Black History Month is a wonderful time to teach students about African American culture, milestones and achievements. But instead of the same-old, same-old this year, try mixing it up with a few of these fun, fresh ideas:
- Recreate the Harlem Renaissance in your classroom
- Have a soul food feast
- Go Local
- Have a poetry slam
- Get musical
- Study African American Inventors
- Celebrate modern day achievers
- Art it up
- Integrate with apps
Recreate the Harlem Renaissance in your classroom! The Harlem Renaissance (1917-1935) was a huge turning point in African American culture. There was an explosion of art, music and literature in this New York City neighborhood. Creative African Americans came from all over to participate in the environment of free expression and to assert their political views and exercise their civil rights. There are lots of fun ways to embrace the Harlem Renaissance in your classroom!
- Teach your students about the famed Apollo Theater and invite them to perform! Create your own “Night at the Apollo.” The students can do excerpts from a play from the era, read aloud from a novel or book of poetry by a famed writer of the era, like Langston Hughes; or sing a jazzy tune a la Billie Holiday.
- Turn your classroom into a speakeasy. Dim the lights, arrange the desks like tables and play and discuss the impact of notable jazz music from the era. Musicians like Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton were changing the face of music in the 1920s and 30s in Harlem.
- Have your class create their own edition of W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Crisis Magazine, the journal of the NAACP. Include your student’s stories, poems and artwork.
Have a soul food feast!
The term “soul food” was coined in the 1960’s, but the cuisine has much older roots. Common soul food ingredients, such as okra, rice and sorgum, are part of a traditional West African diet. It is believed that the foods were introduced into the American diet during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
- Teach your students about the origins of soul food. This is a great jumping off point for educating your class about the slave trade as well.
- Invite your students to research traditional African American dishes such as fried chicken, chicken and waffles, collard greens, okra, sweet potatoes, cornbread, grits etc. Have each child choose a dish he or she can prepare and bring in to share with the class during your Soul Food Feast!
Educator Kay Walton said she likes to “share stories about local successful or influential people of color” when teaching Black History Month. “It is a great way of exposing the secret histories that are in every community and helping to rewrite history to include everyone.” Ms. Walton said.
- Talk about the local African American community in your area. How people of color first moved to the area, under what circumstances, etc.
- Invite the students to research influential African American members of your town. War veterans, church pastors, teachers, businessmen, performers—anyone who has made a great, positive impact on the community. If the person is living and available, perhaps the student can interview him or her.
- Have the students prepare a presentation and introduce their community member to the class!
Have a poetry slam!
There are many wonderful African American poets like Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. Rapper Tupac Shakur wrote poetry as well! Educator Mel Rosanbalm Mays said, “I love introducing the kids to Phyllis Wheatley…one of America’s first published poets, freed slave, and a woman!” Studying poetry is a great way to celebrate and explore African American culture and history.
- Select a few renowned African American poets to study in class.
- Invite your students to write their own poems inspired by the poetry they read in class.
- Have a poetry slam and invite the students to read their poetry aloud to the class. If you want to bring out the competitive spirit in your students, have them rank the poems in real poetry slam fashion and crown a winner!
African Americans have a deep, rich musical history ranging from ragtime to jazz to gospel to blues to hip hop to rap and more.
- Explore the roots of African American music with your students. Many modern day musical genres stem from the days of slavery.
- Introduce the children to the many different types of music black Americans have been famous for.
- Bring things into the 21st century and invite your students to write their own rap or hip hop tune to share with the class.
Study African American inventors!
Many of the things we use in every day life were invented by African Americans. Connie Furrow Timmons said she teaches her students about the incredible “contributions that African Americans have made to society…the traffic light, the refrigerated truck, the zipper.” There are so many to choose from! George Washington Carver created peanut butter, Garret Morgan invented the stop light and the gas mask, Lonnie G. Johnson invented the Super Soaker water gun. The list goes on and on!
- Have your students research a famous African American inventor.
- The children can present their findings to the class and write a report about their chosen inventor. Perhaps even demonstrate the invention in class if possible!
Celebrate modern day achievers!
African Americans have had an amazing journey in this country. They’ve risen from the shackles of slavery to become incredibly influential members of our society. Educator Alicia Cacciatori-Logsdon said, “We do an activity similar to the hall of presidents concept. Each child chooses an influential African American to be a historian/expert on and then presents to peers. It’s always a lot of fun, interactive learning.”
- Invite your students to pick an accomplished, modern-day African American figure.
- Have each child prepare a report and present it to the class. Diann Wheeler Sims said she was blown away by the reports her students did on successful, modern-day black Americans. “It gave students appreciation/pride for other individuals to look up to for accomplishment instead of ONLY rappers or athletics.”
Art it up!
Educator Toni Adams shared, “With my middle school, I gave the students an option of four MLK quotes and they had to use one to create a piece of art!” There are countless incredible quotes from famous African American figures from all walks of life, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X., Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe. Selecting one as inspiration for an art project is a great way to integrate arts into your lesson plan while teaching African American history.
- Have your students find a quote that resonates with them.
- Then invite the students to create a piece of art inspired by the quote. They could paint it, collage it or make something out of clay. The ideas are endless!
Apps to Teach Black History
- WDYK: 100 Influential Black Americans
Learn about 100 artists, activists, political thinkers, sports figures and entertainers who have played significant roles in shaping the African American experience. Includes educational videos.
- Black History Month (Audio)
Access a series of podcasts celebrating a host of outstanding African American leaders in the arts, sciences, business, sports and public service. They include heroes of the Civil Rights movement, trailblazing athletes, brilliant musicians, a pioneering neurosurgeon, a Secretary of State, Pulitzer Prize playwrights, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and a President of the United States.
- Then and Now Series: Black History
This app offers an informative look into the lives of 100 influential black people in history, with links to online videos and music where relevant.
- Black History Month 2013
Available for Android devices, this app shares biographies of famous black people, complete with a fun quiz to test your knowledge.
- More Than a Mapp
This free iPad app allows users to locate, experience, and contribute to African American History through an interactive map. Designed to show that this aspect of American History exists all around us, even in months outside of February, the application highlights relevant locations in one’s immediate vicinity and gives users the ability to upload their own.
- List of Edmodo Apps
A collection of useful Edmodo apps for developing historical timelines, inspiring student discussion, and more.
Black History Month is the perfect time to celebrate the art, poetry, music, inventions, intellectual contributions, political accomplishments of African Americans.
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