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Black History Lesson Ideas Beyond MLK & Civil Rights

Kim Haynes

Black History Month LessonsLooking for a way to celebrate Black History Month without once again teaching the same lessons about Martin Luther King Junior and Rosa Parks?

Searching for a lesson plan that honors the ethnic heritage of all your students?

Try these lessons that explore heritage and culture during Black History Month or any time:

Famous Firsts in Sports

There is more to African-American history than Martin Luther King, and there is more to the history of race relations in sports than Jackie Robinson.  

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Have older students research the groundbreaking African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, or women in professional sports.

For younger students, make up a trivia game (or if you’re tech-savvy, try a web quest!) to introduce them to these important figures.

This can also offer an opportunity to discuss stereotyping: do we expect certain ethnic groups to be better at certain sports? Why is that? Visit the RACE site for some valuable talking points.

What's Your Dream?

Martin Luther King, Junior, was a remarkable man and a gifted speaker. But by the time they’ve been through a few years of school, most kids already know that. For a new way to celebrate his gifts and his vision, try having students write their own “I Have a Dream” statement.

If you review the text of the speech, you’ll notice that the most famous section is near the end of the speech, and it’s pretty straightforward. King repeats the phrase “I have a dream” several times, each time with a different ending.

For elementary or middle school students, you can adapt that section into a writing frame. Help students write their own mini-speech that addresses their personal dreams for the world, from environmental issues to a new plea on race relations.

For older students, this can be both a personal statement and a chance to do some literary analysis. For example, King makes a broad statement about the country, follows it up with two specific statements about individual states, and then makes another broad, country-wide statement. Ask students to use the same logic, structure, and rhetorical devices when they write their mini-speech.

These assignments can create a terrific bulletin board or be a meaningful addition to a class or school website.

You can also try these Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" Speech Writing Prompts.

History through African-American Music

Many types of music have their roots in the African-American community: jazz/blues, gospel, rock ‘n roll, rap and hiphop.

Divide the class into groups and assign each group to a specific type of music. Have students research how the type of music developed, what are its “trademark” or typical sounds, and how it is connected to what was happening in the world at that time.

Examples:

  • Rock ‘n roll became popular, for the most part, when Caucasian performers began performing “black” songs, because at that time (1950s), music was segregated.
  • Rap partially developed as a response to conditions in the inner cities and many early raps addressed those conditions.
  • Gospel music has roots in Negro Spirituals from the times of slavery that are also played a part in communication for the Underground Railroad.

Once students have done their research, have them present their findings to the rest of the class, and ask them to play example recordings as a part of their presentation.

Keep in mind, though, that you will need to approve student selections if you want to avoid any potentially controversial recordings.

Celebrating Who We Are: A Classroom Cultural Fair

Every student has a cultural heritage they can explore. Make an opportunity to celebrate the unique qualities of many cultures with a classroom cultural fair.

Help students to research their families’ home countries or the countries their families may have come from. Have students display of photos of the country, music from the country, ethnic food, and more.

For older students, it may also be valuable for them to research the history of their ethnicity/culture in the United States and share that information with the class. Students may be surprised to learn that there were times when Irish, Italian, or Catholic Americans were subject to the same types of discrimination that African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, or Jewish-Americans have faced in more recent times.

Students could interview family members about their cultural heritage, their experience of immigrating to the U.S., or their personal experiences of discrimination. This project can be expanded to include guest speakers and can be connected to some powerful works of literature as well.

No matter what time of year it is, celebrating the achievements of people of all races can teach your students valuable lessons about the value of diversity. Why not give one of these lessons a try?