Classroom Activities for Black History Month

January 31, 2017

While Black History Month began in 1976, its inspiration dates back to 1926 when Carter G. Woodson and members of his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) organized an African American History Week. They selected the month of February for this celebration because it was close to the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, who had been responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation, and the African American orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

During the next 50 years, this celebratory week grew in popularity, with American cities initiating their own celebrations of black achievements and with teachers using class time to discuss contributions to history made by notable African Americans. The civil rights movement also contributed to its popularity. The single week was expanded to become African American History Month in 1976, with President Gerald Ford urging Americans to participate in its observance.

In the following three activities we utilize Britannica LaunchPacks: Social Studies. If you don’t already have access, you can get free access now to 1,600 curriculum-relevant subject Packs that include grouped and organized resources, such as informational text, media, timelines, maps, and primary sources. Teachers love LaunchPacks for its ability to annotate, and its sharing, differentiated instruction, and personalized scheduling capabilities…all within one easy-to-use tool. Give it a try, or use these activities, prompts, and the graphic organizer with your own classroom resources!

ACTIVITY 1: Create a “Perfect Pairing” of Fiction and Nonfiction Text Around Black History Month.

Giving students the opportunity to read engaging historical fiction connects them to the time period, history, and issues under consideration. Pairing fiction with nonfiction ensures that students get the background information they need to read closely and think critically about fiction.

Grades 2-5: Pair one of the following books with the Human Rights: Civil Rights Pack.

• Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

• Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford

• One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

 Grades 6-8: Pair one of the following books with The American Civil Rights Movement content set.

• The Watson’s Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

• Revolution by Deborah Wiles

ACTIVITY 2: Piece Together an Important Figure.

Ask students to choose a key figure, either current or historical. Use Packs to research the figure, using a variety of sources, and complete the graphic organizer to build a picture of their figure. Each puzzle piece can represent a unique source and students can explore how different types of content, such as images, videos, articles, and primary sources, add important pieces to the figure's story. Then, students might create a social-media style profile that their figure would have used to speak to the world about their big ideas or contributions if they were able to today.

 Grades K-2:  

• Jackie Robinson

Grades 3-5:

• Sojourner Truth

• George Washington Carver

Grades 6-8:

• Frederick Douglass

Grades 9-12:

• Harriet Tubman

ACTIVITY 3: Build Civic Engagement. 

Ask students to research a key movement, such as Abolitionism, Voting Rights, or Civil Rights and then to consider the world around them today. What cause would they champion in their community, state, or county? How would they go about spreading their message? Have students design a flyer or poster that they could use to promote their cause.

Grades 9-12:

• Human Rights: Civil Rights

• The American Civil Rights Movement

• The Abolitionist Movement

• The Women’s Suffrage Movement

We hope you’ll use these engaging activities during the month of February. Remember, if you don’t have access to Britannica LaunchPacks: Social Studies and want to try it out, this is a great time to get free access to all of the resources we’ve used here and a whole lot more!