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Classroom Activities for African American History Month

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article by Christi Wilson, a credentialed teacher of highly gifted students in Northern Nevada. She has 11 years of classroom teaching experience, including K-12 education online, and writes for TeacherPortal.com.

Classrooms across the United States celebrate African American History Month throughout February. Below are some activities that encourage students to learn about and reflect upon important events and significant figures in African American history.

African American Read-In
The African American Read-In is endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of English. This event promotes literacy during the month of February. On any one day during the month, participants are invited to share books written by African Americans. A completed host report card can be mailed or faxed to the NCTE and will affirm participants who joined the read-in. This activity is suitable for grades K-12.

Wax Museum
Students choose an African American historical figure and create a speech to inform their audience about that person. Students should come to class dressed up as the figure and stay “frozen” until an audience member presses an imaginary button to bring the character to life. Wax Museum is similar to a Chautauqua presentation. This activity is recommended for grades 3-8.

Skin Deep Lesson
Students in grades 9-12 will learn about variations in skin color in this science lesson, which is part of the Skin Deep Project funded by Neutrogena.

Dream Book
This is a great activity for children in grades 3-5. The teacher can read the "I Have a Dream" speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. Afterwards, students discuss the meaning and purpose of the speech. Each student then completes an "I Have a Dream" page by writing and illustrating the dreams or goals that s/he has for the country or for him/herself. Compile the pages into a classroom book for all to read and enjoy.

Online Rosa Parks Lesson
This social studies lesson from Scholastic teaches students in grades 4-8 about how Rosa Parks became the "mother of the civil rights movement." There is a scripted interview with Rosa Parks, along with background information on the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Interactive Underground Railroad
National Geographic Education offers an interactive underground railroad simulation in which students have to make decisions to determine their fate as they escape slavery on their way to freedom. This is a great social studies activity for students in grades 4-8.

Life Expectancy
Using a life expectancy chart, students can create a bar graph comparing the life expectancy rates of white men compared to African American men. (See page 76 [95 of 505 in viewer] of this document.) The life expectancy rates can also be compared between white women and African American women. This math activity is suggested for students in grades 6-12. Use the activity to open discussion on racial and ethnic health disparities and how we can work to eliminate them.

Black History Month Videos
Check out these five YouTube videos that teach students about African American history. The videos are appropriate for middle-school students. Videos discuss the lives of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, the Little Rock Nine, Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver.

Understanding Segregation
The teacher can split the classroom in half, allowing only half of the classroom to ask questions, sharpen their pencils, participate in special activities or anything else that students would find appealing. The other half of the classroom must remain seated and not talk. Depending on the grade level, a teacher may be able to set up this activity without explaining it to students beforehand. Afterwards, the class can talk about how they felt while being segregated from the rest of the class. Students can then write a paragraph describing their reactions to the experiment. This is a good language arts/social studies activity, appropriate for grades 4-12. This activity can be extended to reading about segregation and how it related to the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Statistics Related to African Americans
This is a great math activity for students in grades 7-12. By looking at statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, students can view data regarding African Americans in the workforce and the fields they represent. Students may want to compare these data to those regarding other racial and ethnic groups. This activity lends itself to many classroom discussions.

Black History Month Reading List
Students can select a book from this reading list to celebrate African American History Month. Individual students may present a 5-10 minute book talk to share the book with their peers. Another option is having several students read the same book and form a literature circle, in which they discuss the book after they have read assigned sections.

 

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