During Black History Month each February, K-12 teachers across the country take a special look at their lesson plans. Will it be a guest speaker this year, or a lecture on Harriet Tubman?
Although some prominent black Americans question the need for a Black History Month, Americans as a whole think it's worth commemorating. And all cultural backgrounds can benefit by learning about the black experience--then, and now.
But to really engage students, this occasion requires thoughtful planning. Here are six ideas for making black history come alive in the classroom.
Move Beyond Familiar Historical Figures
While names like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are important, they shouldn't eclipse the names of unsung black Americans. The recent success of the movie "Hidden Figures" illustrates this point well.
Depending on the ages of those you teach, why not craft a lesson around black inventors--or ask students if they have a lesser-known hero they'd like to discuss? Ask a local historian for further ideas.
You can even talk about and play musical excerpts by black composers. Or profile black musicians in general. The point is: get creative.
Learn More About the Underground Railroad
Make history come alive by seeing how former slaves escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
If you live near areas of historical significance, plan a field trip so students can visit these areas personally. Even if you're far from these locations, you can always create a map or watch a video about them and allow plenty of time for discussion.
Choose a Book and Host a Read-In
Each February, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) advertises the National African American Read-In.
What does this event entail? Basically, it's an opportunity for schools or other organizations to read a book (or multiple books) by or about black Americans sometime during the month. What better way to engage students in black history?
After your event, just fill out a host's report card on how things went. Get the Read-In Toolkit Here
Celebrate with African Foods
Most black Americans--and some from other cultures, too--have experienced or at least heard about soul food. So, why not talk about the history of soul food by first learning more about a typical West African diet?
Naturally, your event should culminate with the preparation and eating of the food itself. Here's to a real soul-food celebration in February!
For extra fun, watch a preview of the PBS film Soul Food Junkies.
Get Involved in Local Causes
Many students, including those in high school, don't get to experience a hands-on version of civics. To help students better understand local causes, invite a guest speaker to talk about ways students can get involved.
For example, your school might consider inviting older citizens who participated in the Civil Rights Movement to speak to the entire school during Black History Month. Or students may create a safe environment for those of all cultures by starting an anti-bullying campaign.
Ask school administrators to share their ideas about other local activities.
Don't Shy Away from Sensitive Conversations
No matter how you choose to celebrate Black History Month, remember to show equity to all students in your classroom. While certain topics of race and culture may appear challenging, if approached with respect, the results can be positive.
As you thoughtfully plan your lessons, activities, and discussions with students, let them know that all activities and discussions will be conducted with respect--but that these conversations are important.
Above all, be open and caring. If you're uncomfortable, the students will feel the same way. Need help? Try these conversation tips.
You still have the rest of February to make this year's Black History Month a memorable one. Share your success with us in the comments below!