Black history is American history, but Black History Month provides the necessary opportunity to dig deeper. Every February, we can support students as they learn more, discover cultural impacts, and follow movements through to the present day.
Since 1928, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History has provided a theme for Black History Month. In 2021, the theme will be The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. As you review some of our favorite Black History Month activities for the classroom, keep that very important theme in mind.
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1. Bring art and history together by recreating civil rights freedom movement posters.
The Civil Rights Movement Veterans site offers powerful examples of freedom movement posters, as does the Civil Rights Digital Library. Review them with your students, and then have them get into groups and create their own to share.
2. Explore Black history through primary sources from the National Archives.
Choose from thousands of resources, including this 1970s photo series of Chicago.
3. Let artists inspire your Black History Month activities.
4. Learn about the Black Lives Matter movement.
5. Create a newsletter or magazine.
Have your students generate their own newsletter or literacy magazine to distribute to parents. Include poems and short stories by black authors, as well as student-generated writings and images that center on Black History Month.
6. Recreate a Black family’s journey using the Green Book.
The History Channel offers a wonderful introduction to this guide that was written to help Black Americans travel safely during the mid 20th century.
7. Turn your classroom into a living museum.
Have your students choose a notable Black pioneer they’d like to know more about, such as voting rights and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, dancer Alvin Ailey, or Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest full-time national parks ranger. Then, host a living museum right in your classroom. Students can dress up and share what they learned through their research.
8. Learn about the life of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.
The White House site offers a good introduction to President Barack Obama, as does this National Geographic reader. Obama has also authored several books that older students may enjoy, including Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, The Audacity of Hope, and A Promised Land.
9. Create your own virtual museum dedicated to remembering slavery and its legacy.
Thirteen.org offers some powerful student examples and a downloadable template you can use to try the activity in your classroom.
10. Decorate your classroom door for Black History Month.
These teachers decorated their classroom doors in amazing ways to showcase Black History Month.
11. Honor some of the military’s most courageous veterans.
12. Read books with Black characters in honor of the young hero Marley Dias.
Dias is a young activist who started the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign as a sixth-grader. She has compiled an excellent guide to books with Black girl characters . Check out our list of books with Black protagonists as well.
13. Read Black picture book biographies.
These picture book biographies help celebrate Black History Month and educate your students on how these people helped shape history.
14. Learn about the art of stepping.
Stepping is a form of dancing in which the body itself is used to create unique rhythms and sounds. The website Step Afrika! has videos and information about the history of stepping.
15. Virtually visit the illustrious Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York.
The digital collections feature some amazing online exhibits, interviews, and podcasts.
16. Witness the realities of slavery and reconciliation first hand at the nation’s first slavery museum, the Whitney Plantation.
The museum’s incredible online lesson plans teach students about what life was really like in antebellum America.
17. Visit the incredible Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
You can browse the collection online by topic, date, or place.
18. Host a poetry reading.
Have students choose a poem by a Black poet to learn and recite for the class. Choose a student to serve as the emcee, write up a program, and set the tone with dimmed lights and jazz music played between performances. The Poetry Foundation has excellent resources that can help get you started.
19. Reimagine your geography lesson.
Did you know that between 1915 and 1970, millions of Blacks left the South and resettled in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York? Or that after the Civil War, many Blacks known as Exodusters, made their way to the Great Plains? Pull up a map and teach your students about the whys, wheres, and hows Black families moved about the country and how such demographic shifts shaped the United States we know today. You can also take an interactive trip on the Underground Railroad.
20. Hang posters in the classroom.
These free posters help bring Black History Month to the classroom.
21. Hold court.
Your future legal eagles will enjoy learning about the key Supreme Court cases that helped Blacks secure rights, the events and efforts that sparked the cases, and the aftermath of those court decisions. Be sure to recognize Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice and the lead lawyer in the Brown case, along the way.
22. Listen up.
23. The play’s the thing.
With his American Century Cycle, playwright August Wilson explored Black life during the 20th century. Use the resources centered on the ten plays that make up the cycle to unpack that rich history. Consider choosing one to present to the entire school.
24. Check out these eight online exhibits on Black history, racism, and protest.
Educating yourself and your students with these shows is one more way to understand Black history and the current moment.
25. Attend this Black History Month virtual concert: Preserving and Persevering.
The Chicago Children’s Choir is coming together virtually for a dynamic educational program and performance honoring black culture. Tune in to the free livestream on Thursday, February 25, through Facebook and YouTube.
26. Plan Black History Month lessons by grade with Scholastic.
Explore Scholastic’s Black History Month classroom activities, which can be filtered by grade level, starting with kindergarten.
27. Dive into “Georgia Stories: Black History Collection” on PBS
As a state, Georgia played a huge role in the 2020 presidential election, and its Black history dates back to the earliest days of slavery in the colony.
28. Discuss implicit bias, systemic racism, and social injustice.
Start a much-needed discussion around implicit bias and systemic racism, with these resources that can empower students to fight for justice in our society.
29. Celebrate the dominance of spirit over suffering with “Freedom in Congo Square.”
The award-winning picture book, Freedom in Congo Square, is a nonfiction children’s book that describes the tyranny of slavery to help young readers understand how jubilant Sundays would be for slaves.
30. Recognize Black visionaries.
This great poster featuring activists, artists, authors, and revolutionaries, will highlight Black changemakers in your classroom. Use companion activities to deepen understanding by researching several of the visionaries and asking students to write a story or create their own poster about what they’ve learned.
31. Remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s stirring speech is well-known to adults, but never forget how important it is to introduce his words to our younger generation.
32. Review the timeline of Black History Month.
Why is Black History Month in February? How long ago was it founded, and who started it? Find the answers to these questions and learn more with this timeline.
33. Explore the music of Black history.
This lesson traces the long history of how Black artists have used music as a vehicle for communicating beliefs, aspirations, observations, joys, despair, resistance, and more across U.S. history.
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