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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

Teach This Poem: “little prayer" by Danez Smith

Produced for K-12 educators, Teach This Poem features one poem a week from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The series is written by our Educator in Residence, Dr. Madeleine Fuchs Holzer, and is available for free via email.

lesson plan

Incredible Bridges: “from Citizen, VI [On the train the woman standing]” by Claudia Rankine

National Endowment for the Humanities logo
This lesson plan is part of the series "Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.

Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.

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.