3 Ideas for Black History Writing
By Brandy Metzger, Guest Author
February is Black History Month and a great time to get students reading biographies and autobiographies. However, the same old book report format can be boring for students and teachers alike. Here are some tips for breathing new life into those tired old book reports that will get students excited about writing.
Write a Monologue
Instead of simply reading about their lives, have students “become” historical black figures by writing a monologue using their voices. For example, “Harriet Tubman” may divulge the dangers of the Underground Railroad while “Martin Luther King Jr.” discusses the importance of desegregation in schools. After reading about their chosen people, have your class record important facts about their lives. Guide students by giving them an outline of things to include, such as facts about their early life, family life, and major accomplishments.
Once the students have recorded the important facts about their historical figure, explain what a monologue is and give them some creative leeway when writing in first person point of view. Allowing your class to focus on the aspect(s) of their figure’s life that they find most interesting will encourage them to think deeply about their person’s life experiences and help them be more engaged in the learning process.
Students can share their monologues in small groups or with the whole class. This activity can also be taken a step further by creating a living “wax museum” in which the students actually dress as their historical figure and read their monologues to visitors that pass by.
Write a Message in a Bottle
For those interested in doing a quick biography activity with black heroes, message in a bottle is a great alternative to a lengthy book report. For this activity, students choose a famous person and spend one or two class periods doing research on what he or she was famous for. You can visit your school library or computer lab for this activity.
Once students have taken notes, they should review them to determine the top three most important pieces of information they’ve discovered. It may be helpful to ask students guiding questions. For example: Is it more important to know where a person was born or how they helped change America? If you could summarize this person’s life in one sentence, what would you say?
After choosing three important facts, instruct your students to record them on a piece of notebook paper using first person point of view — without revealing the historical figure’s name. For example, “I devised many uses for peanuts” would be a good fact about George Washington Carver. Students will then roll the paper up and slip them into empty bottles.
Each day of the month, select one or two bottles for a student to open and read the statements inside. The class can guess who the famous person is. If they’re unable to figure it out, the student who wrote the facts will reveal who the person is.
Create a FakeBook Page
This project appeals to students that are into social media. The research is the same but the result is something much more unique than a book report.
Give your students a day or two to complete research about a significant black figure in history, using books or websites. For this project, they will need to record the following information: early life, family, impact of accomplish, have them complete a “FakeBook” page with as much of the actual information as possible. Encourage your class to get creative and brainstorm some ”likes” and hobbies for the people they’re studying, and draw a picture for the profile as well. Use our Creating a Social Media Page for a Famous American lesson plan to guide your class through this project.
Once all of the “FakeBook” pages are done, hang them around the room or out in the hall and have the students do a gallery walk to learn about other famous black Americans. Alternatively, collect information off of each profile before posting them, and then have students participate in a scavenger hunt to match information to each famous person.
Black History Month is a wonderful opportunity to learn about famous black Americans, past and present, who have helped shape America. By opting for these engaging activities instead of book reports, students will enjoy learning new information about these important figures, and are more likely to retain it for years to come.
For more teacher resources, check out education.com.
Brandy Metzger is a 5th grade language arts teacher. She has 18 years experience teaching elementary students in grades K-5 and gifted education. Her pastimes include writing and travel.