If ever there was a time to celebrate Black History Month in our classrooms, it is now! This Black History Month Research Project is the perfect activity for middle school students! By researching an influential African American, students will not only learn invaluable research skills but will also engage in thoughtful discussions about current events!
Research Best Practices
When I teach this unit in my classroom, I spend approximately two and a half weeks. I spend the first few days teaching basic research skills. This helps set students up for research success! We don’t want students to waste their precious researching time because they aren’t equipped with the right tools! Several Slides presentations included in my TpT product discuss types of resources, evaluating sources for credibility and bias. I believe that it is imperative that students know how to find credible, balanced sources–especially in today’s world when so many “news sources” overtly express their bias and opinion masquerades as fact! I’ve always felt strongly about teaching students to use primary sources and think for themselves, but this issue feels even more important to me now due the current political climate. Teachers are in a prime position to help stop the spread of misinformation!
We also spend time talking about how to find sources through an internet search. My Slides presentations help students learn the most effective ways to find the information they are seeking. We also discuss Wikipedia [teacher eyeroll]. While I try to make it abundantly clear that Wikipedia cannot be used as a “source,” I do show students one way that Wikipedia can be used to find other credible sources.
Once students have a base understanding of research best practices, they will spend time researching their individuals. I’ve included some note-taking graphic organizes for students in the product. These graphic organizers help students organize their information while they are researching.
Drafting and Revision
Students will then create an essay outline and begin the drafting process. I’ve included some teacher models to help students see exactly what is expected of them for this assignment. Another great teaching tactic is to actually draft a paper of your own live for students. With your projector running, simply demonstrate how one takes the gathered information and creates something new with it!
Following a peer edit, students revise and complete their final essay! I find it is also helpful to do a live peer edit and revision to model for students how to make it an effective use of time instead of an exercise in futility. Too often, students breeze through the editing process and, instead of revising their essay, simply rewrite their first draft. Definitely not the result we want. Modeling this live is a great way to get better results from students!
Black History Month Posters & Presentations
Once their essays are finished, the fun part begins! Students will create a poster to serve as a visual representation of their individual. I require my students to have 7-10 bullet points highlighting the most important and most interesting facts about their individual and at least two pictures. They can design and decorate their poster any way they choose.
The students always have fun with this creative portion of the project. I love to have a few low-key days where students can use the creative side of their brains after the hard work of researching and writing! Sometimes, we will put on some school-appropriate music to make it really enjoyable! [Side bar: A great and free way to reward great behavior is to allow well-behaved students the opportunity to choose a song they like on days like this!]
After students have had enough time to finish their posters, the presentations can begin! I love, love, love doing class presentations! Public speaking is such an important skill to have–even (maybe especially) for students who tend to be more reserved and timid in regular class discussions. Before we begin, I like to model both a great oral presentation and a poor oral presentation. I usually begin with the poor oral presentation. It’s fun to step out of the classroom and throw some grubby clothes on over my regular work clothes and skulk in and very poorly and very briefly talk about my individual slumping into poor posture while waving my poster around so no one can see it and other antics I’m sure all teachers have seen many times. My students always seem to get a kick out of it!
I then juxtapose that with a proper oral presentation: well-dressed (although I don’t like to make a big deal out of this one so that no student feels uncomfortable about their clothes), good posture, making eye contact, speaking clearly, etc. Like always, students do better when they have sometime to model!
Black History Month Hallway Decorations
When the students have all presented their posters, I love to hang them up in the hallways! It’s fun to see all students stop and read about the countless African Americans that have broken barriers and made a difference in the world! I am always inspired by this Black History Month project and I hope you and your students will be too!
How do you like to celebrate Black History Month with your students?
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)