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Five Easy Lessons for Black History Month

By Brian Smith on February 10, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Last February, during calendar time, I told my class about how February was Black History Month. Before I could go any further, I had a little redhead stand up and point to himself with both thumbs and say, "Black history is MY history!" I asked where he had heard that and he said, "The Disney Channel," but he wasn’t truly clear about what it meant. Now, I love that story, but I also love the teachable moment it provided me. It was the perfect way for me to teach that although February is called Black History Month, it’s a time when we all continue to learn about human history that benefits and affects all of us.  

To celebrate Black History Month, we make trading cards of different important figures of African ancestry who changed the world in many different ways. I use this downloadable trading card template and the following lessons to broaden my class’ knowledge about black history. The following lessons can be used in one focused week or over the course of the month. The length and detail of the sentences on the back of the trading card is easily differentiated for all grade levels and learners. 

Scooping Ice CreamWe All Scream For Alfred L. Cralle

To introduce this inventor I read Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, in which the character (and utensil) Spoon dives headfirst into a bowl of ice cream. After we finish this book, I get out a tub of ice cream and have the students come up and try to scoop it using a spoon.

After a few have tried, we turn our conversation towards what makes scooping with a spoon so difficult. Then, through careful guided questioning, the kids begin talking about the ice cream scoops that they use at home and how they are different than the spoon they tried to use.

This is when I pull out my ice cream scoop and break the news that someone had to invent the scoop and how it makes a lot of people’s lives easier. That person is Alfred L. Cralle. Having personally worked at a Baskin-Robbins for almost two years in high school, I can say that Cralle impacted my life for the better!

All the students who want to try to come up and scoop their own scoop of ice cream get the opportunity. As they are scooping, our classroom conversation consists of discussing the differences between the spoon and the ice cream scoop. After they finish their ice cream, they write their sentence on the back of their trading card.

SpoonMousetronaut Book


Rocket Cheese and Crackers5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Blastoff! Mae Jemison

Every kid wants to be an astronaut at some point and if it hasn’t happened before the day I introduce Mae Jemison, then it will during this lesson. To begin, I read Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly about a mouse who goes on a space mission. This leads us to Mae Jemison, who was the first African-American woman in space in 1992. (I guess it’s a sign of how old I am that I feel like 1992 was just a couple years ago.)

I typically pull up some videos of Jemison so the students can hear and see her. After we talk about how many years people had been going to into space before an African-American woman was able to go, we make our own rockets. Each student gets a slice of cheese and two saltine crackers. They have to manipulate the square piece of cheese into different size triangles.

They get to eat their rocket while completing the sentence on the back of their trading card. While they are writing their sentences I put on the song "Rocketship Run" by The Laurie Berkner Band. I love how it relates to space and also gives my kids practice counting backwards.

Gabby Douglas Book

The Golden Girl Gabby Douglas

I start this lesson by reading Gabby Douglas: Going for Gold by Tori Kosara. It’s a short, quick, nonfiction book that covers her backstory and how she became the first African-American female, from any country, to win the all-around gold medal for gymnastics at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games. I love pointing out that even at such a young age, Douglas has written several books. I also bring in the book Grace, Gold, and Glory to show my class one of the books that she has written.

What I love about this lesson is that I can pull up videos of her Olympic routines and we can talk about how much she had to overcome to make it to the Olympics. She had to live away from her family for several years to reach her goal. After they complete their trading card, we revisit the goals that each child set as their New Year’s Resolution.


College Kids Change the World

In 1960, four college kids in Greensboro, North Carolina began the sit-in movement at a local Woolworth's. This lesson starts off the fantastic book by Carole Boston Weatherford called Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins. I am so thankful that we have already learned about Martin Luther King Jr. because my students have background knowledge about peaceful protests. After I talk about what a lunch counter is and demonstrate by setting up a line of chairs with certain chairs being off limits to certain groups of people (the students easily relate this to our water fountain activity from the day we learned about Martin Luther King Jr.), the students complete their Greensboro Four trading card.


Nelson Mandela BookPeace, Love, and Nelson Mandela

I have become a huge fan of Kadir Nelson after finding his book Nelson Mandela. I was actually thrilled to see that he created a poster for the Scholastic Read Everyday, Lead a Better Life campaign. We discuss the word "freedom" and talk about Mandela’s contribution to the people of the world. There are also lots of videos that you can show your class about what he suffered through and what he accomplished. After starting our trading cards by copying a sentence, the class is ready to begin writing their own fact after learning about Mandela.

Please comment about other books and activities that you use for Black History Month.

Let’s connect on Pinterest and Twitter.

I can’t wait to see you next week.

Comments (3)

I also use Salt in His Shoes (Michael Jordan). I have 2 other books that I really like, one is Rons Big Mission it is about a young man who loved to read and visited the library everyday. The problem began when he wanted to check out a book to take home to read, because in those days in South Carolina blacks did not have the right to obtain a library card, but because of his determination he changed the laws; and the other book I use is Henry's Freedom Box. I love this book because it's about a slave that mails himself to Freedom with the aid of a white man. I bring in a box the same size as Henry's. I ask the students to see if they could fit in it, do they think they could have lasted that log curled up in a box. These are just a couple of the books I love to use. I hope you enjoy teaching about Black History Month.

I used Salt in His Shoes about Michael Jordan to talk about the hard work and practice it takes to be successful and then we brianstormed other people that worked hard and struggled in order to be successful. I also plan to use Barefoot to discuss the underground railroad and the trials and tribulations of Harriet Tubman and other freedom fighters.

There are so many great books about Harriet Tubman. I recently just saw one that was called What Was The Underground Railroad and it looked really good. I love the idea of including Michael Jordan. What a great person to help hook boys who may be struggling! Thanks for the idea!
Thanks for reading!

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