Black History Month: 8 great free resources, lessons to explore

Educators can lean on this guidance and these items made for student learning, even in remote environments, to help promote this February's theme of "representation, identity and diversity".

It was 46 years ago that President Gerald Fold called on the nation to honor Black men and women and remember history. Soon after, Black History Month was born, a celebration of the power to overcome and a reflection on the institutions and issues that for centuries have held them back.

In classrooms across America during February, teachers will be infusing lessons and activities for students to learn about those heroes of the past, the struggle for equality and the quest to keep their dreams alive. This year’s theme: “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”

From Harriet Tubman to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there are no shortage of great leaders and  influencers for all grade levels to examine. And, given this divided moment in American history – with prominent Black Lives Matters and racial justice movements at the fore – there are scores of other topics to explore.

The Barbara Bush Foundation is one group that has released a series of free resources for high school educators, including a study on “Three Black Women of Literacy” who pioneered literacy for African Americans; a Diversity Toolkit for Teachers that includes virtual development sessions; and an “Anti-Racist/Anti-Bias Lesson Repository” of teacher-created lessons that are good for all grade levels.

“We’re excited to equip educators with these resources that we’ve created to spark inspiration and thoughtful conversations in classrooms throughout the country,” said British Robinson, president and CEO of the Barbara Bush Foundation. “At its heart, literacy is an issue of equity. In order to build a stronger, more equitable nation, we must honor and carry on the work of those who fought to make literacy a civil right and a reality for all Americans.”

Another organization honoring Black History Month is the Center for Civic Education, which has found a unique way during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep those messages flowing and tackle the toughest of subjects. It has created a series of daily podcasts called 60-Second Civics that are connected to lesson plans and webinars.

“Now more than ever, our work to promote equality and justice for all has taken on new importance as our nation faces the twin challenges of violent extremism and a COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected African American communities,” said Christopher Riano, the Center’s president. “Our 60-Second Civics podcast and other materials will help explain how we got to where we are today and bridge the gap between America’s ideals of equality and their realization.”

To that end, the Center has unveiled six lessons plans under “The Power of Nonviolence” theme. Among the other available webinars to view are a seven-part series called Power to the People and another called “The Power of the Criminal Justice System” with Hernandez Stroud of the Brennan Center for Justice.

More options for educators

For Black History Month, game-based learning platform Prodigy has released 10 activity ideas to help teachers that operate in face-to-face, hybrid or even remote environments.

The company said it is important to focus on traditional topics, but it is OK to break from that too to discuss “current Black political issues, the history of hip hop and African Americans and the vote.” Prodigy notes that a simple lesson that starts with a quote of the day or a person of the day can spark discussion – and again, not just historic names but those that are prominent in pop culture who are making a difference. Amanda Gorman, perhaps?

Prodigy offers up several suggestions for educators on its site, most notably that a classroom space should be known as an equitable space and that “Black history is American history.” A solid resource for teachers is a link to an article from Learners Edge on Do’s and Don’ts when teaching about Black history. One of the suggestions … don’t make Black history a story to share just one a month; it should done year-round within all academic frameworks.

Several other organizations provide some stellar resources online for teachers to explore and view this month:

  • Scholastic offers lesson plans and teacher resources for grades 1-8, with classroom activities, lists of books and other ideas, with topics ranging from slavery and the Underground Railroad to school integration.
  • We Are Teachers has 33 Black History Month Activities for February and Beyond on its website that includes “How to create your own virtual museum that remembers slavery and its legacy” and “Discussing implicit bias, systemic racism, and social injustice.”
  • The National Education Association offers a robust number of engaging lesson plans and activities for various grade levels (K-5, 6-8 and 9-12) with resources in several subjects such as social studies and sports, along with accompanying quizzes and videos.
  • The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have combined their efforts to put together a bank of teacher resources dedicated to African American History Month. The National Endowment for the Humanities has a specific Teacher’s Guide that looks at several topics: African American history in the U.S., Maya Angelou, The Reconstruction Era and the works of Langston Hughes. They have also put together several virtual events for this month, including a Feb. 4 webcast “Smithsonian Social Studies Online: Black History Month” from the National Musuem of American History, and online book talk presented Feb. 18 by the Library of Congress on Giants of Racial Justice.
  • PBS has compiled a list of lessons that includes a look at Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech as a work of literature for grades 9-12, along with Common Core-aligned “Analyzing Stop and Frisk through personal narratives and infographics.”

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