How to Easily Talk About and Teach Black History Today

Black history shouldn’t be limited to a month, but I love that we have a month devoted to remembering and learning about it.  It’s a time to highlight how important black history is.  However, black history is a sensitive topic.  There was and is a lot of social injustice in our world.  The topics we are trying to explain to students are jarring and uncomfortable.  They bring up so many feelings for everyone regardless of race.

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I grew up in a predominately white town.  Diversity was basically non-existent.  In all of elementary school, I remember one black student.  Of course, we talked about Martin Luther King Jr. and other famous black leaders, but it was distant from our lives.  We didn’t know other students whose history and life trajectory were impacted by the great leaders of black history.

Black History

I know there are other teachers like me, who didn’t have a lot of exposure to diverse groups. It’s just not the town I grew up in.  Whether I like it or not my childhood experience shaped who I am and it’s something I need to be aware of as I teach.  I  need to work extra hard to make sure that I am doing the best I can for my students and not following the patterns or expectations I experienced in childhood.  

What is Black History?

Black History is the commemoration of the achievements and history of African Americans.  During the month of February, we bring special attention to Black history.  In 1915 the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was founded.  Eleven years later in 1926 group declared the second week of February as “Negro History Week.”  The goal was to recognize the contributions of African Americans because it was rarely studied and wasn’t in textbooks.  The second week of February was chosen because it was the week of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays.  In 1976 President Gerald Ford extended the week-long event to Black History Month. 

Black History Month is meant to bring focus and attention to the contributions of all African Americans to the United States.  This includes a long list of incredible African Americans from the enslaved to Barack Obama, the first African American president.  Now other countries are following the example of the United States and have started celebrating Black people in similar ways.

More About How to Talk About Black History Today

Black History Month: Teaching The Complete History

42 Black History Month Activities for February and Beyond

Teaching Black History in the Classroom

The First Time I Felt Successful Teaching Black History

A few years back my 5th and 6th-grade students were reading the book The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis with their reading teacher.   I knew my students didn’t have the background knowledge to really grasp what this story was talking about.  I knew they were missing vital information and experiences in life to learn as much as they could from this book. 

I decide to have them dive into research.  I looked up major events of the Civil Rights Movement and made a list of topics for them to choose from.   They were going to complete a research paper on their topic. And an important piece of what I ask them today is to figure out why this topic is important today. Some of my students were shocked by what they read.  I remember having a conversation with my student who we’ll call Kyle.  He had read about a boy who had been beaten and hung for walking down the street. I asked him if this sounded similar to anything that happens today.  He said no at first, but with some conversation and encouragement, he quickly found cases in recent history.  I knew this student learned a valuable lesson that could change his life.  For the first time, he saw social injustice and that it still existed today.

The most important thing to remember when teaching black history is that we need to talk about it to help our students learn.   We need to expand our students’ world views.  We will also make many mistakes in our attempts, but if we start to have an open dialogue with our students then we may be able to teach them while learning ourselves.

Civil Rights Movement 1960s Research Project: MLK Jr. & Black History

The Civil Rights Movement 1960s is a research choice board project.  Students will research a particular topic from the Civil Rights Movement.  Then they will choose how they want to share what they learned from the choice board.  Students will learn more about the Civil Rights Movement by researching it and sharing what they learned.  Since students get to choose their project they will be more invested and engaged.  I also love how this lesson walks students through the writing process to make the learning support all future writing projects.

This is my original Civil Rights Movement lesson that I taught to my students.   I saw them make grow a deeper understanding of social injustice through this project.  

Famous People in Black History Research Project

There are so many famous people in Black History that have made valuable contributions to their country, culture, and world.  In this choice board research project, students will one person from the list of famous people in Black History to study.  Then students will research all about that person.  Once their research is done they will decide how to share what they learned with the class by choosing a project from the choice board. 

Learning about one famous person in Black History can help students connect to history through that person’s story.  Giving students a focus on 

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement: Class Project

The Civil Rights Movement took years to organize, push forward, and cause change.  It is a lot of information over a long period of time to wrap your head around.  In this timeline project students take responsibility for one event in the civil rights movement.  They learn everything they can about it.   Then students turn all of their research into a concise slide (or worksheet) emphasizing the most important facts.  Then the whole class will pull their work together to create a timeline.  Each student gets to share their information and research with the class to show what they or learned.

Black History Leaders Biography Timelines Research Project

There are so many amazing Black History leaders who changed the world.  These leaders span history. In this timeline project students will research one of the major black history leaders.  Then students will create a timeline of that person’s life.   This project is a great way to have students learn about research, determine the most important facts, and present what they learned to the class.   This project will help your students connect with Black History as they learn about one person who changed the world.  

Biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline Project   

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most influential people in Black History. He went from a simple life to the face and leader of the Civil Rights Movement.   Our students all know his name.  How can they not? They get a whole day of school off to celebrate his birthday.  This timeline project asks students to dive a little deeper into the life of Martin Luther King Jr.  Each student will research a life event from Martin Luther King Jr.”s life.  After they complete their research and turn it into a slide for a class slideshow or a book page for a class book.   Students can then share what they learned about their event of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life with the rest of the class.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The Most Important Thing About Teaching Black History

The most important thing about teaching black history is that you teach it.  You must be willing to take the uncomfortable steps of talking about race, racism, and social injustice to teach your students.  It’s not a topic to be avoided, it is a topic to approach with sensitivity, empathy, and thoughtfulness.  These are a just a few projects to help guide you.  It’s teaching students about Black History without the textbook.  

Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry

I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.

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