Lesson Plans for Black History Month

To celebrate Black History Month in February—and the rich tradition of African American poetry all year long—browse this selection of teaching resources featuring poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson, and Claudia Rankine, among others.

more black history month resources

lesson plan

On Marilyn Nelson's Poem “1905”

Submitted by Madeleine Fuchs Holzer in Collaboration with Teachers from New Visions for Public Schools and the New York City Department of Education.

lesson plan

On Marilyn Nelson's My Seneca Village

Written by Dawn Jacobs Martin and Daryl Grabarek, this lesson plan is based on Marilyn Nelson’s poetry collection My Seneca Village (Namelos, 2015), in which she recreates Seneca Village, a multi-racial neighborhood that existed in 19th-century Manhattan. The book includes a foreword that describes the history of Seneca Village and a guide to the poetic forms Nelson uses in her poems. 

This lesson plan was first published with the November 19, 2015, article “Marilyn Nelson’s My Seneca Village | A Lesson Plan and Discussion Guide" by School Library Journal, all rights reserved.

lesson plan

We Sing America

These lessons focus on "songs" about the American experience at different points in history:

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman
I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander

Walt Whitman wrote his song when the United States was a relatively new country. Langston Hughes wrote in the early 20th Century, when there was still much discrimination against African Americans. And Elizabeth Alexander wrote her praise song early in the 21st Century, when the first African American President of the United States was inaugurated.

Among other perspectives, the poems offer snapshots of daily life at the time when they were written.  The lessons that follow, aligned with Common Core Standards, ask your students first to look deeply at life around them and use rich language to describe what they see and feel, then read the three poems collaboratively. After reading the poems, we ask them to write their own poem songs that portray the people and daily life they perceive.

As with the lessons on Ghosts and Spirits, in order to reach diverse learners, you should look at the activities as suggestions from which you can choose in order to help all your students learn.  You can choose one warm-up or several.  The same is true for pre- and post-activities.

A Note About Lesson Integration:  Since these lessons refer to poems that illustrate periods in American History, Social Studies and English teachers may be interested in working together to include these poems across their subject areas.  In addition, the Common Core Standards referenced below are for the high school years (9-12), so you can teach the poems in several grades. 


lesson plan


New York City ninth grade teacher Gigi Goshko has created her unit "Voice" as an introduction to poetry that presents students with a diverse group of poets and poems. The unit begins by defining spoken and written poetry and then moves into a more nuanced exploration of poetry as social commentary. Students begin to acquire a poetic vocabulary through a series of learning activities that include class discussion, critical writing assignments, and personal reflection. "Voice" employs interconnectivity to create links between the poems used and the texts being read by the students throughout the year. The unit culminates in an anthology of student work, fostering a richer understanding of poetry as social commentary.

Unit Length: 13 Class Periods