Teaching About Black History Month

When it comes to teaching elementary school during Black History Month, there’s a lot that teachers do right. Then again, there are a lot of things that go wrong — we’ve all seen the news reports over the years of schools advertising problematic Black History Month meals or inappropriate assignments handed out to students. So how do you strike just the right tone with activities that aren’t just appropriate, but also truly meaningful and reflective of the Black experience and the huge role Black Americans have played in the history of our nation? Read on for some great ideas.

1. Read books with black protagonists. Does your classroom library reflect the faces of the children in your classroom and the people in your community? Check out Marley Dias’ expansive list of 1,000 Black Girl Books featuring Black girls front and center. Dias was just 11 when she created the #1000BlackGirlBooks drive, collecting books for schools while also bringing attention to the importance of including Black girls in literature and the lack of diversity in children’s books. This works nicely during Black History Month and is something your students can refer back to throughout the year. The vocabulary explored includes compassion, inclusiveness, respect, empathy, care, diversity, culture, belonging, unity, and equality.

2. Take a virtual field trip. Visit the Slavery and Making of America Museum, a virtual museum created with donations from a number of members of the Association of African-American Museums. The free “field trip” includes resources for kids to make their own virtual museum exhibits. Or head to the New York Public Library — virtually, of course — where exhibits from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem are free to browse and introduce kids to historic figures from Nat Turner to Emmett Till.

3. Study the civil rights movement and segregation. Help older kids demonstrate their understanding of the Civil Rights leaders who helped put an end to racist segregationist laws and important moments in the fight for equal rights with a project that covers any of the following:

  • The 14th Amendment
  • Jim Crow Laws
  • Brown vs. Board of Education – Ruby Bridges
  • Montgomery Bus Boycott – Rosa Parks
  • March on Washington – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Civil Rights Act

4. Get acquainted with famous Black Americans. Do you have an old Guess Who game sitting in your classroom? We love hacking the gameboard to help kids learn CVC words, shapes, and more, but they’re also a great way to help kids learn more about important people in American history. Replace the game cards with photos of famous Black Americans and have students narrow down the person on their opponent’s card by asking yes or no questions related to when that person lived, what their job was, and more.

5. Create timelines of important moments in Black history. Timeline activities can help kids learn about the order and sequence of events in history, as well as the cause-and-effect relationships between them. They also help kids learn about different time periods and historical figures, and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills by analyzing and interpreting historical information. Timeline activities can help children develop their organizational and research skills by gathering and arranging historical information in a logical and coherent way.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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