This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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As an educator, there are few months more significant than February - that is, Black History Month. The adage “black history is American history” means that in February, teachers should step up and illuminate the history, culture, geography, and modern life of black Americans for all students. If you need an idea or two, go ahead and have seven.
1. Student reports on black icons
Ask students to do a fun project about some of the greatest figures of American history. Have each student or teams of students pick famous black Americans. Consider doing a teacher report on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and then assigning students to research and present other important icons. Some great candidates include Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Rosa Parks. There are a wealth of heroic black figures, so consider briefly introducing them to your class.
For activities, students can write short biographies and present them to the class. Art, poetry, and historical fiction make for excellent showcases as well. Students should collect different pieces of their project and present them together. You can even organize a class or school wide African American History Fair where students can display their hard work for each other and other teachers.
2. Field trips to local museums or movement sites
Nothing makes history come alive more than interacting with it up close. To help bring Black History Month home to your class, take them to museums of African American History or museums that feature Black History exhibits. They take place nationwide in February, so it should be easy to locate one near you.
Another field trip option is to go to the site of a famous Civil Rights event or another famous location. These are harder to come by than museums and exhibits, but if your school happens to be relatively close, you should jump at the chance. These iconic locations are famous for getting visitors to reflect and bask in the importance of their history.
3. Research Black Lives Matter as a class
(Protest at Penn Station)
The importance of the BLM movement grows each day, but many students may be unaware how it formed or why it’s so significant. A profoundly educational exercise is to have your class research it on their own, then discuss their findings as a group.
Have some students bring recent news articles and have others read online resources. Ask any students if they have friends or family who are involved, and get their opinions. When your class has collected a solid body of information, go around the room and have students present their findings, followed by an open discussion about the movement’s importance and purpose. You’ll be impressed by the depth of discussion and with how involved your class will be.
4. Read daily current events
Along those same lines, assign a student each day or week to find an article related to Black History Month, BLM, or other issues that affect the African American community. Make copies, and read with your class, or to them if they are too young. Again, discuss the context of the article and its relevance to broader issues.
5. Read literature with your class
Start a month-long reading project with your class where you explore literature written by African Americans. Beyond the obvious curriculum benefits that come from reading and analyzing amazing literature - including critical thinking development - these works help to instill the cultural significance of the African American tradition.
Hopefully, a few of these novels are already part of your school’s required curriculum, but if not there are a wealth of options. For older students you could read Native Son by Richard Wright, Beloved by Toni Morrison, or even the poetry of Langston Hughes. Younger students would benefit from books like Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott, and Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
6. Invite a black community leader to speak on the importance of Black History Month
Just like visiting a museum or famous landmark helps bring history to life, so does hearing about it from those directly affected. Ask around your school or community and consider inviting a speaker who is perhaps active in BLM or an important member of the black community in your area. Chances are, they’d be happy to address a group of students eager to learn about Black History Month’s significance.
7. Get online
Obviously, the internet has a torrent of information and activities available related to Black History Month. If your school has access to a computer lab, get your class in there and see what everyone comes up with. There are plenty of photos, interactives, and online exhibits to keep you occupied all month.