February is African-American History Month, but teachers know the importance of teaching multicultural history lessons year-round. African-American history is a big part of United States history and should not be overlooked in the elementary school classroom. As you plan lessons for third-graders, find activities that will be engaging to young learners and inform them about the famous African-Americans who have made a difference in this country.
Famous Figure Match-Up
To begin a lesson in African-American history, introduce famous figures, including civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and intellectuals such as Frederick Douglas and Marva Collins. Glue a picture of each famous person on card stock. On another piece of card stock, write the name of the famous figure. Have students match the picture with the name. Encourage students to discuss the person on the card and why the person is important historically. Later, display the pictures and names in the classroom for students to reference during future lessons.
To help students understand the important roles African-Americans play in various career fields, select a diverse group of famous African-Americans. Some examples might be entertainer Oprah Winfrey, baseball player Willie Mays, inventor George Washington Carver and surgeon Daniel Hale Williams. Give each student a picture of an assigned person to research. Each student should write a riddle about the famous person including when and where he was born, why he was famous and ending with the words "Guess Who?" Staple the riddle to the front of the picture. Create a display of riddles on a classroom bulletin board. Other students will read the riddles and try to guess the famous figure. Lifting the riddle will reveal the photo underneath.
Act It Out
For a reading-comprehension and writing lesson, have students read biographies of famous African-Americans taking note of the subject's personality, clothing and accomplishments. Then have the students pretend to be the famous figure and write an autobiography to share with the class. Find old clothing, hats, shoes and wigs so the students can dress as their famous person when they share the autobiographies. This will allow students to build a connection with the historical figures they are researching, helping them to better understand the important roles they played in history. Record the students as they present their information and share the videos with the class or parents.
Become an Artist
African-Americans such as Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold have contributed a great deal to the art world and can be recognized through an art lesson. Display several appropriate pictures of famous paintings by African-American artists. You can find examples of these at the National Gallery of Art website. Study the colors, texture and themes of the paintings. Then ask students to vote on their favorite painting. Once a class favorite has been selected, have the students try to replicate the painting. Using blank paper, have the students try to copy the colors and strokes of the artist. Place the class painting alongside the original picture in the hallway for an artistic display.
To assess student learning, have students create quiz cards. Students should think of an appropriate question about African-American history. This could be a question about famous abolitionists, civil rights leaders, entertainers, artists or any other famous figures studied in class. Once you have approved the question, have students write it on one side of a note card and put the answer on the back. Then students will walk around the room and ask their classmates the questions. Observe and note which students understand the material and which students need more instruction on the topic. This will help you understand how well your students have retained the information presented.
Billie Wager has been a public school teacher since 1998. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction, both from Ottawa University. Wager is licensed to teach kindergarten through ninth grade in Kansas.