Thoughtful ways to teach students about events and Black leaders, for February and beyond.
Teaching students to celebrate events and Black leaders involves discussing both achievements and the hardships they’ve faced. For Black History Month (also known as African American History Month), we’ve rounded up ideas to give students of all ages a deeper understanding of some of America’s greatest leaders.
Note: In 2021, the theme for Black History month is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. As you review some of our classroom activities, keep that very important theme in mind.
Have students write an “I Have a Dream” speech
Invite students to write and deliver a speech about an issue of concern to them and what they’d do to make a difference. Students who are too young to write a speech can make posters showing what freedom looks like to them. Hang these in your school lobby and hallways.
Read (and provide books) about civil rights
There are plenty of good children’s books about Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X., Rosa Parks, and other figures involved in the struggle for racial equality in the United States. This list from Teaching for Change categorizes books from early elementary through high school and includes titles for teachers’ reading.
As well, many schools across the country are broadening their schools’ book collections with intentional selections of books about people of color, and by nonwhite authors. Scholastic offers a list of 28 Books That Amplify Black Voices includes picture books, middle grade, and young adult.
Start a class community service project
Observed each year on the third Monday in January as “a day on, not a day off,” MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.
Carry the service sentiment forward during Black History Month by choosing a cause for your classroom. Depending on COVID-19 guidelines in your area, you could have students collect canned goods for a food pantry, adopt a park to spruce up, or raise money for a nonprofit that stands up for people’s civil rights.
Decorate your door
Over the past few years, door decorating has been used for teacher appreciation and to add cheer—add awareness and empowerment to that list of reasons. These teachers’ door decorations both empower students and start powerful conversations.
Create a virtual museum on slavery and its legacy
Thirteen.org offers a downloadable PowerPoint template and a lesson plan, as well as write-ups from classrooms that created virtual museums. “It showed me how white plantation owners really treated their slaves,” said one student.
Plan a virtual museum visit
As part of its Open Access initiative, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture is allowing images from its collection to be viewed, downloaded, and shared. You can browse the vast collection by topic, date, or place.
You can also check African American History Month’s list of exhibits and collections, with categories ranging from slavery and civil rights leaders to notable Black baseball figures.
Education.com offers a free downloadable A-Z African American Visionaries poster, around which you can plan complementary classroom activities. Have students:
Start a meaningful discussion
National events over the past year have brought to light, and spurred discussion on, the concepts of implicit bias and systemic racism in a more widespread way. Teaching Tolerance offers classroom and professional development resources that can help educators discuss race, racism, and many surrounding topics—during Black History Month and beyond.