If you teach upper elementary the odds are that your students have already learned about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall. This does not mean that they are not important, they are vital to our students' education, but there are many other inspirational and influential African-Americans that we can learn about in our classroom.
At the end of the day Black History is American History. We owe it to ourselves and our students to learn about influential African-Americans all year long, not just during February.
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Ask Your Students What They Know & What They Want To
This does not have to be huge ordeal. You could come up with a whole interest inventory, but personally I chose to give students a piece of notebook paper that I would have them fold in half. On one half they would write the names of people that they know about and the other half they would write people they wanted to know more about.
Sometimes this led to me finding out that the majority of my students knew very little about ANY African-Americans, and sometimes they really knocked it out of the park.
Along with this, I encouraged my students to not think of just specific people they wanted to know more about, but rather categories. A few broad categories that my students were always curious about were African-American firsts, African-American men, African American women, and athletes.
In order to accommodate their passion for learning I created these jigsaw resources with each of these categories in mind. I tried to include some of the more popular historical figures as well as some that they might not have known about.
Bring in Literature
There are some truly incredible books out there about African-Americans, and many of my favorites go unnoticed. When we truly love a book, as I do with these, our students will buy into our excitement and will want to know more and more about these new members of the Black Community that they are being introduced to.
Even if you do not have the opportunity to share these books in a read aloud making them available to students by just having them in your classroom is invaluable to them exploring our history.
I had the good fortune of teaching at a school that had author Phil Bildner come visit, and I learned about the incredible book The Hallelujah Flight. It has truly become one of my favorite books to read with students, especially when talking about perseverance and goal setting.
Another wonderful piece of literary nonfiction is Wilma Unlimited. Before reading this book with my students I knew very little about Wilma Rudolph's life, but she is one determined person!
No matter how you try, there isn't enough time to even scratch the surface of all the amazing, important, and influential African-Americans that have impacted our lives, so what better way than to have students choose someone they want to learn about. They can then research that person and present what they have learned about them to the class.
There are many ways to go about research projects. I personally love to have my students create some sort of visual that goes along with their research so that we have something to connect their presentation to.
Tracing poster projects are a great way to make life size visuals.
Another great way for students to show what they have learned is by creating a trading card of their individual.
Of course, we can learn and research all we can, but if our students don't remember it then it doesn't make nearly as big of an impact as it could!
Using cooperative learning structures are a great way to review that students have presented to one another. One of the best strategies that I have used is the Who Am I? strategy.
-Each student is assigned a person by placing a sticky note on their back.
-They do not know who they are.
-Students travel around the room asking questions about their person.
-When they are ready they can take an educated guess as to their person.
-Those who need it are given hints.
-Continue on until everyone has figured out their person.
This is a great strategy, because the sticky notes are super quick to make as students present their people, and then make for a quick review.
Another popular strategy for reviewing with my students has always been I Have Who Has? This strategy works like a wrap around game that allows students to work together to identify facts about 36 different influential African-Americans.
If you are pressed for time then this PowerPoint gives an introduction to 45 different African-American abolitionists, Civil Rights leaders, athletes, pioneers, and artists. It is a great way to introduce a variety of people to students, and makes it a good jumping off point for a larger study or research project.
There is no one size fits all method for our classrooms.
No matter how you choose to teach Black History, a vital part of American History, just teach it.