Black History Month is observed every February to honor the accomplishments of Black individuals and to recognize the important roles they played in the United States, from the past to the present.
At the beginning of this school year, when I polled my class to see what their favorite concept, holiday, or idea to learn about was, several said Black History Month. My students really looked forward to this month of history every year, and I was thrilled to learn that!
Every February, I like to do some additional activities for Black History month to honor this special time. Here are just a few!
1. Instagram Biography Project
Using Who Was or Who Is books and a variety of other biographies from the library, I like to have students complete an Instagram Biography Project. Students are responsible for picking out a person they would like to study by perusing the books provided. Then, they are responsible for skimming and reading this particular book over a course of a couple of class periods. Next, they utilize the Instagram Biography Project template to create a timeline of their famous person’s accomplishments.
Students copy and paste photos in the boxes and provide a caption for each picture. The caption must be 2 or more sentences and should explain what is going on in the picture and why it is significant. Next, students must make sure their photos are in a sequential timeline as well. I encourage the students to use hashtags to add that Instagram feeling to their post. Finally, students present their Instagram Biographies to the class and everyone learns a little something about each famous person.
2. Honor Lesser-Known Individuals through Books and Media
Every year, I like to bring up lesser-known stories of Black individuals who should be recognized.
Claudette Colvin is a young girl I especially like to teach about as many students do not readily know her name like they do Rosa Parks. A book I recommend to students to read independently is called Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.
Claudette Colvin was a fifteen-year-old teenager who did the exact same thing that Rosa Parks did, except nine months prior. On March 2, 1955, Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Colvin didn’t receive as much attention because she was younger and there were other issues. Based on in-depth interviews with Claudette and other pivotal people, this book makes history come to life.
Here is a video all about Claudette Colvin: Paerdegat Library: Kids in Black History
Other people that are not as widely known are Lewis Latimer, who developed a filament that helped extend the life of a light bulb. Thomas Edison may have invented the actual light bulb, but his invention did not last extremely long. Enter in Latimer, an inventor, and son of escaped slaves, he developed the key to allowing the light bulb to last.
Check out this video about Latimer:
Bessie Coleman is another hidden person of Black History. She was born in 1892, and became extremely interested in flying after hearing about the war stories from pilots in WWI. Although female and African-American, she did not let this hold her back. She became the first African American woman to get both a national and international pilot’s license after traveling to France to become trained.
A wonderful picture book about Bessie Coleman is called Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman.
To incorporate these individuals into your school schedule, you can do a “Person-of-the Day” highlight, in which you read or teach about that individual or even simply show a video, which would open the floor up to discussion about the hidden figures of Black History.
3. Explore Poetry
April is National Poetry Month, but that shouldn’t stop you from incorporating the poetry of famous Black writers into your lessons.
Just like you can incorporate a “Person-of-the-Day,” you could also utilize “Poet-of-the-Day,” and read about a Black poet and a poem they have written. Students can then write a paragraph response to it, or you can utilize the time for discussion of symbolism and in-depth meaning of the poem.
Students can even illustrate the poem after they visualize it while reading it.
Some wonderful poets and poems you can highlight in your classroom that are favorites among my middle school students are below:
Upper Elementary and Middle School:
Langston Hughes-The Weary Blues
Langston Hughes-Mother to Son
Maya Angelou-And Still I Rise
Maya Angelou-Caged Bird
Kobe Bryant-Dear Basketball
Amanda Gorman-The Hill We Climb
Gwendolyn Brooks-We Real Cool
Kwame Alexander-The Crossover
4. Virtual Museums
The internet is a beautiful thing, especially when it comes to virtual field trips. Take your students all over to explore Black history, using museum virtual tours.
Here are three virtual museum field trips your students can take today!
1. African American History and Culture
This virtual tour is especially expansive as it begins with slavery, spans emancipation, segregation, and explores the present day. This museum has 3,500 exhibits featured online.
2. African American Baseball Museum
One of my favorite books to read with upper elementary and middle schoolers is Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis.
It touches on the Baseball Leagues as the main characters enjoy watching their favorite players on the diamond. It was so important for the characters to see themselves in sports and for those players to become notarized for what they achieved.
This virtual tour contains video interviews with former players, several exhibits, and countless pictures of the league.
3. The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
If you teach about World War II, then this virtual tour would flow nicely right into your lesson plans. If you don’t teach this concept, February would be an excellent time to introduce your students to the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American WWII pilots who made an important impact in history.
Virtual tours are free and convenient as you can explore them from the comfort of your classroom.
5. Teach the History of Black History Month
How did Black History Month come to be? We celebrate this month, but many do not know how this commemoration even started. It’s important to teach students how this month began.
An African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, wanted to celebrate Black History for a full week in February. He chose February because Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Frederick Douglass’s birthday were within the same week. He wanted to honor President Lincoln’s birthday because of his critical role in the Emancipation Proclamation. Additionally, Douglass was honored because of his powerful oration and writing skills and his work as an abolitionist.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month of February as Black History Month.
To learn how the month began, students can learn about Abraham Lincoln, as well as Frederick Douglass and why Carter G. Woodson would choose this month. For more information, grab a copy of Carter Reads the Newspaper today.
The first-ever picture book biography of Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson Book Award (Honor Book), NCSS
Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award
Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book
Top 10 Books for Kids ―New York Public Library
Best Children’s Books of the Year (Starred) ―Bank Street College of Education
Carter G. Woodson was born to two formerly enslaved people ten years after the end of the Civil War. Though his father could not read, he believed in being an informed citizen, so Carter read the newspaper to him every day. As a teenager, Carter went to work in the coal mines, and there he met Oliver Jones, who did something important: he asked Carter not only to read to him and the other miners, but also research and find more information on the subjects that interested them.
Also, to learn more about Frederick Douglass, here is a wonderful video.
6. Black History Month Reflection
I believe February is a wonderful month for Black History commemoration, also because of Valentine’s Day. While not chosen on purpose, it coincides nicely and we can see how love and kindness was spread through the actions of social justice activists, whether it was Martin Luther King, Jr. to Harriet Tubman, from Barack Obama to Sojourner Truth.
Once Black History month is over, students can spend some time reflecting on what they have learned.
Here is a free worksheet that helps students reflect about everything they’ve learned and allows them to think to the future for what they could learn later. It incorporates Black History Month and the February theme of love.
We hope you are able to utilize some of these ideas in your classroom at any point in the year, not only during Black History Month. From the Instagram Biography activity to learning about lesser-known individuals, students can learn about a variety of people. Even by exploring various Black poets, virtual museums, and the background of how the commemoration month began, students are ensured to have a rich time exploring the excellence of these individuals that contributed so much to America.