Celebrate and Educate

Black History Month and Common Core

In the United States, February is Black (African-American) History Month, a time when many teachers tailor lessons to feature the contributions of African-Americans. Since the oral tradition is significant in African-American history, and since oral language skill is one of the English Language Arts and Common Core Core Standards for ELA many are expected to teach, your choice as an ELA teacher is easy.  Celebrate and educate at the same time.

(1)  Borrow from local library and bring in picture books by and about African-Americans.  Then, invite students to choose one,  summarize what they learn, prepare an outline on 5 x 7 index card,  and then use it to present a brief informative speech.
(2)  You teach poetry anyway.  Why not schedule poetry recitations and invite students to select and present poems

Paul Robeson – Scholar Athlete, Singer, Actor, Social Activist

written by African AmericansThese could be memorized or presented as choral readings by small groups of 4-5 students who script lines for single or plural voices.  What fun! OR invite students to view these quotations by Paul Robeson and create a FOUND poem, using phrases and/or sentences from the quotations that reflect an emotion the student has experienced, observed or desired or a theme that seems to resonate throughout this set of quotations.
(3) You teach non-fiction anyway.  Invite your students to make a dramatic presentation of a 3-5 minute cutting from  Notable Speeches and Letters by African Americans, From Benjamin Banneker to Barack ObamaThese can be memorized or practiced and read from a script that’s been marked to show where to pause (/ for short pause or // for longer pause), and underlining to show key words to emphasize.

Better, yet, how about planning an oral language unit in which you include all three options and let your students choose the genre they prefer.

See other resources at Filling in the Gaps in American History

Lead the way with a favorite picture book, poem, or speech.  Here’s what I’d choose.

 (1) Picture Book: Lest We Forget  by Velma Maia Thomas or To Every Thing There Is A Season illustrated by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon or Harlem by Walter Dean and Myers (illustrated by his son, Christopher Myers)
(2) Poem(s): “Phenomenal Womanby Maya Angelou or “In the Depths of Solitude” by Tupac Shakur
(3) Speech:  What is the July 4th to Me? by Frederick Douglass or “I Have a Dream” by you know who.

What would you choose?

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Teaching English Language Arts