timeline and important facts. What is so wonderful is that students learn so much more information than they can fit in their lapbooks. I have has students come back to me years later and they are still able to tell me facts about the famous African American the researched.
Each week ask your students to bring one fact about black History. It could be about a person, an event or any black history month facts they could find. After you have read them all to yourself. Place all the facts in a jar or a bucket. At various times during the day read a fact. This usually sparks interesting discussions and you could even learn some facts you didn’t know.
Black History where you live
This is always really eye-opening for students. Discussing Black history where you live really gives students a perspective that black history is not just in books or in my teacher’s words but it is in my town, city or state. This will require you to do some research but it is worth it. I discuss Bass Reeves who was an Oklahoma lawman and Leila Foley who is the first African American woman Mayor in Oklahoma.
The grade you teach will definitely determine how in-depth you teach Black History. As a fourth grade teacher, I taught from slavery to the present day. They could totally handle it. In third grade, I briefly touched on slavery but still taught, The Harlem Renaissance, civil rights, and black history where we live and present-day history. But when I taught kindergarten I had to totally rethink it. We focused on Civil Rights, talk just a bit about the Harlem Renaissance and discussed present-day history. You must look at your class, and grade level to determine what parts of black history you should focus on.
Teaching black history is so important for all cultures and races of students. Providing Engaging read-alouds throughout the month gives your students an enormous amount of exposure to Black History and inspires conversation. Introducing your students to The Harem Renaissance will allow them to explore the beauty, intelligence, and insight of people who were once thought of as of lesser intelligence. Biographies are such an important part of exploring Black History not only are the students learning important research skills but they are learning about famous African Americans whose stories of resilience and success they will carry with them throughout their lives. Fact Finders are an easy quick way to help students learn new facts and share them with their peers. Studying Black History where you live really connects students to their city town or state. Knowing that where they live has changed and evolved to its current state is important for students to understand. I hope that these black history month activities encourage you to explore teaching African American history a bit deeper.