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.
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:
- Song: “It Don’t Mean a Thing” by Duke Ellington
- Song: “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” by Bessie Smith
- Painting: Jeunesse by Palmer Hayden
- Poem: “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes
- Dance: The Lindy Hop
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.
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
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