Inspire your students to explore black history and culture through writing. Present any of these engaging writing prompts in your middle school or high school classroom during Black History Month or beyond. Each activity requires students to inquire about the people, places, events, and issues that have shaped African-American history.
Writing a Historical Dialogue
Ask your students to imagine what a conversation would be like between them and a significant African-American contributor to social studies, science, math, or English. What would they ask? What would they want to know?
Present them with the following lists of famous figures and encourage them to choose a person they don't know much about. Then have them research the figure and create a dialogue (written conversation) between themselves and the person. The dialogue should discuss important experiences in the person’s life and work.
Use this minilesson to help your students create a historical dialogue.
Writing an Arts & Performance Review
Discuss the significance of the Harlem Renaissance, an era in the 1920s and 30s that is considered a golden age for African-American art, music, dance, and literature. Show this video to give a brief overview of the period.
Then ask your students to pretend that they are entertainment critics in New York City during this era. Explain that their editor (you) has assigned them to write a review of a special piece of art from the period. Have them choose between the following options, or allow them to seek other art and entertainment from the period:
Have students complete background research on the artist, writer, musician, or performance they chose. Then assign a written review in which students do the following tasks:
- Give their opinions of the art or performance.
- Give examples from the art or performance to support their views.
- Use specific details to describe something special about the sights, sounds, colors, or words.
- Provide background information about the artist, writer, performer, or genre.
- Describe how the piece fits within the larger culture of the Harlem Renaissance.
Use this minilesson to help your students write an arts and performance review.
Writing a List Poem
Help your students create list poems, which playfully explore a topic by listing people, places, things, or ideas. Often the title says what the list is about. Advise students that list poems do not necessarily need to include rhythm or rhyme, but each word should be carefully chosen and memorable.
Present the example below. Then ask students to write their own list poems based on the same title, or allow them to choose different topics related to Black History Month.
Black History Is
Frederick at a lectern
Harriet along a railroad
Rosa aboard a bus
Martin amid a march
Thurgood inside a courtroom
Nine outside a schoolhouse
Jackie at the ball diamond
Mae beyond the Earth
Barack atop the polls
Use this minilesson to help your students write a list poem.
Debating the Issues
Many of the writers, artists, and political figures that drove African-American history did so by crafting powerful arguments. Inspire your students to build their own arguments about key issues by presenting them with the following debatable statements.
- African-Americans’ fight for social justice ended after the Civil Rights Movement.
- The Academy Awards need to do a better job of recognizing African-Americans’ contributions in cinema.
- Black History Month isn’t needed because black history is American history.
- Black culture is a lifestyle.
Ask students to pick a statement that they have strong feelings about. Do they agree or disagree? Have students research their topics to create argumentative essays that either support or counter the statements they've chosen. Introduce them to the 7 C’s for Building an Argument to help them develop their essays. Emphasize that students should consider both sides of the issue and support their own stance in a respectful manner.
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"Mae Jemison" by NASA - http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2004-00020.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mae_Jemison.jpg#/media/File:Mae_Jemison.jpg
"Duke Ellington at the Hurricane Club 1943". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duke_Ellington_at_the_Hurricane_Club_1943.jpg#/media/File:Duke_Ellington_at_the_Hurricane_Club_1943.jpg
"Jrobinson" by Photo by Bob Sandberg Look photographer - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jrobinson.jpg#/media/File:Jrobinson.jpg
February is African American History Month
As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American's contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid�century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture. The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations. And the association�now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)�continues to promote the study of Black history all year. (Excerpt from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History)
About This Year's Theme
This year's theme "Black Women in American Culture and History" honors African American women and the myriad of roles they played in the shaping of our nation. The theme, chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History urges all Americans to study and reflect on the value of their contribution to the nation.
Executive and Legislative Documents
The Law Library of Congress has compiled guides to commemorative observations, including a comprehensive inventory of the Public Laws, Presidential Proclamations and congressional resolutions related to African American History Month.
Civil Rights Center
Internal Enforcement Programs
External Enforcement Program