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4 Writing Activities for Celebrating Black History

Celebrating Black History

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

Mae Jemison

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.

Social Studies/History

Science/Mathematics

English/Writing

Use this minilesson to help your students create a historical dialogue.

Writing an Arts & Performance Review

Duke Ellington

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

Robinson

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.

(Neftali / Shutterstock.com, Oldrich / Shutterstock.com, catwalker / Shutterstock.com, YANGCHAO / Shutterstock.com, Boris15 / Shutterstock.com, catwalker / Shutterstock.com, BokehStock / Shutterstock.com, Neftali / Shutterstock.com)

"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