Best Lessons and Activities for Teaching Black History Month

Lithograph illustration depicting African americans from slavery through space travel.
(Image credit: Pixabay/clker-free-vector-images)

In 1926, Black historian Carter G. Woodson created the forerunner to Black History Month, Negro History Week.

Since that time, the recognition of Black history as integral to American history has grown tremendously. At the same time, old habits and old-fashioned curricula die hard, keeping Black History Month a relevant necessity. 

The following are some of the best lessons and activities for teaching Black history. Be sure to start with No. 1, “Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Black History.” Here teachers can learn ways to integrate Black history into the American History curriculum—where it belongs—all year long.  

Best Black History Month Lessons and Activities 

Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Black History
Black history should be part of the curriculum all year long. Learn how to integrate Black history into your history and social studies curricula year round.

Black Athletes and Civil Rights: 6 Upstanders to Introduce to Your Students
Black athletes have been in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights for more than a century. Have your students read about Black athletes from history who took a stand and then compare them to modern-day activist athletes. How have the issues changed? How have they remained the same? 

National Civil Rights Museum Before the Boycott
What happened to cause the Montgomery bus boycott? This interactive puts students in the role of journalists who investigate the events leading up to the first large-scale demonstration against segregation. Lesson Plans for Black History Month
A truly wonderful selection of poetry from Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson, Nikki Giovanni, and other great African-American poets. Featured poems are supported by classroom activities, related artwork and audio. 

The Birth of Hip Hop
When was hip hop invented? Hip hop is a relatively new form of American music, but its roots extend all the way to 1973. This fascinating and lively video explains the origins of hip hop and how it spread to the larger society. 

iCivics Black History Month
Six brief videos from the highly respected iCivics organization are accompanied by standards-aligned lesson plans, including fillable PDFs for digital learning. The lessons illuminate not only the best-known activists, but also lesser-known pioneers, such as Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Other topics include the Jim Crow era and the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. 

Rosa Parks’ Biography
This is one civil rights story that we all know, isn’t it? Well, not really. The story of Rosa Parks isn't only that one celebrated act of defiance on the bus. What many Americans don’t realize is that Parks’ civil rights activism extended throughout her life, across decades and cities. This authoritative and comprehensive examination of the life and activism of Rosa Parks reveals the depth of her commitment and contributions. Included is an interactive timeline, teaching guides, and exercises. Ideal for students grade 10-post secondary.

Lesson of the Day: When Blackness Is a Superpower
Who doesn’t love a superhero? A wonderfully creative way to merge writing, art, and social studies, this lesson is natural for kids and anyone who likes mythology.  

The Teacher Who Desgregated New York Transit
Everyone knows Rosa Parks. But do you know the story of Elizabeth Jennings? This in-depth excerpt from America’s First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights is a fascinating look at a little-known but important civil rights episode that occurred not in the deep South, but in New York City. Have your students read the story, then compare it to the better-known Rosa Parks civil disobedience. 

American Experience: Freedom Riders Film
From award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Freedom Riders explores the 1961 Freedom Rider movement to desegregate Southern bus and train travel. Features are multiple short clips from the movie, focusing on the people, strategies, inspiration, music, and much more. A terrific teaching resource. 

BackStory: Blackstory
From BackStory, the weekly podcast that explores the historical roots of current events, this episode delves into lynching, racial expulsion, passing as white, and Martin Luther King Jr. Includes questions to test students’ comprehension and additional teaching resources for each section of the podcast. 

Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement: Civil Rights Movement Archive
An extensive archive of photos, documents, letters, articles, speeches, poetry, and more related to the 1950s-60s Civil Rights movement. Check out the Teacher Resources, which provide lessons, activities, and a how-to for connecting students virtually with freedom movement veterans. 

50 Black Writers Whose Impact Went Beyond the Page
A great jumping-off point for studying a diverse group of Black American writers, from Toni Morrison to August Wilson. Theologian James Cone, suffragist Mary Church Terrell, and academic Barbara Christian are just a few of the many Black writers who have helped to shape American letters. 

31 Highly Influential African-American Scientists
Go beyond the oft-cited George Washington Carver to learn about many other African-American scientists, past and present, whose work has been instrumental in the making of the modern world. 

The Kennedy Center: Blues Journey
This look at the “most important American music” of the 20th century delves into the history and musical characteristics of the blues in four narrated audio recordings, complete with classic blues songs. 

Library of Congress: Freed People Tell Their Stories
What was slavery really like? Go beyond the written documents and listen to the voices of people who survived it. This remarkable set of interviews with people who were once enslaved was recorded between 1932 and 1975, in nine states. The original recordings are accompanied by transcripts for careful study.

Library of Congress: African American History Month For Teachers
A wealth of digital and digitized primary resources, with links to teacher-created activities and lessons. Includes resources from the National Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial museum.  

The National Archives Educator Resources: The Slave Trade
Resources for educators to investigate the slave trade in American history, including primary source documents, teaching activities, and document analysis worksheets.

National Education Association: Black History Month Lessons & Resources:
Organized by grade level and topic, this strong collection of lesson plans and activities will help educators teach Black history. Quizzes, printables, and videos are provided. 

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum: 22 Stories about the Negro Leagues
These 22 compelling video stories about the Negro Leagues—spotlighting not only the players, but also the business behind the game—offer a great opportunity for students to understand the critical role African Americans played in the rise of our national pastime. 

The New York Times: Unpublished Black History
A fascinating and visually arresting series of previously unpublished photos about Black history from the New York Times. Each photo is accompanied by explanatory text and links to the original news articles.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum: Oh Freedom! Teaching Art and the Civil Rights Movement
Teach Civil Rights by exploring artwork from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Search by artwork [] or artist []. 

Smithsonian Learning Lab
The Lab is a free, interactive platform for discovering millions of authentic digital resources, creating content with online tools, and sharing in the Smithsonian's expansive community of knowledge and learning.

Slave Voyages
Analyze the Atlantic slave trade via interactive maps, timelines, and animations. A visually impressive site, incorporating 3D video of a slave ship and a timelapse map illustrating the movement of 31,166 slave ships over hundreds of years. 

Diana Restifo