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Build a Black History Database/Timeline



  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Social Studies
    ---U.S. History


  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Simple instructions for using word processing or spreadsheet programs allow students to create a database/timeline of events in Black History that can be sequenced, sorted, and searched.


Students will

  • research famous people/events in Black History.
  • break the biographies and events down into specific information related to dates in history.
  • follow directions for inputting information into the database.
  • use the database to search for important information/dates.


Black, African American, Black History, timeline, database, spreadsheet, word processing, sort, sequence, biography, famous

Materials Needed

  • computer with word processing or spreadsheet software
  • library resources and/or Internet access to a hotlist of sites (provided)

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students use a word processing or spreadsheet program to organize a database/timeline of important events related to famous people in African American history.

Note: This lesson can be done without a technology component. Decide in advance how in-depth a timeline you want students to create. The emphasis of this lesson, as it is written, is on collecting a large database of important events from which students can later extract important information/dates; the emphasis is not on creating an actual timeline for students to view on a classroom wall, although the resources in this lesson provide excellent tools for doing that.

In this activity, students research the lives of one or more famous African Americans and/or important events in Black History. Use the sources below (see Biography/Event Resources) to develop a list that students can select from and then assign one individual from the list to each student; as students complete their research about that person, they could take the next name from the list. Each student can be assigned anywhere from one to a dozen people to research.

Students extract from their research a timeline of two to 20 of the most important dates related to each person or event, collect that information, and type it into a word processing program or spreadsheet format. [See below for detailed instructions.]

Biography/Event Resources
Following are a handful of excellent resources for developing a list of famous Black Americans that students can select from:

  • Notable African Americans This list, which includes more than 300 names (click A to Z List) with links to brief bios, is probably the best starting point. Students then can use library resources or a favorite search engine to find more specific information about any individual.
  • Black History in America: Trailblazers

Using a Word Processing Program to Create a Simple Database
Creating a database of famous events in African-American history is an easy task in Microsoft Word if students take care to follow directions for setting up each event. Each event must be documented as in the following examples:

19290115 Martin Luther King was born just after noontime in an upstairs bedroom at 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents were the Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr.

19551205 The Montgomery bus boycott began. It was an immediate success. According to bus company receipts, about 90 percent of the blacks who usually rode the buses joined the boycott and found other means of transportation.

Note: The format of the date is the most important detail for students to master. Simply, the date must start with the year, be followed by the month (01 for January, 02 for February 10 for October, 11 for November, and 12 for December), then by the day of the month (for example 01 for the first day of the month, 02 for the second day of the month, and so on).

If the day of the month is unknown, it should be recorded with two zeros (00) in the day-of-the-month position. For example, January 1929 (with the exact day of the month unknown) would be recorded as 19290100.

Students must take care to include important names and events in their descriptions of the event that occurred on each date so that the database they create can be searched by those terms.

For example, when the database is completed, the two events documented above could be found by searching for the year (1929 or 1955), the year and month (192901 or 195512), the exact date, or for terms such as Martin Luther King, Atlanta, Montgomery, orbus boycott.

Students gather events for the timeline/database as they research the lives of famous African Americans or events of importance in Black History. (They need not gather the events in sequence.) They create a Word document that contains all the events and save that document on a disk or on a shared drive on the schools network.

Important: The event description should follow immediately after the date notation. Do not include a return after the date or anyplace else in the description of an event for any date.

After a student has gathered all the events in the format above, s/he can use MS Word to sequence/sort those events. Sorting is a simple process. Students

  • highlight the entire text of the document (as they would if they were going to cut-and-paste or copy-and-paste that text).
  • click Table in the menu.
  • click A to Z Sort.
  • choose to sort by Paragraph Number Ascending.
  • click OK.

The events will automatically sequence themselves in order by year, each year will sequence in order by month, and each month will sequence by day. The result is a handy and organized Black History timeline.

The dates that were represented as only year and month (for example, 19290100) will appear at the top of the months listing.

When students work is completed, all the students documents can be gathered into one large document. Highlight the entire text of that document and repeat the sequence/sort process above to sort all students events into a monster Black History timeline.

The timeline can be searched easily by date or term. Simply go to the Word menu, select Edit, click Find, then type the year (for example, 1929 or 1955) or the term (for example, Martin Luther King, Atlanta, Montgomery, or bus boycott), and click the Find Next button. MS Word will highlight all entries that include the date or term you typed.

Note: These instructions are for users of Microsoft Word. Other word processing programs have similar features. Use your word processing programs Help menu to search for "Sort instructions.

Creating Your Database Using Spreadsheet/Database Software
Spreadsheet/database programs vary in setup. If you have never used a spreadsheet program before, this timeline database is a most basic use of that software. Your programs tutorial or "quick guide will walk you through the easy steps.

If you have the Excel database program but have never used it, take 15 minutes to check out the Education World techtorial Excel for Beginners: Creating Spreadsheets and Charts. That techtorial will walk you through the steps you need to do to create the Black History timeline/database.


Did students follow instructions for setting up each event in their timeline documents? Did they include the important key words in each event in their documents?

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins


Click to return to this week's Lesson Planning article, Lessons in Black History.

See additional lessons and resources on Education World's special Black History Month archive page.


Last updated 1/26/2017