An Easy Way to Kick-Off Black History Month With Your Students

Picture of pin from for the blog post, "An Easy Way to Kick-Off Black History Month With Your Students".  A beautiful African woman wearing a patterned head wrap is featured.  She is facing right and has her hands clasped by her lower chin.

Happy Black History Month! I hope that you are equally excited about this month as I am! As you probably know, I love teaching history period. But, being able to share a little bit of your own history always tugs a little more deeply at your heart strings. This month has so much history, depth, and culture! I honestly learn something new each time I dive into my history. There is so much to uncover and so much to share!

Hopefully, we are all teaching a variety of people, cultures, traditions, and events in history throughout the day every day- to the extent that we are able to do so. If you are limited by the curriculum that you teach, time constraints, or by your own belief that you don’t know where to start, please allow me to encourage you to just dive in! It is so much fun, and you’ll be delighted by all of the inspiration that you will share with your students. Black History Month has so much to offer!

What Worked Well for Me This Year

This year, I decided to dive into Black History Month by sharing its origin. I am not certain why this wasn’t something that I was doing every year. LOL Thinking back it seems like a really obvious place to begin. But, I don’t recall doing this in class before. was the perfect place for me to begin. They had a 2 minute-ish video on how the month that we look forward to came to be. It was just the kick-off that we needed.

Sidebar: Use with some degree of caution. They have many pop-ups and advertisements that are for adult observation. I go to the site and get the video playing (just slightly so) before my students are present. This helps to ensure that they are not exposed to anything that they shouldn’t see.

Where Do I Begin?

I can truly say that the longer I teach, the more I delight in teaching Social Studies. That may sound like the most random thing, but history is really my jam. When you can share information with your students in a way that they can understand and relate to, it is magical! Being honest and open about history is my approach with my students. This happened. This was said. These people experienced this event at the hands of these/this individual(s). Or, this was the outcome of this event based on the efforts of this group of people. Do your due diligence in research. Tell the truth. Not your version of the truth, THE truth.

The combination of conversations is limitless when it comes to history. Be fully engaged. Be willing to share and to listen. Sometimes kids say the most interesting things. Or ask simply brilliant questions. Often, something that is said will provide the best lesson; one that even you could not have written! Don’t forget that it is perfectly okay to admit when you just don’t know the information. Look it up. Ask Siri. Advise your student(s) to research the information and report back to the class. These are great teachable moments!

Step 2

As I mentioned earlier, a great place to begin lessons during Black History Month, is to discuss the origin of the month’s recognition and to explain the need for it. From there, I like to choose one person, or event, a day to focus on. If it is easier, think of creating genres to draw from. For example, you may want to focus on the Arts, sports, medicine, science, education, politics, etc… From there, find individuals that have made great advancements and achievements in those areas.

Think Outside of the Box

Challenge yourself to think outside of the box and to select a mixture of Living Legends and of Trailblazers. Living Legends are those who are still with us and are making great contributions today. Trailblazers are those who have passed on and whose shoulders we stand upon. Find people like Pretty Yende, an Opera Singer, or Victor Glover, Jr., an astronaut, to dive into. They are names that you don’t hear about every day! Your students will be immediately sucked in and will hang on to your every word.

After I shared the history of the month, I moved into The Arts. I shared my love for all things Kadir Nelson and then moved into Debbie Allen, Misty Copeland, and Ray Charles. Sports were next and we jumped into Wilma Rudolph and Jackie Robinson. We also learned about Dr. Patricia Bath, Optometrist, and scientist. There is a great freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers that I used. You may find it helpful, too. The link can be found here.

Two quick side notes:

  1. I don’t always move from one person to the next each day. If the students are genuinely interested in someone or in their contributions, we dive in deep. This is perfectly okay. You will be amazed at your students’ focus! It also really exciting when they come to school and tell you that they researched someone when they went home. Actually, what is even better than that is when a parent or guardian tells me all of the things that their child has come home and shared about someone that we are learning about! Or, that they asked their parents to help them learn more about someone.
  2. If you are looking for a great book about Jackie Robinson’s life, I strongly recommend the book, Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson. We learned so much about Jackie Robinson’s life! {This is my Amazon Affiliate link.}

Guess who the illustrator of this book is…. You already know that it was no other than the amazing Kadir Nelson! Let me tell you, the illustrations were so beautiful that my students ooohed and ahhhed every time I turned the page and showed them the pictures. There is actually a video on YouTube where Kadir Nelson reads a portion of the story. Honestly, he is a brilliant author, illustrator, and painter, but he doesn’t read with joy (at least not in this video- ha ha). This video begins with Kadir Nelson reading towards the end of the story. It may still be fun for your class to see Kadir Nelson “in real life”. Here is the link for you, as well.

A Great Go-To Teacher’s Aide!

I like to use the cards from my Famous African Americans in History Scoot to help me with this. You can play a game of Scoot to test your students’ knowledge. Or, you can pick one card a day and have discussions. Completing an activity (like an art project or writing a poem) on the person that was selected would be a great activity, too.

Of course, you can plan this out so that you are studied up and prepared for the person that your students “just happen to pick”. Or, you may decide to be surprised and conduct research together! These top 7 tips for teaching successful Black History lessons may be helpful.

photograph of a set of task cards (learning cards) displayed on a table, showing a graphic of a girl thinking and a clue about famous African Americans in history.
This is my original set of Famous African Americans in History Scoot.  They can also be used as Task Cards that can be placed in a center for student research.
A photograph of a learning resource on famous African Americans in history.  The image shows a pink iPhone hovered above task cards.  The phone's QR Code reader is being used to find the answer to the clue that is featured on the card.
I loved this resource so much that I created Set #2! After you have guessed the famous African American in history that the clue is about, check to see if your response was correct by scanning the QR Code that is featured on the card.

QR Codes for the Win!

When it comes to time constraints while your students are (supposed to be) working independently while you are working in small groups, QR Codes can be a teacher’s best friend! To sum it up quickly, QR Codes provide a piece of information in a “readable code” that can be scanned by a Smartphone or other device. The code contains information, like a URL, that can be accessed after it has been scanned.

For my resource, once the code has been scanned by a QR Reader, like I-nigma (pictured above), it will display the answer to the clue that was given on the card via the cell phone or laptop that you used. You will need to have the QR Reader downloaded on the cell phone or device that you decide to use first. You can even use old phones, iPads, and electronics that no longer have active phone service on them. All you need is Wi-Fi to make the magic happen!

Scoot-ing While Learning is Allowed!

A few years ago when I first discovered it, I thought that “Scoot” was the most innovative new way for students to interact with what they are learning! I wrote a blog post about it. You can find it here. The beauty of Scoot is that it can be played/used at any time.

It also has the flexibility of being conducted as a Whole Group activity or for students to complete independently. I have a colleague that put out a math Scoot activity for morning work two days ago. I hadn’t thought of it for morning work. Now, I know, and I have filed that idea away. All that you’ll need is a Scoot activity, the recording sheet(s), and something to write with.

I hope that my sharing what worked for me this year with my students during Black History Month has been helpful for you. Remember to just dive in! You can bring great, diverse history lessons to your students! Don’t forget to throw in lots of excitement and enthusiasm. The more delightment and interest that you show, the more engaged and enchanted your students will be.

Remember that studying about the history of others should not/does not have to be restricted to designated months. Sprinkle history like confetti!!

Don’t forget to let me know if any of these tips helped! I would love to hear what you tried and/or who you studied in Black history.

Photo credits:
Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi 

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A Black female standing in front of three black boxes that are stacked on top of each other. I am wearing a blue, denim dress that is tied at the waist. My hair is in long braids.

Hi, I'm Tania!

I help creative and time-conscious teachers plan student-centered lessons that interest and motivate student learning so that lesson planning takes less time and is actually enjoyable! 

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.

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