While Black authors should be highlighted in every aspect of an ELA class, I’m going to use Black History Month to showcase some ideas that will make a profound impact on your English literature curriculum all year long. These Black History ELA activities can help you plan an extra special celebration during February while extending representation throughout the year.
Host a Black author book raffle to kick off Black History Month in your ELA classroom.
Host a Black author book raffle to kick off Black History Month in your ELA classroom – Just browse the NYT YA Best Seller List at any given time, and you will find lots of new books by Black authors to add to your classroom library. When you or your school purchases these new books, debut them through a book talk and checkout lottery.
To host a Black History ELA book raffle, simply display popular YA books by Black authors, give a short and excited talk about each one, then allow students to put their name in the cup to be selected for first dibs on checking out the book. Not only does this strategy build excitement for reading, but it also celebrates Black voices in literature.
A few popular YA books by Black authors that flew off my shelf are:
- Anything by Angie Thomas such as The Hate U Give
- Anything by Kwame Alexander such as The Crossover
- Anything by Jason Reynolds such as Long Way Down
Affiliate links to books
Display literary Black History posters to celebrate beautiful language.
With these Black author literary devices, you can make a Black History bulletin board, or use these free classroom posters for activities such as mentor texts, thematic examples, writing prompts, and more!
You can also use this free resource to host a gallery walk activity. To do this literary Black History ELA activity, print the slides out and tape them around the room. Direct students to go on a gallery walk around the room reading each slide. Next, give groups of students different poems or passages to read. Then, give each student or group a certain number of sticky notes. After that, have students find x number of examples from the passages to be written on individual sticky notes. Lastly, have students walk around the room and stick their examples to the corresponding poster. You may want students to do a second gallery walk after this to look at, double check, and discuss the added examples.
You can download these posters here: Black History Month Figurative Language Posters
Play podcasts that celebrate Black excellence
Play podcasts that celebrate Black excellence – There are numerous Black History podcasts that help navigate difficult and painful topics, but that’s not what I want this list to be. The podcasts below celebrate Black excellence and are a joy to listen to. If you want to read more about how to use podcasts in an academic setting with engaged listeners, this post will help: Why You Should Be Using Podcasts in Secondary ELA
The best Black History podcast recommendations for high school students:
For this segment, I collaborated with Vennieta Grant, M.Ed of Love Teach Repeat to bring you some helpful and inspiring podcast pages! Be sure to check out her creative lesson showcased above on Instagram for more Black History Podcast ideas!
Coloring podcast pages are ideal for keeping students focused while listening. Sign up for my Building Book Love Letter to grab your free podcast pages!
For my NUMBER ONE Black History podcast recommendation, I’m going to do a cross over with my Valentine’s Day activity blog post.
This is Love Podcast – Episode 26 “The Kinseys” is a MUST LISTEN. It’s one of those rare stories that puts a big fat smile on your face the entire time while also being socially important. If you are only able to use one Black History podcast recommendation from this list, this is it!
How I built this Podcast:
How I Built This Podcast- The How I Built This Podcast is a fantastic podcast for high school students because the host, Guy Raz, interviews COEs about their career paths and how they built their businesses. The best How I Built This podcast episodes for Black History Month include:
FUBU: Daymond John (55 min). This is a podcast episode with Daymond John who grew up in the heart of hip-hop culture and started the company FUBU (For Us By Us) as an expressive new clothing line. Daymond is now a judge on Shark Tank, motivational speak, and author.
Carol’s Daughter: Lisa Price (44 min). This episode is with Lisa Price who started selling homemade moisturizer at a flea market and turned it into a multi-million-dollar beauty line catering to African-American women.
Historically Black Podcast:
Historically Black Podcast- This Historically Black podcast is a podcast dedicated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and it’s incredible. This podcast is a digital museum of the people and for the people brought to life through interviews, archival sound and music.
All of the episodes are excellent, but here are my favorites:
Historically Black: NASA’s Human Computers (19 min) makes an obvious and excellent pairing for Hidden Figures or a stand alone episode with focus on primary sources. You can find podcast comparison templates here: Podcast coloring templates for ANY podcast. You could also send this to your math and science teacher friends so that they too can incorporate literacy and Black History into their lesson plans as well!
Historically Black: Harlem Through James Van Der Zee’s Lens (18 min) Van Der Zee was New York’s leading Black photographer during the Harlem Renaissance, so this episode would pair perfectly with any Harlem Renaissance lesson plan. You can find other podcast parings here: Podcast pairings for the ELA classroom
Best Black History podcasts for middle school students
A lot of the diverse episodes featured above will work with middle school students, but I wanted to list other options here as well. I found lots of amazing diversely hosted podcasts for high school and elementary, but I struggled to find middle school podcast recommendations for Black History ELA. If you have some to add to the list, please let me know in the comments!
Download your pages here: Black History Podcast Pages Download
This is Love: The Kinseys (34 min) – I have this sweet and inspiring episode listed for high school recommendation but it will also work for middle school students!
The way I heard it: Breaking the Silence (6 min) is a six-minute podcast about James Earl Jones (though you don’t find out until the end!), and it’s an extra special episode for English teachers as well. 😊
Pants on Fire: Hip Hop (20 min). This podcast was created to help children decipher fact from fake news. The tone is probably a little young for 7th or 8th graders, but could work nicely with upper elementary.
Best Black History podcasts for elementary students
Forever Ago Podcast: I LOVE this podcast. Yes, it’s specifically designed for children, but I find it fascinating and beautifully produced. Each episode focuses on a single item and traces the history around it. The host is diverse as well as the content. These are not the same history stories you’ve heard a million times before. The format is perfect for inclusion. For example, in the shoes episode, Joy and her kid cohost Daria dives into French royalty fashion, but also brings in Jan Ernst Matzeliger, a successful Black inventor and shoemaker who transformed the shoe industry as we know it. GOOD STUFF. Check it out!
Goodnight Rebel Girls: Though written in storybook fashion, I recommend this podcast for all ages! I love their mission and storytelling style podcast. Here are the episodes that highlight powerful Black women:
Goodnight Rebel Girls: Queen Nanny (19 min)
These next two are more of a traumatic history episodes. Please preview and read this article before playing.
The short film “Hair Love” won an Oscar in 2020, and it is six minutes of GOODNESS. It’s also pure GOLD for ELA teachers because the short film is full of teachable moments when it comes to author’s purpose, inferences, and author’s craft. One scene shows the dad in a boxing match with his daughter’s hair which is a genius use of personification.
There are so many directions you can take short films, but another idea is to have students analyze how the short film shows instead of tells. Then, have students transfer this to a passage. Even without visuals, how does the author show instead of tell?
But beyond the actual film, there’s also a lesson from the creator himself. Check this out:
Not only did the creator predict he was going to win an Oscar one day, but he worked through several drafts to get there. He believed in his idea, put it out into the world, and worked through his drafts for years until it was Oscar worthy.
Create an interactive bulletin board with student research
Create an interactive bulletin board with student research- I believe this idea started with a T-shirt, but I’ve since seen it turned into elaborate Black History bulletin boards and hallway displays.
- Lead like ________
- Study like _______
- Protest like ______
- Defend like ______
- Shine like _______
Instead of putting the Black History display up yourself, why not have your ELA students practice their grammar, vocabulary variety, AND research skills!?
To do this, first show students an example of what you the final outcome to look like.
Next, set parameters. For my classes, I would make the rule that no verbs or people can be repeated. This will ensure that students must expand their vocabularies was well as their research.
Then, have students present their research through a QR code. This part of the assignment could be differentiated. For example, some might write about their verb and person while others might do a short video, podcast, or art project. Once their research is complete, they display their QR code with an image of their person.
One thing I love about all the educational content I see during Black History month is that it gives me ideas for incorporating Black history and Black literature all year long. As you work to add diversity to your ELA units, take note of interesting pairings you can incorporate. For example, The Harlem Renaissance and The Great Gatsby make the perfect pair. If you don’t teach Gatsby, Harlem Renaissance poets fit beautifully in your next poetry unit.
Informational text pairings also give ample opportunity to add diverse perspectives to your units. For example, if you are teaching Transcendentalism, you can have students read articles from diverse perspectives through a self-reliant or nonconformity lens.
For more examples, you can see how I add diversity to my British Literature curriculum here: How to Diversify Your British Literature Class
I hope that this post has inspired you to celebrate Black History in your ELA classroom! If you want more ideas for creating a rich and diverse ELA classroom, continue to these posts: