Activities & Lessons
Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, takes place every February to honor the accomplishments of Black people in the United States and the important roles they have played in the past and the present.
With the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the recent inauguration of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States, among other recent events, this month is a great opportunity to dive into history and current events in your classrooms, whether you're teaching in person or remotely this year.
Black History Month Classroom Activity Ideas
Encourage students to engage in crafts, teach them about significant figures in Black history, and celebrate with your class using these Black History Month activities for elementary and middle school.
1. Cut-and-Paste Timeline
As the civil rights movement progressed over several decades, many key events helped to shape the outcome. For this activity, you should first hold a discussion with your students about the definitions of civil rights and social movements.
Explain that civil rights are written and unwritten rights provided to anyone who is a U.S. citizen or who belongs to a civil society. A movement includes activities undertaken by a group of people to achieve change. Then, distribute this worksheet and have your students fill in details about nine key events of the civil rights movement based on outside research. Once complete, your students should cut out each event; place them in chronological order; and glue, paste, or tape them to a piece of paper; and then share their findings with the class. Encourage them to add a colorful title to their timeline.
2. Persuasive Essay
Many Black people have made valuable contributions to the world throughout history. Have students write a persuasive essay convincing the U.S. Postal Service to create a new stamp honoring an influential and historical Black person. They should explain their choice and the impact the person has had on the world.
Maybe they want to focus on the historic election of Kamala Harris as U.S. Vice President, Katherine Johnson's contribution to science and space exploration, or Stevie Wonder's legacy in music. Have students read their essays to one another or submit them for extra credit. This could be a good opportunity to teach your students how to properly write in a persuasive tone and voice and explore paragraph and essay structure.
This is also an opportunity to have students participate in their government! The U.S. Postal Service welcomes suggestions for stamp subjects that "celebrate the American experience." The USPS website gives the criteria for selecting a stamp subject and the process for submitting a proposal. Help students follow the proper selection process, and make sure they're aware that USPS no doubt receives many ideas, so the chance of theirs getting selected is small.
3. Writing Prompts
With these Black History Month writing prompts from fourth-grade teacher Perry Hollins, you can introduce your students to Black innovators of the past and present. Your students can then tie these figures' experiences to their own lives. For each prompt, students explore the life of a Black innovator, reflect on a quote from the individual, and then tackle a writing prompt. The prompts each focus on a particular writing style, such as narrative, informative, or persuasive.
4. Crossword Puzzle on Civil Rights
Have your students test their knowledge of Black history with this downloadable crossword puzzle, including an answer key for teachers. Topics covered include slavery in the United States, civil rights protests, key figures, and relevant holidays. This is particularly well suited for students in Grades 4–8.
5. Dictionary of Black Leaders
Students can create a biographical dictionary with one or two paragraphs each (with pictures) about Black leaders who contributed to the civil rights movement—or you can focus on any Black leader in the U.S. throughout history, if you want to take it a step further. They can choose three to five leaders whom they feel had the greatest impact on U.S. history and explain why those individuals' accomplishments deserve to be recognized.
Then, students can dive into the role that each figure played in history, what events they influenced, and their legacy. This is a good chance to teach students about finding credible sources online, creating a bibliography, and improving their writing. Your students can exchange their final projects and provide peer feedback or share them with the larger class.
6. Explore Famous Black Scientists in History
If you're looking to explore famous Black scientists in history, you can download these posters, hang them in your classroom or distribute them to your students. This activity can take a lot of different forms. You may simply have a classroom discussion about the legacies of each of these scientists, or you can encourage your students to dig further and create their own separate list of famous Black scientists—or even narrow it down to influential Black innovators in specific scientific fields, such as chemistry or mathematics. Your students can write about these individuals' lives, accomplishments, and continued legacy today and perhaps create their own posters to hang on a bulletin board.
7. Black History Month Challenge Quiz
Have students explore Black history with this short multiple choice quiz. A teacher answer key is also included. You can have students hand this in for a grade, or have them work in teams and see which group answers the most questions correctly.
8. Word Search and Definitions
Download this word search for students that includes terms related to Black history. Once students find all the words listed, have them define each term. The specifics are up to you as to what they need to include in their definitions—consider a short paragraph about each as a homework assignment or extra credit project in February.
9. Read Books About Black History
There are many books you can read about Black history that highlight both the triumphant and tragic journeys of Black people in the United States. One example is The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The book won the 2020 Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Author and poet Kwame Alexander won a Newbery Honor for the book as well. The beautifully crafted book of poetry doesn't hold back on illustrating the cruelties Africans faced on their journey to and arrival in the U.S., but it's presented in a way that's easy for kids to digest and understand. The book showcases themes such as determination, self-actualization, and perseverance and covers the horrors of slavery, the triumphs of the civil rights movement, and the actions of influential Black figures.
If you're looking to teach students about the impact of the Chicago Race Riots on history, consider these two literary texts recommended by HMH's archivist, Susan Steinway.
Share Your Black History Month Lesson Plans and Activities
Have any fun Black History Month activity ideas for school? Share them with us on Twitter (@TheTeacherRoom) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.
Hopefully, these Black history activities for kids provide you with plenty of ideas for honoring the achievements of Black people and shed light on the triumphs and tragedies that this population has faced in the United States. By doing so, we can create a world that prioritizes equality and freedom for all.
For more ways to celebrate Black History Month with your students, check out:
- 8 Black History Month Writing Prompts
- 5 Teaching Tools to Honor Black History Month in the Classroom
- Black History Month: Teaching Historical Triumphs and Tragedies
- Ann Petry: Honoring the Author's Legacy During Black History Month
- A Rosa Parks Lesson Plan: Teaching About Her Legacy
Discover more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.
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This blog, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2021.
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